Letting Go of the Big Chief Motif

Guest post from Bishop Joseph Warren Walker, III:
focus and drive got you where you are today. You lost count of the sacrifices
long ago – free weekends, discretionary purchases, a good night’s sleep – all
to achieve your vision. You did it. Now get over it.

We all want to
be effective leaders so that we can guide others to contribute to our vision, but
we tend to overlook the importance of humility in leadership. By humility, I
don’t mean modesty about what you have achieved; I mean being humble enough to abandon
the “Big Chief” mentality and embrace the input of others. Forget the CEO or
Executive or Senior Whatever title you have and get down in the trenches.
Better yet, lift up those around you and empower them to work alongside you. In
doing so, you not only effectively lead others, but also guide them to follow

The need for
personal recognition can be a powerful, yet blinding, force. I experienced this
myself several years ago. I was sitting in a meeting during which we were
trying to find a way to overcome the challenge of getting other churches and
pastors to come together. The issue, one of my colleagues suggested, was that
no one could figure out who should be in charge. The role of the leader had become
more important than the work being done.
People get used
to operating in this “Big Chief” motif because their egos crave it. But, it’s
bad for business. In addition to limiting innovation, it creates smaller chiefs
who want to maintain power they assume they have. So, the employee who craves
your approval cares little about advancing your vision, and more about
advancing his or her own career. This leads to jealousy, insecurity and

experiencing this among my own team, I made some changes. I abandoned the
hierarchical, top down flow chart and shifted to a relational model. I drew a
circle and put myself in the middle. All of my managers were placed around the
circle. Now, when I share a vision, I share it with all of them and ask for
input. In turn, I respect input from anyone in that circle. In fact, I even
welcome input from team members outside of the circle. The possibility of a
groundbreaking idea is more valuable to me than maintaining this idea of seniority.

Working with
others rather than above them does not mean you are minimizing what you have
accomplished or demeaning your capabilities. Rather, you are expanding your
potential. We have incredible limitations on our time; if all ideas stop with
us, very little will ever get done. And, as intelligent as we may be, it takes
the ideas of many to spark true brilliance. Collaboration fosters innovation. You
cannot be cutting edge if your circle always depends on you to do the thinking.
Proverbs 27:17 declares, “As iron
sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”

When we let go
of the focus on titles, positions and accolades, we set the tone for successful
ideation and instill this characteristic in others, cultivating the next wave
of leadership. This is humility at its best – productive and positive. It helps
everyone in your orbit feel empowered to contribute to a collective vision,
driving it forward rather than simply being passengers along for the ride. This
is the how to dispense with Chiefs, big and small, and focus instead on
building a better team.  

About the author:

Bishop Joseph Warren Walker, III is the pastor of the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Nashville, Tennessee and Presiding Bishop of Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship International. In 1992 at the age of 24, Bishop Walker began his pastorate at Mt. Zion with 175 members, which has grown to over 30,000, and continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. He’s the author of the book called No Opportunity Wasted: The Art of Execution. You can connect with Bishop Walker at: https://www.josephwalker3.org/.