STO LEADERSHIP & A video intro for my students & others to discover your mix of 3 leadership traits

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 9/25/17.

STO Leadership (Strategic-Tacical-Leadership traits) is a meta-model of leadership I have adapted/applied to ministry leadership. Most leadership colleagues/students find very helpful.  For a brief introduction …

A) Watch the video introduction below.

B) Read this short explanation of the three traits of leaders: Strategic-Tactical-Operational here:

C) Read about the different names authors have used interchangeably with Strategic-Tactical-Operational here:

D) Then read the “Questions and Answers at STO Leadership” at this link:

E) Finally, take the questionnaire yourself to find which is your dominant and sub-dominant leadership traits. The questionnaire is available FREE here:


VISION & What Makes a Visionary Leader #Video @BobWhitesel #ChurchCentral

What makes a visionary leader?

May 4, 2017 | by Bob Whitesel


Watch the video at

Bob Whitesel gives historical background to the term strategic leader.Explore the characteristics of this leadership and think about who models these attributes on your church’s team. (Excerpted from the Society For Church Consulting’s Church Staffing Summit 2015.)

#STO STO leadership


STO Leadership & A Comparison Created by @WesleySeminary Leadership Students

To understand principles, a contrast/comparison chart addresses higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and gives a visual representation.  The contrast/comparison chart below was created by my current LEAD 600 students.


Positive: They see a need and future and are dreamers with vision and creativity. (Doug B.)
Positive: Have a purpose or goal that they are working towards with passion. (Tyler K.)
Positive: always see the big picture, you can see the positive that could be accomplished.(JC)
Positive: Seem to have a vision and direction for the future. (Ryan V.)

Negative: They have a vision, but limited idea of how to get there. (Doug B.)
Negative:  May not simultaneously share appreciation of current state, demoralizing operational leaders.  Makes all feel like what they’re                                currently pouring themselves into isn’t good.  (Tyler K.)
Negative: are not sure of the steps to take to get them to where want to go. (JC)
Negative: They don’t always know how to accomplish the vision and direction for the future. (Ryan V.)


Positive: They can budget, plan, chart, graph and figure out the steps to accomplish the vision. (Doug B.)
Positive: Always coming up with ideas, which she also carried out (Christie W.)
Positive : Are able to work out the steps to implement the plan.(JC)
Positive: They are great at planning and organizing.  They like to take ownership. (Ryan V.)

Negative: They are good planners, but not always the best at rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done. (Doug B.)
Negative: The only negative aspect of the person’s excitement was that sometimes everything had to go her way because she thought it                                 was the best plan. (Christie W.)
Negative: have a hard time working with the people to put those steps in place. (JC)
Negative: They are not good with new things. They like to be left alone in order to accomplish the task ahead. (Ryan V.)


Positive: When given a task and a plan, they will “get it done!” (Doug B.)
Positive:  Acts as a servant out of love for Christ and others because they believe what they are doing matters in the big picture. (Tyler K.)
Positive: are excellent at billing relationships. (JC)
Positive: They are caring and willing to jump right in to help. (Ryan V.)

Negative: They tend to focus on the immediate task at hand and sometimes fail to see the bigger picture or future. (Doug B.)
Negative:  Stares at a tree and misses the rest of the forest.  The rest of the forest may be “burning” or unhealthy and it would take them                                a long time to notice that there is an overarching dynamic that is going to affect them if they don’t let go of their tree. (Tyler K.)
Negative: don’t like to correct people than they are wrong, so always let things slide.(JC)
Negative: They can easily fade away if placed in a position that appears tactical. Tend to be short-sighted. (Ryan V.)

Read more on STO leadership here …

STO Leadership & Alternative Names for Strategic, Tactical & Operational Leadership Styles

Excerpted from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church by Bob Whitesel (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007)

Strategic Leadership Characteristics:

Strategic leadership is “future directed,”[i]” strategic leaders often want people to move forward, and thus they are the first to start moving in new directions. Historian Martin Marty said they “are extremely sensitive to where people are, but are not content to leave them there.”[ii]

Other names for strategic leaders are:

  1. Visionaries (George Barna,[iii] Leith Anderson[iv] and Phil Miglioratti[v]).
  2. Role 1 Leaders (Phil Miglioratti[vi]).
  3. “Top management” (John Wimber, Eddie Gibbs[vii]).
  4. “Strong, authoritative, directive pastoral leadership” (Wagner[viii]).
  5. Upper-level Management (John Kotter[ix]).
  6. Sodality leadership, which is described as “vision setter, goal setter, strong leader, visionary, upper management” (Ralph Winter[x]).

