(A series of eight installments)
Number two – Lessons in Leadership
The shelves of my library are bowing under the weight of books about leadership. I know it’s an exaggeration, but I feel as though I have bought and read every possible piece of printed material that speaks to the study and discipline of leadership. In short … I am a student of leadership, still learning more every day, attempting to do my best as a leader. With that as a backdrop, I would like to humbly offer a few personal opinions relative to the leadership lessons learned over the years of service to our organization.
Good leaders live as servants, exercising humility
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
1) Good leaders are focused first on others and not on themselves
Seems fundamental, doesn’t it. Unfortunately, too many want-to-be-leaders get this totally backward. I am reading the autobiography of John Dramani Mahama, current President of the West African country of Ghana. He tells about his primary school experience with a bully. The bully, who was ironically named Ezra, which means “helper”, was nothing of the sort, demanding the snacks of all the smaller boys at school. This tenuous relationship with this bully actually began as a selfless friendship and evolved in a selfish one. Leadership is not self-serving but self-giving.
2) Good leaders don’t think less of themselves but think of themselves less
There’s an important distinction between the two. The leader must exhibit enough confidence to convince and attract followers to a goal that they believe is achievable together. The healthier part of that statement summed up in the old Sunday school chorus JOY – Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between.
3) Good leaders live sacrificially
Boarding the SS Dorchester on a dreary winter day in 1943 were 903 troops and four chaplains, including Moody alumnus Lt. George Fox. World War II was in full swing, and the ship was headed across the icy North Atlantic where German U-boats lurked. At 12:00 on the morning of February 3, a German torpedo ripped into the ship. “She’s going down!” the men cried, scrambling for lifeboats.
A young GI crept up to one of the chaplains. “I’ve lost my life jacket,” he said. “Take this,” the chaplain said, handing the soldier his jacket. Before the ship sank, each chaplain gave his life jacket to another man. The heroic chaplains then linked arms and lifted their voices in prayer as the Dorchester went down. Lt. Fox and his fellow pastors were awarded posthumously the Distinguished Service Cross. (Today in the Word, April 1, 1992).
Good leaders are strategic thinkers and planners
6 During this time, as the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers — “Hellenists” — toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines. 2 So the Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said, “It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor. 3 So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we’ll assign them this task. 4 Meanwhile, we’ll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word.”
5 The congregation thought this was a great idea. They went ahead and chose —
Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,
Nicolas, a convert from Antioch.
6 Then they presented them to the apostles. Praying, the apostles laid on hands and commissioned them for their task.
7 The Word of God prospered. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased dramatically. Not least, a great many priests submitted themselves to the faith.
4) Good leaders know how to set priorities
You’ve heard the expression, putting first things first? That is all about setting your priorities. There are many things that will compete for your attention but if you allow them to get out of control you will end up accomplishing very little. Start your day by listing, in order of their importance, the responsibilities for the day and you will accomplish much more.
5) Good leaders cast a vision of a preferable future
“Not even the most perceptive leader can think of and plan for every potential turn of events. Unpleasant surprises, unexpected emergencies, and possibly terminal threats to leadership lurk in the undergrowth along almost every path. But one thing that separates good from great leaders in the extent to which the great leaders are able to foresee the unforeseeable, and therefore are empowered to deal with the unexpected” (Jinkins, Jinkins, 1998, p.49).
6) Good leaders build a bridge to that preferable future
I often use the terms that have impressed on me the visioning process and its importance. One of my favorite authors is Dr. Robert E. Quinn from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He uses the term “Build the Bridge as you walk on it.” He writes in his book Deep Change; “Organizational and personal growth seldom follow a linear plan. This is an important principle to remember. When people recount the history of growth, they often tell it in a linear sequence, suggesting a rationality and control that never really existed. When we have a vision, it does not necessarily mean that we have a plan. We may know where we want to be, but we will seldom know the actual steps we must take to get there. We must trust in ourselves to learn the way, to build the bridge as we walk on it”, (Quinn, 1996, pp83-84).
7) Good leaders are not preoccupied with the problem but press forward towards a solution
This can be counterintuitive for some people. They become so preoccupied with the problem that moving toward a solution becomes too difficult. The term I use to create a picture of possibility discovery is “opening the door.” When you think of it as opening a door, the exit from one world, (the problem), and the entrance into the next, (the solution), it may be the trigger to forward momentum and attaining a solution.
Good leaders are stewards of their human capital and other resources
5 I left you in charge in Crete so you could complete what I left half-done. Appoint leaders in every town according to my instructions. 6 As you select them, ask, “Is this man well-thought-of? Are his children believers? Do they respect him and stay out of trouble?” 7 It’s important that a church leader, responsible for the affairs in God’s house, be looked up to — not pushy, not short-tempered, not a drunk, not a bully, not money-hungry. 8 He must welcome people, be helpful, wise, fair, reverent, have a good grip on himself, 9 and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it.
8) Good leaders are balanced, fair, not given to exaggeration or exploitation, and exercise the discipline of good judgment
When I think of living a life of balance, fairness, and discipline, I think of the Paul listing the fruit of the Spirit from the King James Version; “Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law”, (Gal 5:23). The New International Version would read like this; “gentleness and self-control”. Self-control is a great way to describe this important characteristic.
It’s way too easy to get life and all it brings out of balance. Once out of balance, it becomes more difficult to achieve balance and, in fact, often we encounter a spiral effect that leads to crisis.
9) Good leaders invest, equip and encourage those they mentor
In the study of leadership you’ll find a variety of styles and models depending on who you study or what source you find. The following is a summary: Autocratic (sometimes called authoritative), Participative (or sometimes called democratic), delegative (or sometimes laissez-fair). While, to a certain extent we utilize all of these styles, I would council a different method called transformative.
Transformational leadership is a type of leadership style that can inspire positive changes in those who follow. Transformational leaders are generally energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate. Not only are these leaders concerned and involved in the process; they are also focused on helping every member of the group succeed as well. (http://psychology.about.com/od/leadership/a/transformational.htm).
10) Good leaders surround themselves with smarter people than themselves
The good leader understands his/her weakness, is not threatened by people who excel and have specialized knowledge needed to move an event or an organization forward. What we are attempting to do through the STEPS process is create multi-disciplined teams to bring their expertise to the table to help every corps. This only happens when the leader accepts their weaknesses and compensates with people who have those strengths.
It’s difficult to choose only a few characteristics but, per my opinion, that’s my top ten leadership lessons. I suspect you could come up with your own top-ten, and I encourage you to do so, connecting the lessons to scripture. Who knows, you could become a student of leadership too.
Dennis L. R. Strissel
Jinkins, M., Jinkins, D.B., (1998). The Character of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Mahama, J.D. (2012) My First Coup D’état; and other true stories from the lost decades of Africa. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Quinn, R.E. (1996). Deep Change; Discovering the Leader Within. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers