How to Lead When Abilities Are Scarce

12 Jan

Vacancy (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

Last week we talked about using our abilities to discover God’s calling.  But as a leader, especially in smaller organizations, there are times when jobs have to get done, whether it’s a natural ability or not.

How can you, as a leader, keep the organization moving ahead when there are jobs that need to be done, but there aren’t people who possess those abilities?

Can it wait?

I have a favorite question when it comes to filling positions: “Do we want to fill it quick, or do we want to fill it right?”

Unless a position is critical (as in the organization will cease to function), I’ll take the latter, especially when it comes to a volunteer organization.  Why?

Because filling a position “wrong” may get something off today’s to-do list, but it will put hundreds of things on tomorrow’s to-do lists.  How much extra supervision is required when the wrong hire is made?  How many times must you (the leader) go back and correct mistakes or re-work shoddy quality?

Granted, there will always be a learning curve when a new person is brought on board.  But the right person learns quickly and is able to at least function quickly.  Their learning curve produces growth and added ability to complete more complex work.

The wrong hire’s learning curve looks more like a circle; covering the same things over and over… and guess who’s time is being eaten up in the process?

POINT 1:  The purpose of filling a position is not to create more work for the supervisor, but to create more capacity for the organization!  Take enough time to do it right.

Be on the Lookout

Don’t wait until positions are vacant to begin looking for talent.  Identify early, and invite them to participate in special projects, or by taking pieces of projects/tasks.

This approach gives multiple benefits to all.  It allows

  • apprenticeship and mentoring 
  • the organization to establish a relationship
  • the individual to see what the organization is all about and establish buy-in or ownership

If we’ve been deliberate about including, mentoring, and apprenticing, when the time comes for replacement it will be a seamless transition… not a hopeless transition!

POINT 2:  Be deliberate in looking for opportunities to apprentice and mentor before vacancies arise!

Keep the Ball Moving

If a job has to be done and you still haven’t found someone with fitting abilities, leaders can still do things to help the organization move forward without grinding volunteers into dust!

  • Establish baseline requirements (what are the bare essentials that must be done)
  • Identify and recruit the baseline abilities (who can do these things at least satisfactorily)
  • Standardize the process (If a variety of people will have their hands in a task, standardizing the process will prevent confusion and having to do tasks over because things were missed)
  • Rotate the duties (keep an eye on the pulse of your “volunteers” and keep them fresh!)
  • Keep encouraging… and keep looking!  (And enlist the help of those who are filling in… the sooner they help find the right fit, the sooner they can go back to what they do well!).

POINT 3:  Even if a position is essential, there are things you can do to buy a little more time to fill a position well versus filling it quickly.


This is not listed last because it’s a last priority (although many treat it that way).  I put it last because I think it’s most important.

God’s goal is to change the world by working through human beings.  Don’t you think God will give us what we need to accomplish His will?  God has gifted, equipped, and called them.  It’s up to us and a whole lot of The Holy Spirit to find them and invite them into God’s plans.

In this vein, prayer accomplishes two important things:

  1. It makes sure were really doing God’s will and not ours
  2. It helps us see who God is bringing into our mix with the abilities and gifts needed to succeed in God’s Kingdom goals.

POINT 4: Pray as a first resort, not a last resort!

What would you add to this list?  What other ways have you found to keep an organization moving in the face of “ability vacancies?”

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Posted by on January 12, 2013 in Leadership


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