Lecture 1: Defining Leadership is Difficult
Leadership is difficult to define because is both a science and an art. Effective leaders often display styles that are markedly different because of their personalities, varying contexts and the expectations of those around them.
How many of you would say that you are built to lead? Or that you tend to be a leader in the group. I am sure that many of you feel this way. Perhaps some of you really haven’t figured out what a leader really is, yet. First, we will see what a leader is, and then in the coming lectures, we will talk about what leaders do. Leaders have to see differently than other people. I want to give you some skill sets of what you need to see and do. A big part of leadership is how to understand the mission you are given and how to set a vision, a strategy and direction as a leader. Leaders lead people somewhere and that means you have to understand the purpose and you need to have a certain vision; vision and leadership go together as well as strategic thinking. In addition, leaders have to cope with change; whenever you take people in a direction that means change. Leaders at times are going to be popular and at times they are not going to be so popular. Anyone who has been a leader for any length of time knows that there is a certain price that comes with leadership. Leaders splash cold water on everyone’s complacency. The leaders I know are not the caretakers of the status quo for the nature of leadership is change. Leaders bring change and with change there comes a lack of comfortability at times. The last section in the seminary here that I teach in regards to leadership is transition. When a leader brings all of this to an organization, they usually ask him to leave. This is a class that intends to help you to fail! Not really! Leaders usually make a difference and people are not always comfortable with that. The classic illustration is Jesus, a leader of leaders and he brought a lot of un-comfortability, for he brought change.
B. Winston Churchill:
When I think of leaders that I haven’t met, I think of Winston Churchill. William Manchester wrote a magnificent biography of Churchill’s life during the war. This goes up to World War II and so it is all about the thirties. He only completed two volumes before he died. At the very beginning, he writes, among eighty sheltered acres of beach of oak, lime and chestnut stands a singular country home of England’s most singular statesman. Churchill was a brilliant domineering intuitive inconsiderate self-centered, emotional, generous, ruthless visionary mega-maniacal and heroic genius who inspired fear, devotion, rage and admiration among his peers. What is this saying? What does it sound like to you? He was obviously a leader being in office for so long. He led a nation through one of its most difficult times. But who was Churchill? We could say he was complex. The reality is that most great leaders are complex people. One of my favorite stories about Winston Churchill is that he had a very difficult relationship with Lady Asper. And this really defines leadership; it is very complex.
C. Leadership is, of course, Difficult to Define:
So, defining leadership; how do you define something that is so complex, especially a person who is described as a leader? The following are some things that make leadership difficult to define: it is both a science and art. You can get a book on leadership showing rules telling you how leadership works. Leaders come into a room and create a field, something happens. But much of leadership is an art, isn’t it? It isn’t easy to define. In an art, there is certain unpredictability, certain abstractness; every leader is different. There is a certain mystery to leadership; there is a certain paradox and ambiguity. In reading that statement about Churchill, there is a certain paradox to that. Leadership also depends on a follower’s readiness. Where followers are, this will determine how a person leads. There was a guy named Paul Hersey who talked a lot about situational leadership. A leader has to adjust his or her leadership to the readiness of the follower. Successful parents understand that as your children develop, you have to shift your leadership. You can’t be the same parent at 6 and at 16. So the definition of leadership also depends upon the readiness of followers. There is a different leadership when someone is drafted into the army and as a recruit going through boot camp, there is a different leadership that is necessary for a recruit in boot camp verses someone who is a Colonel speaking to a Second Lieutenant for example. A part of that depends upon the condition. For example, peace time or war time leadership makes different kinds of leaders. A good example would be George Bush until 9-11 and suddenly he had to become a whole different leader.
D. Different Contexts:
There are also different contexts and therefore different leaders. There is a different context in regards to a football team that requires a certain kind of leader. There is a leader of a co-operation, a leader of a church or in a classroom. So it depends upon the context because it is going to look differently. A problem comes about when we try to fit a certain context when it requires an altogether different context. Sometime a person on the board will say, ‘pastor, we need for you to be the CEO,’ that is how we expect you to be. There are some similarities, but I’m not a CEO; I am a pastor. Sometimes, pastors can get it horribly wrong when they try to be CEO’s. Or coaches for example, I’m not a coach but sometimes people want me to be a coach. I’m a pastor and that is a complex and different kind of leadership than these other contexts. There is a person called Gary Wills, who wrote Certain Trumpets where he refers to sixteen different kinds of leaders. He makes a point that wise leadership is hard to define as it depends upon the context. With context, I think I also mentioned culture which makes it challenging also. I have discovered that different cultures have a different expectation of leadership. In a multi-cultural church, it can be really perplexing because you might be pastoring many nationalities and every one of them expected you to be a different leader. Some cultures look at their leaders as a father figure. In a Spanish culture, when I tried to look at leadership in that, the image seems to be more heroic. In the Jewish culture, they have learned how to be survivors; they don’t want to put all their hopes in a leader. They tend more to want to lead themselves. So every culture has a different image of leadership.
Obviously, this is not just a course on leadership as we are talking about leadership that relates to ministry and church. There is a story in the Book of Ecclesiastes in chapter and verse 4:13 where he talks about leadership. In the Old Testament in Ecclesiastes, listen to what this tells us about leadership. ‘Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king, who no longer pays attention to warnings.’ He starts off contrasting young and old; not only just young and old but somebody who is old and who has got stuck in their ways and no longer pays attention to warnings. But here is this poor but wise younger person. Verse 14, ‘for he came out of prison to become king, even though he had been born poor in what would become his kingdom.’ This is one of those rags to riches story. How did he get there? ‘I saw all the living that moves about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him.’ He is teaching us about leadership and part of what we need to understand is the people that follow; they are ever changing, they are here and then they are gone. This person suddenly becomes the new leader but everybody now is attracted to the next person and then the next person. Even in our own culture, we are very cyclical as people. We elect a person to lead us, a president for example; we spend two years in the process listening to the news to the point that you get so tired of it. The process will eventually replace the old president or the old president signs up again, and then we will spend the next four years destroying him. At the same time, we are looking for the next savior. We even get bored with this process as it has been around for so long. It is the same script. When Solomon wrote this, he starts the whole book with the first verse; vanity of vanities. To a certain extent, he is looking at the vanities of our life. Life comes and it goes and leaders come and go also because people change constantly; today’s heroes are discarded the next day. The audacity of hope is tomorrow’s picture of hopelessness.
F. Different Cultures, Styles and Personalities:
This is also what makes leadership complex; the people that you are leading and how they respond. There are not only different cultures but different styles and personalities. Some leaders are ultra-gregarious; they just stand up and take over; they are the center of the stage and in your face. They are heaps of energy. But some leaders are unbelievably shy. Some leaders are truly introverts and don’t fit what we think of leaders. You may be wondering whether or not you are a leader and have a pre-conceived notion that a leader has to be a certain person in a certain way. But a leader can be a lot of different things, especially in terms of traits. Some leaders are impulsive while some are very methodical; some leaders are very aster, some are ostentatious, some are ruthless, some are incredible vain and some leaders are very humble and modest. Leaders, whether you are very modest, humble, or quiet or very out there, but what do these have in common? Underneath it all, they are very tenacious; great leaders grab a hold of something and will not let go. You can be very humble and modest, but don’t mistake that for wishy washy. Perhaps you are very quiet, shy and reserved; when you grab something that you are going to lead, you hang onto it. Tenacity is part of a description of your life; you persevere, you stay with it. There is this inner intensity, a dedication to make something happen. In terms of complexity, part of it depends upon the time. In the 1950’s, a leader profiled more of a great man theory of leadership, less collaborative. We came right out of the 1940’s with years of war, a very structured society and culture in terms of organization. Growing up in the fifties, all the heroes were Sky King and the Lone Ranger; these were the models of leadership. They were portrayed like this on TV but they were also a reflection of culture.
Today, this doesn’t define a leader today. That was during a time where ‘father knows best.’ In the 70’s and 80’s, leadership became more team, collegial, and consulting. So, what about our own generation? How do we define leadership today based on our culture? We could say that we have a certain crisis in leadership today and we have certain alienation toward leadership in a post-modern culture. We have a culture that is actually pushing back to a lot of things and we live in a suspicious culture. We have an emerging generation that is suspicious of anything institutional. This has happened for a good reason; failure of marriage, what churches need to be and society and what government needs to be. Thomas Freedman recently wrote an article in New York Times where he describes a real fear he has for the emerging generation where people can’t get a job. They are at their prime and they may just give up and he wonders what the implication will be for the culture then. The other night a student graduated with a sixty thousand dollar debt, a government loan. He got his political science degree and now he is working at a department store. He has no hope to do anything beyond that. What do you think this begins to create in a person? There will be hopelessness and dissolution and suspicion. What we all need to be aware of, if our culture doesn’t make some shifts, we may have an emerging generation that will be highly suspicious of anybody that stands up as a leader; this is because leaders have disappointed a lot of people. It didn’t feel that way for me in the 50’s and 60’s but it is true today. This even creates more complexity within leadership in today’s society and culture; it is not what it used to be.
G. Expectations in Leadership:
Part of the difficulty has to do with expectations. What are the expectations of Jesus for a leader? Most likely, Christ’s expectation of a leader and a company’s expectation of a leader are very different. So this complexity includes the expectation one has for a leader. Some expect leaders to be popular while others expect leaders to be highly efficient or productive. So people have different expectations. When I pastored a church in the Netherlands, I had a man who worked with the European Space Agency. He was a large German man, a scientist. We didn’t get along really well and I never quite figured why; I tried to be nice to him and I would go over to the Space Agency and we would have lunch. One day I was walking near where he lived and God really put him on my heart. It was a very real moment that I sensed God speaking to me. I was to go and see this man. So, I went over to his house where he was having dinner with a Japanese business man. I apologized but he invited me in anyway. We went to another room and I ask if I had offended him in any way? He replied in a raised voice, ‘you have made the church so efficient!’ And that was it! I admit that the church was fairly unorganized when I had first arrived. They had an elder board, a deacon board and then an elder-deacon board. I served on three boards and I believe that there were at least forty committees. In an expat church, everybody that comes along adds to the layer and they just keep mounting up. I learned from this that everybody has a different expectation. And sometimes we think that everybody’s expectation of a leader is the same, may not at all be. So, I want to conclude by saying that leadership is one big confusing subject.