Tactical Leadership Characteristics:

Tactical leadership is an integrated skill. The tactical leader weds the past, the present and the future to move the church ahead. The tactical leader grasps the strategic leader’s vision of the future, but the tactical leader enjoys integrating these future plans into the ongoing and present life of the church. Tactical leaders also relish the planning process. They set timelines and allocate duties. They are delgators in the truest sense of the word. They should not be confused with operational leaders who do the work themselves. The tactical leader delegates fully, but then carefully evaluates the results.

And thus, tactical leaders are often pen and pencil (or stylus and PDA) people, who make copious notes as strategic leader expounds upon the future. Tactical leaders create spreadsheets, flowcharts, diagrams and designate work teams. Tactical leaders know who to bring big long-term projects down into easy, doable steps.

Thus, tactical leaders are the needed go-between to connect strategic leaders who grasp the big-picture, and operational leaders who get things done. Everyone appreciates tactical leaders, but regrettably they are usually outnumbered in our churches by strategic leaders and operational leaders. Thus, the organization suffers.

Other names for tactical leaders are:

  1. Administrators (Phil Miglioratti[i]).
  2. Role Two Leaders (Phil Miglioratti [ii]).
  3. Middle-level management (Martin Butler and Robert Herman[iii]).
  4. “Middle management” (John Wimber/Eddie Gibbs[iv] and John Kotter[v]).
  5. “Enables others to achieve goals” (Richard Hutcheson[vi]).
  6. Problem solvers (Gary Yukl[vii]).
  7. Modality leadership, which is described as “enabler, team builder, ally, implementer” (Ralph Winter).[viii]

Operational Leadership Characteristics:

Operational leaders have the knowledge, skill, relational abilities and dedication to get a job done. Once the parameters are defined and they see how their task fits into the bigger-picture (they are helped in this by the tactical leader), the operational leader can accomplish almost anything. Anthropologist Margaret Mead observed, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” [i] And, thus the contribution of the operational leader is critical to the change process.

Operational leaders often love their job so much, that they do not see themselves “moving out” of this role in the foreseeable future.[ii]

But, if the operational leader does not have the go-between of a tactical leader, the strategic leader’s vision may be too imprecise to motivate the operational leader. Thus, we see once again while all three types of leadership are needed, but it is the glue that the go-between tactical leader provides that helps the operational leader move the strategic leader’s vision forward.

Other names for tactical leaders are:

  1. Workers (Phil Miglioratti[iii]).
  2. Role Three Leaders (Phil Miglioratti[iv]).
  3. Foremen (John Wimber, Eddie Gibbs[v]).

Download the chapter here: book-bw-excerpt-cr-change-reaction-chpt-2-sto-leaders-dr-whitesel

Strategic Leadership Footnotes

[i] Popular attestation,

[ii] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” op. cit., p. 146

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] ibid.

[v] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, op. cit., pp. 380, 381.

Tactical Leadership Footnotes

[i] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” op. cit., p. 146

[ii] ibid.

[iii] D. Martin Butler and Robert D. Herman, “Effective Ministerial Leadership,” Nonprofit Management and Leadership (1999), 9:229-239.

[iv] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, op. cit., pp. 380, 382-383.

[v] John Kotter, A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management, op. cit.. Kotter muddies the water a bit, by making a imprecise distinction between leadership and management. Kotter would agree with this author, that there are strategic leaders and tactical leaders. However, Kotter calls what strategic leaders do: “leadership.” And he labels what tactical leaders do as: “management.” While it is laudable that Kotter is trying to help distinguish between strategic and tactical leadership, the widespread use of the terms “leadership” and “management” probably mean they are too popular to now be more narrowly defined. Thus, Kotter’s goal is good, to distinguish between strategic and tactical leaders, but his terminology is probably too imprecise.

