Why Leaders Don't Treat Everyone The Same


Leaders don't treat everyone the same. That may sound harsh, but it is biblical and necessary to discriminate when it comes to who gets your time and attention.

In this post I provide a simple assessment model that helps leaders steward their time as it relates to their interactions with people.

Why leaders are picky about their time:

Exodus 18 recounts the interaction between Moses and Jethro. Moses is doing great work, but he's close to burnout. Jethro offers some fatherly advice for the belabored leader. In this passage we see four reasons leaders are particular about who gets their time and attention.

  • We narrow our focus because we can't do it all. Exodus 18:18: "You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you." Leaders are picky about their time so they don't wear themselves out trying to be everything to everyone.
  • We narrow our focus so we can empower others to be their best. Exodus 18:21: "Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens." When leaders use their time well, people get equipped and empowered to serve.
  • We narrow our focus to safeguard ourselves and our people. Exodus 18:23: "If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” Two outcomes of great organizational leadership are (1) a happy leader, and (2) happy people. Organizational contentment is a by-product of good time management.
  • We narrow our focus to advance our cause. Exodus 18:25-26: "Moses chose able men ... And they judged the people at all times." There is a sense of "mission accomplished" when Moses became a better steward of his time.

How to assess who gets your time and attention

In his book, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, Gordon MacDonald addresses five types of people that affect our spiritual vitality. MacDonald's grid has been very helpful to me over the years.It is not the only way to assess our time and attention, but it is a very good one.[1] The following is a summary of his thoughts:

V.R.P. - Very Resourceful People

VRP's are people who ignite our passion for Christ and his kingdom.

Once a month I gather with a group of pastors to talk life and ministry. I travel almost 40 miles one way to meet with these men. It is three-hour commitment and worth every minute. These guys sharpen me and help me to stay focused. They are some of the VRP's of my life. VRPs are peer and up-line mentors. We need their input to be at our best.

Who is a VRP in your life? Are you taking enough time with this person?

V.I.P. - Very Important People

VIP's are the people who share our passion. They are close friends and fellow workers who labor with us in the field. MacDonald describes the collaborative nature of the VIP relationship:

With VIP's we do not spend large amounts of time trying to get along, or debating over whose philosophy will prevail, or determining who is in charge. We are bound together to get a task done, and get it done we will.[2]

We see the VIP spirit in Jonathan's armor bearer.

Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” 1 Samuel 14:6-7 ESV

VIP's are with us "heart and soul." Here are some of the VIP's in my life: Riney, my prayer partner; Ron, our Executive Pastor; our elders and leadership team.

Who are the VIP's in your life?

V.T.P. - Very Trainable People

VTP's are individuals who catch our passion. They are F.A.T. people (faithful, available, and teachable). They embody a servant spirit and are just the kind of individuals Paul is referring to when he writes, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.[3]

Who is a VTP that needs to be on your radar screen? What can you do to connect with and invest in this person? 

V.N.P. - Very Nice People

VNP's are people who enjoy our passion, but they don't really want to work. They love you and they will tell you, "You're the best!" But try asking them to take on a task and they will mysteriously disappear. They want to give you their opinion, but not their time. They want to talk about the health of the organization, but are unwilling to give what it takes to make it healthier.

VNP's will clap and cheer. They will swell your ego, but not advance your cause. As MacDonald notes, we must not confuse their kindness with their commitment. There is a subtle danger to VNPs. We enjoy their company, but in some ways it is "time spent" and not "time invested."

V.D.P. - Very Draining People

VDP's are people who sap our passion. They have a way of elbowing their way in, dominating conversations, and never leaving. Worst of all, they are not self-aware. They don't realize how much they are sucking the life out of others.  MacDonald makes three important points about VDP's:

  • VDP's will be drawn (like mosquitoes to blood) to any healthy group of people.
  • A healthy cluster of people will lose its vitality (its group passion) mysteriously and unpredictably because there are simply too many VDP's to sustain. The life of the group becomes problem- and crisis-oriented, and forward momentum [stalls].
  • VDP's who are permitted to relentlessly drain leaders of their passion will create a climate where no one wants to serve as leaders.[4]

We must love and serve VDP's. Over time some can become effective servants of Christ. But they must not allowed to dominate and drain your time or that of your organization.

Who Receives Your Time and Attention?

Look back over your calendar and ask yourself three questions:

  1. "Who has been getting my time and attention?"
  2. Are these the people who should be getting my time and attention?
  3. What changes do I need to make?

It is never easy to tell someone, "No, I can't meet with you." But it is necessary! You have a limited amount of time. God says invest it in the people who are going to bring the greatest kingdom return. That's good stewardship. That's good leadership.


[1] Gordon MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986), pages 71-91. [2] MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, page 77. [3] 2 Timothy 2:2 NIV [4] MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, pages 87-88.