Be a cog, just not a big one!


Cogs are like wheels with teeth. They can be used for turning corners and making things turn in different ways. Cogs also turn at different speeds. Small cogs turn quickly and big cogs turn slowly, as with wheels.

HT – Cogs & Gears

Leaders are really like cogs.  We put the teeth into plans, projects and initiatives to get traction and move things forward.  But being a cog becomes a problem for leaders when we get too big, when too much relies on us.  Big cogs turn slowly and that slowness can impede progress.

A couple of questions I have learned to ask myself repeatedly are “Am I holding up progress?”  “Am I frustrating staff because they are waiting on a decision from me.”  Too often my answer to these questions is  YES.  I have allowed myself to be the big cog that is slowing down progress.  Too much stuff has to pass through me and I can’t possibly keep up with it all.  When I answer this question affirmatively, I MUST pull myself back and reconfigure my leadership.  Why am I a big cog?  Has the organization changed and grown and I need to implement new systems and structures for communication?  Have I not empowered my leaders effectively?  What habits do I need to break in order for the team to work more effectively?  Do I just like the feeling of being needed and so I’ve allowed “big cog syndrome” to creep into our culture?  (Yuck, that question sucks and most often it’s the most true.)

As a leader, if I continue to be the big cog, I will sabotage the organization.  It’s only a matter of time.

So leaders, what kind of cog are you?

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  • Scott Welch January 12, 2009  

    I think the Lord has been showing me the same thing, just without your illustration. Thanks for the great word picture. I will try to just be a little cog from now on!

  • jan owen January 12, 2009  

    Jenni, I’m seeing this church wide in SPADES during this interim time. We’ve moved forward but have so many things we don’t know how to do without a senior pastor.

    For myself, two things forced me to hand things off. I work with ALL volunteers on my teams – no staff reports to me, but alot of vols do.

    1) I am not a “true” musician. I am a vocalist who doesn’t play anything well. I am also not a techy. The combo makes certain aspects of my job difficult but I am surrounded by geeky musicians who LOVE to do this stuff. SO I LET THEM!!! I am so happy they know how to do these things. Their job is to educate me somewhat and then we communicate and they handle the details. I don’t run our team website, notate vocal or band music (much), or even run vocal rehearsal. I let people who are gifted do those things.

    2) Disaster struck and I got mired down in “big church” stuff. I had to hand even more stuff off.

    The combo of #1 and #2 had a surprising result – I found that sharing was healthier. I realized with clarity that although I might like how it feels short term to be the only one who can do something (lead worship for instance), a bigger priority for me must be eqiupping others to do that as well.

    So now we have several leaders and I am working to allow others to work in their giftedness as well.

    Mine came from necessity, but I found I like it better!

  • Randy Wood January 12, 2009  

    Wow! That’s me. I’m like a HUGE cog. Our lil church grew. I became big headed (a big cog) Now God has allowed me to be in a place that’s comfortable, and to be honest it sucks! I know He is in control, however… Well let’s just say I’m kinda numb, tired and overwhelmed with “life”. Awesome blog, thanks.

  • Paula January 12, 2009  

    Hmmm…actually, this may be one of my strong points. I don’t like sitting on things and would much rather get them off my plate and move on. So I’m definitely one to push things to happen…I guess more like the small cog version.

    Finally, a blog addressing something I have strength in!! 🙂 And how many would know the word “cog”? 🙂

  • Jenni Catron January 12, 2009  

    @Randy – I think this is such a big issue as church leaders… is so easy to start taking credit and allowing pride to set in. Hang in there!

  • Janice January 13, 2009  

    Wow, Jenni! Great blog! This is definitely one I will keep for future reference….

  • Walt Sweet January 13, 2009  

    enjoied your blog on cogs. Big cogs do bottle neck ministry. They also hinder the development of small cogs by not coaching them to grow their leadership and ministry skills. Big cogs tend to direct not development those who serve under them. I think an excellent book on leadership is Robert Coleman’s The Master’s Plan of Evangelism.
    The book lays out the method Jesus used to develop leadership in the disciples. I am also reminded that everyone God places along side me in ministry is gifted and called to do ministry and I am responsible to help them reach their potential.

  • Anita January 13, 2009  

    I really like this. I am forwarding it to my friend who taught me the beauty of delegating tasks. Could you post (or email) some successful ways you have decreased your size in leadership?

  • jdellis January 13, 2009  

    I love this analogy! What a great point you have here.

    Additionally, cogs in pairs working together in series with one another creates a transmission. A well designed transmission can be incredibly efficient and powerful! Likewise, one that is incorrectly staggered and poorly assembled can be a completely useless piece of machinery. I could go on and on about this but that would be potentially boring.

    Good stuff…thanks for sharing.

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