[vi] Richard Hutcheson, J., The Wheel Within the Wheel: Confronting the Management Crisis of the Pluralistic Church (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979), p. 54.

[vii] Gary Yukl, Managerial Practices Survey (Albany, New York: Gary Yukl and Man Associates, 1990).

[viii] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, op. cit., pp. 141-165.

Operational Leadership Footnotes

[i] H. Ozbekhan, “Toward a General Theory of Planning,” in E. Jantsch, ed., Perspective in Planning (Paris, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1969), p. 151.

[ii] Martin Marty, “Lutheran Scholar ‘Sprinkles Methodist Advice,” in The United Methodist Reporter (Dallas, Texas: 1986), March 28.

[iii] Christian pollster George Barna correctly emphasizes that for a strategic leader, a clear vision of the future is important. And, Barna in his popular book, The Power of Vision (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1992, p. 28, 38-39) describes a vision as “ a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God, and based on an accurate understanding of God, self and circumstances.” Yet, the popularity of Barna’s definition may have clouded the picture, as strategically-orientated pastors latched on to this definition, which lacks the complimentary emphasis that it is tactical leadership that will get you there.

[iv] Leith Anderson, Dying for Change (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Publishing House, 1990), pp. 177-178.

[v] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook (Pasadena, Calif.: Church Growth Press, 1979), p. 146.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing House, 1981), pp. 380, 383-385.

[viii] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1984), p. 73-74.

[ix] John Kotter, A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1990).

[x] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, op. cit., pp. 141-165.

Speaking hashtags: #STO

TACTICAL LEADERSHIP & Doctoral Student Validates 60-20-20 Ratio

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I recently received this email from a former student. He applied the Strategic-Tactical-Operational (STO) Leadership Questionnaire to his leaders.  It helped solve their leadership impasse. I’ve also posited that a 20-20-60 ratio of strategic-tactical-operational leadership on a team seems to make sense. He validated this in his case-study and here is his email (with names changed).

Dr. Whitesel,  I’m not sure if you remember me or not, but I wanted to drop you a line.

First, thank you so much for making my experience at Indiana Wesleyan great. You were truly a great influence in my life and thinking. I continue to go back and read your books and do my best to put your wisdom into action.

Second, your book Change Reaction has been the greatest book to help me in my ministry context. I know that you have had several of my friends (Don S. and Angie B.) attending your classes.

The reason for my email is that I wanted to let you know that we have been one church that has verified your hunch in the Change reaction Book.

A little background first….I have moved out of Children’s Ministry and now I am overseeing the volunteers and ministry of our church. We have moved into our new worship center moving from 1000 to 1200. The goal of our pastor is now to move to 1500 and we have been stuck.

Due to this being stuck, I went back to your book and had all of our volunteers take the leadership assessment on page 46-47. I copied this off your blog (… The amazing thing is that I had 131 leaders take the assessment and we did hit your 60 – 20 – 20 hunch. Here is the graphic:


I was amazed that after taking this assessment, it verified what you were saying.

The goal now is to look for these tactical leaders and place them over the ministries to help lift the church to the next level. I thought this would be very interesting to you. Also, it is my belief that this is why we haven’t been able to move to the next level.

Anyway, thank you for your training, writing, and teaching. I am taking all of this to heart and utilizing your teachings! If you would have time, I would love to possibly to talk to you about this more. I am finishing my dissertation through North Central University. I am writing on the missing link in the church – the tactical leader.

I have found several dissertations where the biggest needs for pastors and churches are people skills and administration (tactical leadership). As you stated that McGavran was your mentor, I look at you as this to me. Lastly, I would like to use Change Reaction as the foundation of my study and research. Would you be okay with this? I look forward to hearing from you when you have time. I appreciate you and I thank you again for your influence.

Jason D.

STO LEADERSHIP & An Overview: Are you a shepherd or a visionary (or a little of both)?

by Bob Whitesel, April 26, 2010.

