One of the biggest challenges you will face as a leader is figuring out how to treat people.
So what do you do?
Most of us decide we’ll simply treat everyone the same.
After all, it seems like the right thing to do. Anything else is just…wrong, elitist or even unChristian.
But treating everyone the same is one of the biggest leadership mistakes you can make.
The most effective leaders play favorites. They
Don’t treat everyone the same.
Won’t give access to everybody.
Spend very little time with low performers or problem people.
Most of us want to do the opposite. We long to
Treat everyone the same.
Give access to everyone who asks.
Spend much of our time trying to help problem people or low performers because, well, it’s the right thing to do.
So why are these bad practices as leader?
There are at least 3 ways NOT playing favorites harms your leadership and 3 ways to start doing it effectively.
3 Ways NOT Playing Favorites Harms Your Leadership
So how does not playing favorites harm your leadership?
It harms your leadership (and ultimately your organization or church) in several key ways:
1. It creates time pressure you can’t manage.
Most of us leaders like to think we have super human stamina, but we don’t.
After all, it doesn’t take long before you have more demands on your time than you have time. You’re probably already there.
So what do most people instinctively do? We work more hours to fit it all in.
Time is fixed. It’s finite. You only get 168 hours a week. And you should probably not work more than 60 of them if you’re going to be in this for the long haul.
Working more hours to meet all the demands on your time will fail you fast as a strategy.
Here’s what’s true.
When you give access to everyone you end up serving no one effectively.
You get stretched too far. And when you get stretched too far, you eventually break. You burn out (here are 9 signs you might be burning out).
So trying to meet all the needs around you in a growing ministry is a perfect strategy for personal burnout.
2. It limits the growth of your church (or organization) to 200-300 people.
Not playing favorites is also a perfect strategy for stunting the growth of your church or organization.
You simply can’t lead a larger church the same way you lead a smaller church. Yet many people insist on trying by doing all the pastoral care themselves, giving everyone access, helping to make every decision and trying to be all things to all people. After all, it’s only right to treat everyone the same.
In my view, this is the chief reason why the vast majority of churches never grow beyond 200 people. (I outline the other 7 reasons churches don’t grow past 200 in this post).
A gifted leader can grow a church to 200 people based on his or her personality and personal span of care, but that’s it. Then they burn out or the church gets frustrated because, now larger, the pastor isn’t keeping up with the demands anymore, and things implode or the church retreats back to a smaller size.
The same dynamic happens when you’re running a small business. Most businesses stay small because their founder doesn’t know how to build, empower and release a team.
The problem with treating everyone the same and giving access to everyone is that your church or organization doesn’t scale.
And if anything is designed to scale bigger, it should be the church, given our mission to bring Christ’s love to the world.
3. It makes you unfaithful.
Here’s the irony.
My guess is the main reason Christians struggle with playing favorites is that we instinctively think it’s not biblical.
Just the opposite. Not playing favorites makes you unfaithful.
I know, I know….what?????
We are not the first leaders to struggle with scaling our leadership and treating different people differently.
Moses tried to treat everyone the same, and and it almost killed him and it wore out the people he led (just read Exodus 18).
The solution? Moses had to learn not to treat everyone the same.
He appointed leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and ten. The result was that the people’s needs were met and Moses got to lead for the rest of his life. His leadership (finally) scaled.
If you start to look for it as you read, you’ll see organizational principles throughout Scripture (how did Israel become a great nation after all?)
For example, even in the New Testament, Jesus and early Christian leaders didn’t treat everyone alike.
Jesus actually walked away from people who need to be healed in order to get food and rest.
Jesus organized his disciples into circles according to potential impact…groups of 70, 12, 3 (Peter, James and John) and 1 (Peter) and intentionally spent the most time with those inner circles.
The early church reorganized, moving their key teachers and preachers away from daily tasks and appointing new leaders, which fuelled new growth.
Loving everyone does not mean treating everyone the same way.
So if you want to be more biblically faithful, start treating different people differently.
3 Ways to Play Favorites Effectively
I realize this is completely counterintuitive for most Christians.
But before you dismiss it, at least consider it.
So how should you start to play favorites?
Approach the shift with humility, with grace, and with prayer. But realize that to steward your gift of leadership effectively, you’re going to have to make the same tough calls that Moses, Jesus and the early church leaders made.
Here are three ways to play favorites in a way that helps everyone:
1. Spend the most time with your best leaders.
If you never think about how you spend your time, you’ll spend most of your time fighting fires.
You’ll ignore your best leaders (because they’re low maintenance) and spend all your time trying to prop up your weakest leaders or with people who simply always have problems (you know who I’m talking about).
The people you spend the most time with don’t have to be the smartest people or the richest people by any stretch (see below), but you should spend most of your time with the key people you’ve trusted most deeply to carry the mission forward.
Chances are they won’t ask for more of your time because they manage and lead themselves well. But they should get it anyway.
Like Jesus, spend most of your time with the people you are trusting to lead the mission and cause forward.
2. Release others to help others.
So do you just ignore everyone else, heartlessly?
Of course not.
Release others to help others.
The other shadow side of not playing favorites when you’re the leader is that your insistence on being the centre of everything disempowers other gifted people.
As you build a team, release others to help others. Moses did this. By organizing around leaders who could lead thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, everyone was cared for. Including Moses.
Think about that.
If you want to personally help everybody, you will eventually help nobody.
3. Make Time For Anyone, Just Not Everyone
Probably the biggest objection to playing favorites is that it will lead you to favoritism. As in well now you only hang out with rich and powerful people, right?
And that would be a mistake. James 2 could not be clearer that we should not favor the rich over the poor.
So how do you handle this if you’re restricting access and deciding to play favorites?
Make time for anyone, even if you are not going to make time for everyone.
I keep some open appointments on my calendar for people who don’t fit my ‘closest’ leader categories.
It will help you stay in touch and help people realize this isn’t an elitist thing at all.
And for sure, you will likely get more requests than you can accommodate (I do), but it means you will stay in touch with a wide variety of people even if you can’t do it all the time.
So even when you play favorites, you can still make time for anyone, even if you don’t make time for everyone.
I Realize This is Counter-Intuitive
I realize this is counter-intuitive. If you want to drill down further,
I wrote a little more about the skill set leaders need to manage their time and leadership well in these posts.
A 6 Step Strategy on How to Say No Nicely
Why You Can’t Have 5 Minutes of My Time
The Top 10 Ways Leaders Waste Time (And 10 Time Hacks to Help You)
In the meantime, what are you learning in this area? What’s difficult for you in making tough calls like this? What have you learned that can help other leaders?
Scroll down and leave a comment!