STO LEADERSHIP & My Answers to Questions About STO Leaders: Strategic, Tactical & Operational

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/25/15.

I have written extensively on the importance of team building with complimentary leaders, including creating a questionnaire to help you find your leadership mix.  Called STO Leadership (Strategic, Tactical and Operational Leaders) a student asked important deeper questions about it. Below are my answers which help expand (with his good questions) the importance of understanding Strategic-Tactical-Operational leadership.

Here are the questions from the student, with my answers embedded in them.

Student:  Do tactical leaders have to have equal or exceeding competency as the operational leaders they are leading in the given subject?  (I would lean toward, ‘no’)

Whitesel:  Tactical leaders are good at analysis, usually more than content. Thus, they enjoy balancing either bank statements or cultural/evangelical mandates.  Therefore, analysis trumps content, so no they do not have to have exceeding (or even equal competency) in a given subject with the leaders they are leading.

Student: I have a suspicion that strategic leaders are also not the best at developing new leaders.  So, when I read Nelson’s article I find a difficult time figuring out what to do about it.  Just last night someone on my board said, “we need to disciple these people, how are we going to do it?”  I just drew a blank.  She was right, but I didn’t know what to say.  Not because I didn’t want to do it – I just can’t figure the process.

Whitesel: Right, the process often is beyond the strategic leader’s skills. That is why strategic leaders need tactical leaders as their closest partners.

Student: Some of these principles in Nelson’s article just won’t fly in an established small church.  I have attempted to employ some of these things (like holding volunteers accountable) and it blew up in a huge way.  The people may not have thought me ‘wrong’ but they did think me ‘mean.’  In a family church structure – peace is more important than production.

Whitesel: Strategic leaders are not good at holding people accountable (neither are tactical leaders).  For example, a strategic leader on a board may say, “Joe and Mary aren’t around much anymore and they seem dissatisfied.  I think we should ask them to resign from the administrative board if they are not going to support our mission.” The tactical leader on the board replies, “They haven’t given money in a month, and I’ve noticed they’ve been absence four out of the past five Sundays.”  As a result the board votes to ask for Joe and Mary’s resignation.  What is happening is that an operational leader is missing, to be the go-between between the S and T leaders and the workers.

Student: This read helps me put people like Nouwen into perspective.  I have a hunch, and I may be completely wrong, that he is a strategic leader.  When I read his writings it seems he has a difficult time prescribing process and practicality.  Wonderful matters and paints a beautiful picture of the Christian in his book “In the Name of Jesus” – but what really does he want people to do?

Whitesel: Exactly, at a conference I was listening to a very strategic thinker-author one day and another one the next.  Their speeches are largely one “catch phrase” after another.  I don’t think many pastors were getting ideas that would help back home.

Student: To verify what Whitesel shared about a strong focus on strategic leadership to the neglect of tactical I checked out the DVD’s to the 2007 leadership summit put on by Hybels and gang.  The messages from 2007 include the following:  “Vision to Die For,” “Strategy and Leadership,” “Living for the Greater Good,” “Building Humanity,” and “Whatever You Do, Inspire Me.”  These are all strategy/vision appealing messages.  I think those that are more tactical oriented are just not popular by attendees, and they are presented by speakers who are brought back perennially.  I know I have left feeling more inspired than equipped.

Whitesel:  Well said, “more inspired than equipped.”  😉