Permissional vs. Positional...


Today I want to jot down some notes regarding PERMISSIONAL leadership vs. POSITIONAL leadership. I'm not sure why...I just feel like it.

I'm an observer.

I like to watch people and even if I don't know them, I try to get some sort of an understanding of who they are and what they're going through. It's just how I'm wired. This became more apparent to me when I took the strengths finder test from the book Living Your Strengths.

The test revealed that my number one strength is EMPATHY.

Here are a few tidbits the book highlights about those with empathy:

* You can sense what it feels like to be someone else.
* You can pick up on the pain and joy of others - sometimes before they can express it. Other people feel heard by you and experience your compassion.
* Because you can quickly understand others, people are drawn to you when they have a need or a problem, especially in relationships.
* Blah, Blah, Blah...

So...I can sense what others are going through a lot of times. A lot of times people are going through some serious crap. One of the most overwhelming mistakes I see myself and others around me making is that we choose the wrong approach to situations.

We all have POSITION over someone. Maybe you're the big brother. Maybe you are a parent. Maybe you're the boss at work. Maybe you are the captain of the volleyball team. Maybe you lead a small group bible-study or in my case, maybe you're a pastor of a church.

You have been given some sort of authority in this this position.

As a parent, you have position over your child.

As a police officer, you have position over society at large.

Far too often however we try to use that position to get something done and it ends up hurting people in the process. We want someone to do something and so we tell them they have to do it because we are they're father...big


Does that make someone want to do it?

Can you force someone to respect or love you?

How about this? - You're imaginary friend is having a lot of trouble in his/her marriage. They are constantly hurting their spouse by being verbally abusive. Things are going downhill fast.

Do you have the right to go and tell them what they are doing wrong just because you know what it is?

This is forcing your position on them. In this instant, even as just a friend, you are taking the position of Successful Relationships over them. This usually doesn't work because no one wants to feel judged. No one wants to feel like you think they are stupid or that you are condemning them. Often when we mean well...we come off as condescending.

The best intentions in the world can still make us look like a jerk.

Here's what seems to be working lately for me.


When I have someone in front of me who is taking part in destructive behaviors, it's hard for me not to say...STOP DOING THAT!! YOU'RE MESSING EVERYTHING UP!! I admit it. I typically want to grab them, shake vigorously, and MAKE them stop doing what they are doing.

It doesn't work though.

However, when I choose a permissional strategy with them...the door seems to open right up most of the time. Let's go back to that imaginary friend who is being verbally abusive to their spouse. - What would it look like if you went to them and said, "Hey so&so, can I talk to you about something? I've noticed some things going on with you and so&so and I was wondering if I have permission to talk to you about it?"

The typical response will be, "Sure...yeah."

At this point, you have just changed everything. There is no longer an option for that person to feel attacked or judged. You have placed the ball in their court by asking if you could speak into their lives. When they give you permission to do so, it's on them. This is where strong relationships can be built because they know you're not just trying to force your position on them...they know you care.

There is always the option for them to turn down the offer...and sometimes they'll take you up on it later when they're ready. This PERMISSION mentality cannot work all the time...sometimes my little girl wants to run out into the street and it is up to me to make my POSITION of loud, scary dad well known so that she doesn't go any further.

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.



23 waggish utterances thus far...:

Norma said...

Those are good thoughts. I usually don't say anything because I don't want to judge or come off as judging and yet I don't say anything at all because of that reason and sometimes subjects should be talked about. Thanks fo the insight.

Erin said...

Very well written. And it's so true! I try to approach those could-be uncomfortable conversations in this manner, quite carefully and cuts a lot of tension and usually has a good outcome =)

Lisa said...

I love your blog. I look forward to your daily postings and hope one of these days I'll make it down to Cinci to visit your church. Toledo's not that far :)

Tracy said...

Very good insight. I know that too often I am doing the "positional" leading. I will now make it a point to be intenially "permissional". Thanks for being a great leader and for teaching me new things all the time.

Todd and Randi said...

Great post! And I love the Randomography. I emailed you a few weeks ago about your camera. I think we'll be getting ours soon. I can't wait.

lmerie said...

Wow! Thank you for this post. Your imaginary friend problem is one my husband and I see with a family member. They have children that we see emulating the parents lack of respect to each other. While the parents are staying together "or the children" we see the meanness and see the kids learning that that is "normal."

We have not known how or even if it should be approached, but we hate to see the kids moving in the way they are, and knowing the impact this will have with their future relationships.

Anyway, this was some great insight and a great perspective on thin ice issues.

Kim said...

Very good thoughts and questions. I have found recently that I need to approach a couple of people with the "permissional" attitude, so I appreciate the encouraging words.


neckel said...

Love the Wesley quote... some good came out of my upbringing as a Methodist.

keep up the good work, bro.

