5 Signs You’re a Lone Ranger Leader (And Can’t Grow a Team)


Everyone knows that Lone Ranger leaders rarely take their organization as far as leaders who can build a team

But here’s the question no one really wants to ask—so am I a Lone Ranger leader?

Cue the awkward tension.

If you’re even asking the question, good for you. Most of the leaders who need to ask themselves tough questions won’t. Which means everyone else is asking the questions instead.

I know my tendency as a leader is to try to do everything myself, which is never a good idea.

The good news is it’s a tendency you can fight and overcome.

If you need some motivation, just know that your failure to grow a team will ultimately stifle your mission.

And with something like 85% of all churches having an attendance of fewer than 200 people, and over 90% of business staying small, there’s a ton at stake.

The leader who does everything themselves is a leader whose team ultimately accomplishes little.

So, how do you know if you’re a solo, Lone Ranger leader? Here are 5 signs you are.

1. You Think You Can Do It Better

Many solo leaders honestly think they can do things better than other people. And when you’re starting out, sometimes that’s true.

Your organization isn’t exactly swimming in graphic designers, web developers, project managers, team leaders and creative thinkers. Further, nobody thinks about the mission and the future as much as you. And you don’t have a lot of budget to hire those things out.

So you do them all yourself.

In the early stages of any church or organization, there is a lot of hands-on leadership for sure. You can’t just sit back and say “all I do is cast vision” when you have a church of 26 people.

But inside this idea that you can do things better is a fatal flaw.

First, you’re only actually good at a few things. Just because you can do graphic design doesn’t mean you should do it, unless it’s your principal gifting and the most important thing you can do to move the mission forward. Which, unless you’re a graphic design firm, it isn’t.

Second, even if you have people who are almost as good as you are in an area, you need to give them responsibility quickly.

Why? Because they’ll get better (or someone else will soon come along who is).

And, because you need to focus on what you can truly do best.

Chances are you are only deeply gifted at one or two things. Maybe you can preach in your sleep, or cast vision without thinking twice.

The problem is that if you don’t spend time on your gifts, you’ll use them but never develop them. And that means you’re cheating your gift.

If you really want to become world class at something, spend time developing that gift. Which will also mean you need to delegate so many other things.

After over two decades in leadership, I’ve realized I’m really only good at two things: communication and ideation. I can generate ideas and content, and I can communicate them well. Everything else falls off a steep cliff pretty quickly.

When I bring those gifts to any mission, I can help move the mission forward. When I try to do anything else, it’s almost always sub-par.

You’re not that different.

So what are you great at? Develop that, and let so much of the other stuff go.

2. You feel guilty letting go

Ah, you say, great theory. But I feel guilty letting go and giving all this work to other people.



Maybe you need some time in counseling to get to the root of that.

Listen, it’s not a unique problem. Many leaders feel guilty about giving assignments, tasks, and whole areas of responsibility to other people. But if that’s you, you really need to drill down on why that is.

Essentially your unwillingness to let go means you have all the gifts and no one else does.

And it means that you will refuse to let other people explore and develop the gifts God has given them.

Why would you feel guilty about letting people lean into their gifting?


3. You feel threatened by gifted people

If you get really honest with yourself (which I hope you do), you may realize that deep down you feel threatened by gifted people.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

You know what’s underneath that emotion? Insecurity. And unchecked, insecurity permanently stunts your growth and the growth of your organization.

There’s all kinds of ugliness in your insecurity. If you really go there, you’ll find fear, jealousy, anxiety and all kinds of nasty things.

So how do you battle your insecurity? By doing the opposite of what you feel like doing.

Welcome gifted people. Give them responsibility. Celebrate people who are more gifted that you are. And then hang on and trust God.

You’ll discover everyone gets better, including you.

4. You fear the people you delegate to will mess things up

But, you say, so I get gifted people into place and I let them go.

But what happens if they mess up or if they take things in the wrong direction? That’s why I need to stay in control.

Well, no. That will get you right back to doing everything yourself quickly and stunting the growth of your mission.

The fear you have of delegating and having people head off in the wrong direction is much easier to solve than you think because almost always that’s a clarity issue.

Teams align around clarity. Having a clear mission, clear strategy and clear values, clearly articulated means you can deploy many leaders and never have them run things off the rails.

In the absence of clarity, you will default to control because you worry that leaders will take your church or organization to places you don’t believe it should go. And the truth is, they will. Not because they’re bad people, but because you haven’t been clear.

