Linchpin

Can you cast vision, chart direction, and provide energy, while also being the one keeping the wheels from falling off?

Linchpin. That’s a funny word. To my ear it sounds dark and sinister – like something from a mafia movie or a tortured legal battle. I expect to see a long black sedan pull up with impenetrable windows. The chauffeur opens the rear door and out steps a man with slicked back hair – his suit more expensive than my car. That’s not what I have in mind here.
LinchpinNo, I am imagining the term linchpin being used to describe a leadership role in an organization or project, whether secular or sacred, commercial or faith based. Whether you’re a business or ministry leader, how does the idea of a linchpin apply to you?

I’m asking these questions because someone used it to refer to my potential role in a project. That got me thinking the above, and then I decided I’d look it up and see what I could find. So, Wiki had this to say: “a fastener used to prevent a wheel or other part from sliding off the axle upon which it is riding. The word is first attested in the 14th century and derives from Middle English elements meaning “axletree pin”.” Webster online says: “1. a locking pin inserted crosswise (as through the end of an axle or shaft); 2. one that serves to hold together parts or elements that exist or function as a unit <the linchpin in the defense’s case>” Setting aside for another post the ME “axletree pin” and the immediate question – “Hmm, “linch”….”tree”…. I wonder….” I want to focus on this idea of a wheel on an axle. This is an important role. These pins keep the wheels on your wheelbarrow or dolly from coming off. Years ago they would have kept the wheels on a tractor or car attached. So, the linchpin is an essential component, without which, literally, “the wheels come off!” And yet, it is also a very humble position. The pin has no creative power. The wheel does not influence the force, speed, or direction of travel. Without it the travel won’t happen, or at least not safely. But it has to humbly stay in place while others create and manage the movement.

So what is the role of leader as linchpin? Seth Godin discusses this idea is his recent book by the same title. Linchpin bookThe idea of organizational indispensability is interesting. Is it real, or a myth. Are any of us truly indispensable? What does this say about they notion that “every is replaceable”? When we are working on boundaries and balance, we need to affirm that people can manage without us – sometimes even MUST, or they won’t continue to grow and mature. How would you reconcile these ideas? We want to believe that we are indispensable, and yet when each one moves on, the organizations (families, congregations, communities, corporations) adjust, reorient their leadership, and move forward under a “new normal.”

Is the leader the linchpin, or need those be separate roles? Can you cast vision, chart direction, and provide energy, while also being the one keeping the wheels from falling off? That sounds like a lot of responsibility for one individual. I wonder. What do you think?