Cheryl said...

Very interesting post, I am that person with the empathy. I had never thought of asking first, very smart, I shall try it.

MarthaBean said...

I'm a "fixer" and a "rescuer". When I finally recognized these traits I learned to back off.(not everyone WANTS me to problem solve) I started asking good questions in hopes of getting folks to think through and verbalize about their issues - much more successful!!

Anonymous said...

I know we might be using slightly different vocabulary, and come from different backgrounds, but these are my thoughts. My husband and I have been talking about the role of authority in the Kingdom a lot lately.

Authority is the support for relationships in the Kingdom. The basic premise is this: the authority of the kingdom is meant to support those relationships that are submitted to that authority; it does not support (or "work") outside of the kingdom structure.

For an example, we'll examine the roles of a husband and wife in a marriage. As we know, the sanctity of marriage is meant as a real world manifestation of the relationship between the Body and Christ. For that reason, the wife is under the authority of the husband and the husband must love the wife.

The most common challenge to this view of a marriage is "What if the husband is abusive?" The answer to that question depends on the condition of the husband and wife: saved or unsaved--essentially. If the husband is saved, then he is under the authority of Christ and is accountable to Him. Thus the answer to the question under this first scenario is not as simple as "the wife should do X or Y." Rather, the answer is "Who is the Husband's Pastor who can attempt to bring correction to him?" And I'm not talking about a pastor of a church.

When the husband's soul is out of line (ex. abusive to the wife) the pastor is accountable for his soul and is the source of correction. If the husband refuses to submit to the pastor's recommendation and continues to operate from his soul then eventually he will be lost. Thus, there is an onus on each individual to submit to the authority of the Kingdom and to seek to be led by the Holy Spirit. If they refuse to do so, their own relationships in the kingdom will break down. Essentially, the relationships of the kingdom are not meant to be imperfect and they are unique only to the kingdom.

The second scenario is much simpler: the Husband is not saved. In this case, the remedies of the Kingdom do not apply because the husband has not submitted to the Kingdom's authority. If the husband will be saved, excellent! If not, then the wife was not intended to be under his authority because he is not a representative of the person of Christ. Indeed, having not submitted himself to Christ, he is unfit to be such a representative.

I do apologize for such a long comment, but I wanted to express my thoughts completely. -Rebecca

Al Wink said...

I was talking to my mom about life and she told me to read your blog. Apparently you and I are more alike than you know. Everything I was saying to her, went along with exactly what you wrote. God is awesome. I needed this.

Thanks for being you, big brother =]

Snobound said...

Well written. I know I needed to read that - I'm getting ready to start leading a Bible study, and I never want to be one of the pushy, positional leaders, although at times it does have its place.

Debbie said...

That reminds me of a saying, "It's nice to be important but more important to be nice."
Your empathy is what makes you a good Pastor. And it is so wise to approach a situation diplomatically. Great post.

Kimberly said...

I love your posts Ryan. I never know from day to day what to expect... One day it's just randomography, the next it's this deep insightful leadership information.

Keep up the great work through Christ.

Twinmommy2boys said...

I too feel I have the gift of Empathy. I will use your technique next time I feel like grabbing someone and slapping them silly.

Kelley said...

This has got to be one of my favorite blogs. What awesome thoughts! Can I post that quote on my blog?

Helen Ann said...

That's a good word right there!

Bonnie said...

I like that thought of getting permission to approach a topic with someone. Because if you're just doing position, their ears are usually closed to you anyway. I might even try it on my 4 year old.

Jenny said...

Great post! I will certainly be trying this, thank you.

I've posted about your post on my blog asking people to check it out.

Good stuff. said...

Great post, Ryan. I found your blog through Murph's blog, through Steve Fuller's blog.

And now I know 2 bloggers from the VWS.

Great message the other week about royalty. Me, my wife and son are really digging what you, Tim, and the others are doing in our community.


Ryan Detzel said...

@ Lisa - (In a "Price is Right" voice) COME ON DOWN!!!

@ Todd & Randi - Can't wait to see some pics!

@ nickandbec - and the longest comment ever award goes to...

That's good stuff actually. I love long comments. Thanks!

@ Snobound - Awesome! Good job stepping out to do something super important.

@ Kelley - Of course you can post it...never ask again. It's always yes.

@ Jenny - Thanks for the link love!

@ sharpmj - Sweet...I love VWS peeps.

klskiles said...

Thank you for this post. I have a brother who constantly feels attacked by me and so I tend to just let go and I don't want to let go. This is so helpful to me.

I am also an empathizer. It has its advantages, but sometimes it hurts me because I feel the pain and cry for people. :( That is when it's too much. I try not to do that, but it's hard not to. I have a hard time with the news sometimes. --Do you ever experience this?