Some people are gifted at taking simple issues and making them complicated. I like to try and take complicated issues and make them simple. I have been pondering for a while what leadership is all about. How would I describe leadership in simple and easy-to-understand terms? I know there is danger in over-simplifying anything, but here is my take on it.
Leadership is about people who: 1) Possess certain characteristics; 2) Are heading toward a specific destination; 3) Have the ability to enlist people to join them on the journey. All I have ever learned, experienced, read, studied, heard and observed leads me to this conclusion. Let’s take them one at a time and explore a bit.
A Christian leader possesses specific characteristics and qualities. This leader loves God and people, is growing in Christ-likeness by cultivating the fruit of the spirit, is a humble, God-dependent, team-playing individual who is secure, teachable and deeply cares about the purposes of God. There is more we could add, but these are a few foundational traits.
A few years ago, in an issue of “Leadership Journal,” three pastors were asked about the characteristics they look for in potential leaders. Their responses were revealing, most notably for what they didn’t list. None mentioned competency or gifting. Two listed character traits and the third mentioned the necessity of these potential leaders having the same vision as the organization they are a part of--being on the same page with the DNA.
This leader is going someplace, or he/she is not leading. Traveling someplace is inherent in the nature of leading. A leader is a person who is leading people someplace. This means there is a vision, a dream, a preferred future. A leader is a person with a burden, a cause. Something is bothering him that he wants to make right. Something could be better. Something needs to be different. Something desperately needs to be changed, improved, created and he senses a call to do something about it.
In his classic book, “Servant Leadership,” Robert Greenleaf says, “Not much happens without a dream. And for something great to happen, there must be a great dream. Behind every great achievement is a dreamer of great dreams. Much more than a dreamer is required to bring it to reality, but the dream must be there first.”
A true leader has a vision, a dream from God. He/she is a “man/woman on a mission.” He/she is going someplace and is excited about it. Moving toward that certain destination will incorporate both the ability to sense it and to seize it and then get there, by setting and achieving specific goals. It is a matter of both identifying that destination and then moving enthusiastically and energetically toward it.
This person with certain characteristics traveling toward a specific destination does not travel alone, or he/she is not a leader, but only taking a walk by himself/herself. The very qualities that enable him/her to start out on this journey, strongly and sincerely believe in it and move toward it, are the same qualities that enable him/her to recruit others to join him/her for the trip. Luke 8:4 (The Message): “As they went from town to town, a lot of people joined in and traveled along.” That’s it! As you move toward your destination, people desire to join you and to travel along with you.
Think about leaders you know of who have or are leading well. Think of leaders in the Bible: Nehemiah, Moses, Joshua, David, Paul and Jesus. Were they not all people with admirable traits traveling toward a definable destination and did they not have the ability to enlist others for the trip? That’s biblical leadership, pure and simple! Having certain traits or having a specific destination in mind doesn’t make one a leader. Who or where are the people traveling with you?
A leader is always operating in these three areas. He/she is continuing to grow himself/herself, continuing to travel toward that destination by setting goals, overcoming obstacles, monitoring progress, evaluating, making adjustments and continuing to do it in such a way that he/she is able to attract others to join him/her for the trip.
John Maxwell says that, “Leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.” He’s right! The leader is allowing himself/herself to be influenced by the Lord to grow and mature, influencing the destination and influencing the people who are with him/her.
As a leader, here are three questions you can ask yourself:
1. Am I continually growing in becoming a leader with certain characteristics? Am I more Christ-like in my leadership? What area is God currently working on in my life?
2. Do I have a specific destination in mind? Is the destination clear and motivating for me? Does this destination have its source in the Lord? Is there a developing thought-through and prayed-through plan to get us there or is it just a wish--pie in the sky?
3. What am I doing to bring others along on the trip? Am I making sure that they are being shepherded, motivated, developed and equipped to be the best they can be for Jesus as they journey with me?
Every major and significant thing you do as a leader will fall into one of these three areas. Leading is not hard to understand. It is quite simple and uncomplicated--at least I think it is easy to understand; but it will take you a lifetime to learn how to do it well. If God has called and gifted you to lead, you can do it, and do it well, with His help!