I have been reflecting on leadership and what makes someone a leader both in the church and outside. I'm going to distinguish between people in leadership roles and leaders. Not every administrator is a leader. Leadership is however a tricky concept to nail down. If you executed a library catalogue keyword search for the term leadership you would find nearly half a million books. A leader, at its simplest level, is someone others choose to follow. For the church Jesus would be the archetypical leader: he founded Christianity but never studied theology, never held office, never had an earthly title, or even owned a piece of property. People followed him to their death (and beyond).
Ok, maybe not fair to invoke Jesus Christ here so lets consider a human example: Ghandi. He has been called "the preeminent leader of the Indian independence movement" but his leadership was not based on political office or traditional power. In part it was his personal charisma. Obama's charisma (he was relate-able) helped get him elected. Pope Francis' charisma (he is inspiring) will help him introduce tough reforms. But charisma is fleeting, and leadership must be built on something deeper.
So I thought what makes me want to follow someone? Here is my list:
1. TRUST. I trust a leader who cares for my interests as well as their own and values the things I value. We live in an age where a CEO can lay off 1000 employees and take home a million dollar bonus. Then the company brings in a consultant to help build trust and morale. Duh. If you take care of me, I will take care of you. If you are taking care of you, I will take care of me. For example: my children are important to me. If you are a church leader and you want me to trust you, then show me my kids are important to you by the priorities you set.
2. KNOW THYSELF. A leader understands her/his own strengths and weaknesses. They share their successes and own their faults. I have encountered a leadership maxim that effective leaders should not apologize for leadership failures to those they lead. I can't reconcile that the model of servant leader in the church. A leader who understands their weaknesses can find those with complimentary strengths to support them and when needed to correct them. I think that also applies outside of the church: leaders who don't own their failures or blame shift destroy trust.
3. LISTEN. The Republican gains during the 2014 U.S. Senate elections elicited an interesting response from the Democratic President Obama: "I hear you." However, as one commentator noted their was no indication that any of his key policies would change. It seems that the message to the public is "I hear you" but "I'm not listening." One hundred town halls won't help if I don't believe you are listening. Leaders listen.
4. SPEAK. The daily tasks of the church push out time to ponder the big picture for most of us. A leader must have a vision and communicate it effectively to those who follow. Here is your chance to transform my values and to align them to the values you believe are essential to the big picture. Belief change is not easy, and I need to see clearly the benefits, but I am open to change. Some church transitions fail because people aren't open to change. They also fail because church administrators failed to communicate. The same applies in the secular world.
Leadership. Hard to pin down; but needed so desperately.