So, if you want to release dozens or hundreds of leaders, your job is to state the mission, vision, and strategy clearly enough that it’s repeatable and reproducible for anybody other than you. In the absence of clarity, well-intentioned team members end up going rogue, not because they’re trying to be disloyal, but because you never clearly defined the destination.

The more clarity you have as a leader, the less you will feel a need to control anything.

5. You’re always overwhelmed

The final reason you’ll want to stay a Lone Ranger leader is that you’re so overwhelmed you feel like you can’t change anything. In fact, you can barely finish reading this blog post.

Solo leaders always feel overwhelmed because the mission is always bigger than they are.

Guess what? That will never go away unless you change.

The best way to deal with it is to start giving leadership away now anyway.

You will become overwhelmed because you’re trying to do it all yourself. That will never end though, and your mission will never grow or move forward.

Or you can be overwhelmed for a while because you’re opening up leadership to others. That’s an entirely different kind of overwhelming, and one that eventually goes away as leaders find their sweet spot and the mission grows.

So choose your overwhelm. The permanent kind stays because you’ll never delegate anything.

Or, dive into the overwhelm of deciding to grow a team and eventually find relief.

It’s your call.

What Do You See?

What do you see as signs that you’re a solo leader?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Signs You’re a Lone Ranger Leader (And Can’t Grow a Team)


  1. J. Finochio on July 24, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    If it is true that 85% of all churches have an attendance of fewer than 200 people there can be a catch22 kind of scenario. Firstly, smaller churches may not be led by people who have the leadership bandwidth to learn all that they need to grow other leaders around them. Secondly, some who pastor smaller congregations may not have the leadership gift that attracts other potential leaders into that congregation. These are not excuses for not growing but I’ve heard these statistics for the last 35 years and they do not seem to be changing regardless of how many church growth and church leadership gurus enter the church landscape. Finally, smaller congregations have a small pool from which to draw governance candidates, many times their boards are looking to hire a person after hearing them preach once and checking to make sure they only have one wife. They consider themselves fortunate to have a pastoral candidate who wants to come and take their little flock never mind some ‘leader’ who has the skills. vision and insight to scale a church of 125 to thousands. I think we need a dose of reality. Most churches will stay small and that’s ok. Perhaps the best advice is for them to look at merging with larger churches who have similar DNA and vision and can come alongside to help them reach and disciple more people for Christ.

  2. Gary W Whittaker on July 23, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    Is this the same as the leader who builds a team of only those he/she can manipulate or “sell” the vision to? Can’t listen to other vies on non-essentials?

  3. Jasper Renfrow on July 23, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    What if you’ve just described the flock instead of the shepherd (leader)? Then what do you suggest the shepherd does? Because he has lots of Sayers and no doers! none!!!!! sign: the lone ranger! PS looking for another ranch where I can find some ranch hands willing to work. Thanks for your words Rev. Jasper Renfrow

  4. Nancy Rottman on July 23, 2020 at 9:52 am

    Good article and helpful to “lone ranger” me. I found these couple of sentences unhelpful though.. “There’s all kinds of ugliness in your insecurity. If you really go there, you’ll find fear, jealousy, anxiety and all kinds of nasty things.” Fear, jealousy, and anxiety aren’t ugly and nasty. They are deeply human and deeply instructive when we explore them. While they might cause us to behave/interact in less than helpful and ugly ways, in and of themselves, these emotions or states of being aren’t ugly or nasty. They are real, they are hardwired in us, and there are effective coping strategies for dealing with them that will help us connect to our own love and belonging and interact/lead from that place of stability and security. Just my thoughts on this day when I’m taking a long, hard look at my over-functioning that was essential at the outset of pandemic, but not helpful now in the midst of pandemic and remediation and reconstruction after a flood inside our building.

    • Gary W Whittaker on July 23, 2020 at 3:46 pm

      Just because they are human (flesh), doesn’t mean they aren’t ugly. I won’t work to change it unless I call it what it is. Do NOT let your heart be trouble…fear NOT…

  5. Steve Cutter on July 23, 2020 at 8:33 am

    Well….I have found that the formulas for staffing are always up for discussion and are situational. I pastor a church of 200+….but since the pandemic we are running less. In any case I have 3 full time and 3 part time. You could well say we are over staffed but in our area it is very difficult to get experienced volunteers in key roles like Worship and Children’s ministry. On top of this I have several ministry teams staffed by volunteers to help spread the ministry and engage the congregation in ministry. It’s a joy to delegate all I can to them!