The word strategy comes from the Greek word for a military general: strategoi.  The generals of ancient Athens, led by the forward-thinking Pericles, undertook a grand building project to make Athens the cultural and political center of Greece. The Athenian generals’ strategy paid off, with beautiful buildings such as the Parthenon, making Athens the Greek capital.

In the military, the word “strategic” refers to the bigger-picture planning that is done before a before a battle begins.  Strategic leaders see the big picture, and envision outcomes before the battle commences.  They intuitively know what the results should be, even though they are not experts in getting there.  In the military, strategic leaders are generals, admirals, etc.

The strategic leader is akin to an artist.  He or she sees the dim outline of the future, perhaps a gleaming office tower or an eye-catching museum.  They can envision what it will look like once it is complete.  But, they seek only general forms, shapes and appearances.  They see the art and the results.

Let’s look at some typical characteristics that distinguish leaders in the church.  In my consultative work I have routinely witnessed that pastors can be drawn into the ministry by two competing roles.

1. The shepherd.  Many pastors enter the ministry due to a desire to help fellow humankind with a hands-on, relational, personal and mentoring type of leadership style.  This is analogous to the guidance of a shepherd, and is reflected in scriptures about nurture, care and cultivation such as in Isaiah 40:11, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”  And, this is exemplified by Jesus who is described as “our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20).  Pastors drawn by this role often become operational leaders.

2. The visionary.  Pastors in this category have an overriding desire to make a significant impact for Christ and His kingdom.  They are impassioned by statements such as John 4:34-38, “’My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor’.”

Visionaries have what Church Growth researcher Win Arn called “church growth eyes … a developed characteristic of individuals and churches who have achieved a sensitivity to seeing possibilities….”   Pastors drawn by this leadership role usually become strategic leaders.

Often, pastors and church leaders have a mixture of the two roles, and may fluctuate between them.  However, it is important to note the dissimilar nature of these roles.  One seeks to build interpersonal camaraderie and intimacy, the other seeks to attain a physical forward-looking goal.

In the former, intimacy is the purpose, and in the latter the future goal is the purpose.  Which is needed? They both are, but the wise church leader will employ each as the circumstance warrants and as their abilities allow.

Pastors attracted to the ministry because of a vision to make a significant impact for Christ often exhibit strategic leadership.  And, they are often passionate about their work, for they see the depravity of humankind and they perceive how Christ provides the necessary answer.  They are often highly enthusiastic and energetic about reaching people for Christ.  This passion can sometimes be misconstrued as a fervor for growth, size or power.  And, such negative attributes can sneak in.  However, what customarily motivates these individuals is the picture they envision of many people coming to know Christ.

Strategic leaders are the first to notice that change is needed.  This is because they are always looking ahead.  To a degree, they live in the future better than the present. This means they can be frustrating to work with if not accompanied by the tactical leader.  Strategic leaders thus see the need for change, and love discussing the rationale and theories of change.  They are critical for the change process, for they look ahead and see where the church is going and needs to go.  But they are also frustrating for other leaders, because strategic leaders know what the results should look like, but they are weak at envisioning the step-by-step process.

Strategic leadership is “future directed.”  Strategic leaders often want people to move forward, and thus they are the first to start moving in new directions.  Historian Martin Marty said they “are extremely sensitive to where people are, but are not content to leave them there.”

ARTICLE is excepted with permission by from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church by Bob Whitesel (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007), read the original article at

DOWNLOAD the entire chapter here (not for public distribution, so if you enjoy the chapter please support the publisher and author by purchasing a copy): BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 2 STO Leaders

Speaking hashtags: #BetterTogether

STO LEADERSHIP & A Questionnaire to Discover Your Leadership Mix

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 1/4/08.

Typically in our churches we have (three types of leaders):

Strategic Leaders.