  6. […] Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church in Toronto, Canada. He’s the author of several best-selling books, including his forthcoming book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects But Everyone Experiences (September 2018). This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com. […]

  7. Hingle McCringleberry on August 5, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    In other words, you micromanage.

    Good thoughts.

  8. Weekend Leadership Roundup - Hope's Reason on August 4, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    […] 5 Signs You’re A Lone Ranger Leader (And Can’t Grow A Team) – Carey Nieuwhof […]

  9. […] 5 Signs You're a Lone Ranger Leader (And Can't Grow a Team) by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  10. Anna on August 3, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    I really appreciate the distinction between control and clarity–that’s a really interesting point!

    I did want to question this statement’s apparent absolute-ness, though:

    “Essentially your unwillingness to let go means you have all the gifts and no one else does.”

    I don’t think this is true. In a very tiny church, such as the one I attend, many of our congregants are senior (or *very* senior) citizens, many have health concerns, some are parenting grandchildren, and those who are working and raising families are running hard all the time just to keep their heads above water.

    Being unwilling to ask them to participate more isn’t so much about thinking that one has al the gifts and others do not–it’s more a case of worrying that people will be scared off by the impression that too much will be required, or worse, the fear that people will say “yes” to things and then resent them.

    The problem in this case is not the belief that one has all the gifts, but the lack of trust that others are grown-up enough to set their own boundaries. This is something I fall down on a lot, but it’s an important one to learn–and to teach, as well. The church needs to be a place where people are excited to volunteer their time and talents, but also a place where it’s safe to set a healthy boundary if that’s what’s necessary too.

    Ben, I think the church I attend (I seem to be in a leadership role, though I’m not the minister–she’s the one who got me into the leadership role! ;)) has the same problem yours does regarding getting people to step up sometimes–but if you’ve got new people coming in, you’re a step ahead of us!!

  11. Vicki Nichols on August 2, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    Thank you for this article. I am a leader of a caring ministry with 14 under me. My husband is in hospice right now & its very hard to be the Lone Ranger anymore. Maybe God is telling me to trust others to carry the torch I was carrying? I must b confident that they will till things get back to a new normal

  12. Rose A Poag on August 2, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I am a first time pastor, and I am learning so much from
    your comments!

  13. Dan Donaldson on August 2, 2018 at 8:51 am

    In our context I use the metric of one full-time equivalency staff for every 100 average live weekend attendance. So at 215 average I would shoot for one full-time plus three staff at half-time each (total FTE of two and a half). Also, it’s important to hire staff who will recruit, equip, and lead volunteers instead of becoming lone rangers/doers only themselves.

    • Heath Tibbetts on August 2, 2018 at 9:56 am

      So you mean 1 full time in addition to myself and then 3 half-time staff as well? Agreed on those part-timers…my PT youth director and PT worship leader are great team builders and have allowed many to take ownership. Feeling a full time addition is critical to help us oversee our training and daily admin efforts. Thanks for the input Dan!

  14. Dan Donaldson on August 2, 2018 at 8:42 am

    If year after year the church or company I lead does not grow, does not engage more people, does not rise to experience new missional wins… I might be a Lone Ranger leader.

    Great words of conviction, Carey!

  15. Heath Tibbetts on August 2, 2018 at 8:40 am

    Do you think there is a point that staffing is required? I’ve been trying to delegate more to laity in our church, but despite my coaching and regular check-ins, much of what we need to start or improve is still failing to get started. We are a church averaging 215 on a Sunday morning and as the pastor, I am the only full-time staff member. My wife volunteers to cover the youth ministry and our part-time music leader handles Sunday music. How much staff should our church have at this point?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 4, 2018 at 5:10 am

      Hey Heath. Lots of good comments here, but around 200-300 you should definitely look at staffing. Music is a good place to start, as is family ministry (next gen). I would also consider having someone to coordinate ministry areas and raise up leaders so you can focus more on preaching, vision casting and stewardship. Who you hire should depend on what you want to accomplish. You can do music and Next Gen as part time to start….

  16. Ben Poole on August 2, 2018 at 8:26 am

    This is great! I am “the” pastor in a rural church floating between 60-70 active church members. I was mostly the Lone Ranger by nature and have worked really hard to get past that, and I believe I have, but we are missing something.

    Now, I am all about getting more people involved, and we have a few, but we are seriously lacking willing workers to step up. I would love to pass on certain responsibilities to others, but how do we engage the people we have to realize the seriousness of the mission of the church? We have new people coming in and I believe soon we will be over our head with things, both old and new, that is not going to be getting done because there is a lack of a team.

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