They see the need and the future. They have a limited idea of how to get there, but they have been exposed to various models to accomplish change. However, strategic leaders do not typically have the patience to analyze, fine-tune, crunch-the-numbers, tweak, perfect, evaluate and adjust a strategy. Subsequently, strategic leaders often try to just apply (e.g. franchise) a strategy that has worked elsewhere. The strategic leader may purchase step-by-step manuals for operational leaders. And while this is a good starting place, because tactical leaders who can adjust the methodology for the church’s own unique scenario are not involved, the canned strategy is often abandoned with people saying “that doesn’t work here.” Again, the problem is not the strategic leaders or the operational leaders. They are both doing their jobs. The problem is created because an important linking and planning element of leaders is missing: the tactical leaders and their organizational skills.

Tactical Leaders

They then become our crucial … and missing link in effective change. If they are missing, change strategies are not adapted to the local context and the process is unorganized.  They are the key go-betweens among the strategic and operational leaders. Tactical leaders have the requisite skills of analysis, step-by-step planning, numbercrunching, and detail management to bring a change to fruition. This is the contribution of the tactical leaders.

Operational Leaders

In military jargon these are the “boots on the ground,” meaning the frontline workers who must adjust the tactics they are given. They are relational teams of workers, who derive much of their satisfaction from both their teammates and their visible accomplishments. Operational leaders may also volunteer to be tactical leaders, because relationships are so important to them they do not want to see the strategic leader in a quandary. They may say something like “Pastor, I know you are in a spot here. So I’ll help you out.” If an operational leader says this, interview that person and then if this operational leaders does not have the analytical, diagnostic and methodical skills to create and manage an elaborate plan, graciously decline their offer. To thrust operational leaders into tactical positions will frustrate them, and eventually due to their gracious and relational nature, they will quietly fade away from their failed tactical task.

Change is Difficult Because Tactical Leaders Are Missing

PreparingChange_Reaction_MdWhy then does change so often fail in congregations? It has been my observation that it is because strategic leaders (often pastors) try to orchestrate the tactical process. Often if a strategic leader in the role of a pastor or a department head tries to move the church forward with some change, the congregants will become frustrated because of a lack of precision in the plan. The plan to them will appear too nebulous and imprecise.

At the same time the strategic leader will expect the relationally-orientated operational leaders to create a plan. And though the operational leaders are the key to the success of the process, their emphasis upon relationships usually trumps their interest in the administrative details, budgeting, volunteer recruitment and evaluation that is required.

The answer is that change needs the critical link between strategic leader and operational leaders: tactical leadership. Therefore, to succeed with change, it is important that at the outset of this book the pastor look around him or her develop those tactical leaders who can map-out the change processes outlined in this book, and who will enjoy doing so.

Questions for Discovering YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE mix:

1. What kind of tasks do you enjoy?

(Circle only those letters that correspond to tasks you greatly enjoy.)

a.  Dreaming about the future.
b.  Preparing a budget.
c.  Getting to know a person you work with.
d.  Graphing on paper a new plan.
e.  Analyzing what when wrong with a past strategy.
f.   Creating a visual map of the planning process.
g.  Balancing your checkbook.
h.  Sharing about your family history.
i.   Reading books on new ideas.
j.   Attending seminars on creativity.
k.  Tackling a numerical problem.
l.    Reading books on history.
m.  Researching costs associated with a project.
n.   Creating a survey.
o.   Taking a survey.
p.   Leading under 12 people on a project.
q.   Recording the minutes of a meeting.
r.    Loading and adjusting new software on your computer.
s.   Designing ways to better communicate an idea.
t.    Relaxing by sharing with friends about hobbies.
u.   Relaxing by sharing with friends about what when wrong.
v.    Relaxing by dreaming with friends about new ideas.
w.   Working on a hobby with a few closer friends.
x.   You share your personal feelings easily with others.
y.   You share your new ideas easily with others.
z.   You like to get a job done with a minimum of fuss.

TOTAL BELOW:  For each letter you circled, put a check in the corresponding box below.  You may be primarily comfortable with a leader style associated with the box that contains the most checkmarks.

STO Leadership Questionaire TOTAL box copySTO Leadership Questionaire TOTAL box2

Adapted from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church by Bob Whitesel (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007.  Download the entire chapter here >> BOOK BW EXCERPT CR Change Reaction Chpt.2 STO Leaders ©Dr.Whitesel

Speaking hashtags: #BetterTogether #SalvationCenterTX  #NewDirectionChurch