Lecture 2: Common Elements of Leadership
A leader is someone whom we follow, who influences and mobilizes us and who leads us toward a common goal.
A. Obama and Bush as Leaders:
As we talk about the complexity of leadership, every now and then I might use a political example. I am not pushing any political party or candidate. However, I do find that political leaders are fascinating. They provide interesting examples because they are so public and in the news. I have said that leadership isn’t easy to define; in saying that, can I ask whether former president Obama would be a classic example of this? One such person from the audience (Felisha) works a lot with agencies and the government. Tell us some of the complexities of defining Obama as a leader. ‘When Obama was first running for office, he had a sort of grass roots organization. In Harvard, we studied Obama and his ability to create this movement across the nation. His group was probably one of the best story tellers, going from an ordinary person up to what matters and counted. He was a kind of catalyst; some leaders are very good at this and this is a whole different level of leadership. Getting elected to office is one type of leadership and then once you get there, it requires a totally different kind of leadership. This man said that he was a follower of Christ and in just making that announcement, what did that do to him? He put himself under public scrutiny, right? Then they call him a Muslim, and then they said that he wasn’t an American. How did he respond to all of this? He said that in his belief, he wanted to be like Jesus. Then our response was: Oh, he’s not a leader, he can’t make a decision. Everybody thought that he was trying to be a sort of a meditator; that he can’t make a decision. Well, he finally makes a decision; he appoints someone to be a judge and then again he is criticized. He was a new type of leader; he is young and trying to be collaborative and seems to be testing the view of leadership. Now, Bush was a totally different kind of leader. The question here is, he may be wondering where were the Christians since he professes to be a Christian. He was trying to lead with love and grace, but the group that is really hitting him hard and not supporting him was his own brothers and sisters in Christ.
You know that I am a follower of Christ and after four years, the only dirt they can find wasn’t much. And they were really looking for that dirt. But he has been challenging us to do even though it has been hard; if you look at his daily actions and this is what leadership is about. What did he do in his inactions with people who were called the common man? Who was he engaging? These are the kinds of complexities of leadership; he was trying to lead with grace and love and trying to be the leader that people wanted him to be as the President of the United States. He comes across as being strong and then he comes across as being a dictator when he tries to lead with grace; they say he was wishy washy. So when you enter leadership, the one thing that you see, you will always be under public scrutiny and that you will never appease everybody. There will always be a group that will criticize you, no matter what you do. One of the down falls that people say in regards to Obama, he is trying to be everybody’s leader. Now, at the end of his administration, he realized that he couldn’t be. He couldn’t be everybody’s leader. So, the interesting thing will be the person who follows him; how different will that person be? (And of course we now know that Trump is the President of the United States and comes with a totally different style of leadership which many people hate even more!) We see that that the Republicans come over very negative toward the democrats. So, as a country, we have to look at what leadership really means. So, if you become a leader, realize several things, you will always have a critic, no matter what you choose to do, you will always have a critic. Even if you do it right, there will be those who aren’t happy. Then, when you make your decision, pray and consider what Christ would have done.
With Bush and Obama, every morning they prayed for the country, both of them did. Every day, they ask God to help them to guide the country. That is what they did. One final thing to consider as a leader, you have to make a decision when everybody else is not decisive. When he went in and got Ben Laden, he had to make a decision. He had to tell those that went there, to kill him. This was something that went morally against what he believed. As a leader, you will have to make those extremely hard decisions and in it, there will be those who are for you and those who are against you. The quote made about Winston Churchill can be said about any leader. True leaders will make hard decisions, they will have critics, but in this new group of leaders, you will see innovations change; you will see change makers. That will be the new leadership today; they will be called change makers.’
B. Three Things Leaders Have in Common:
So, let’s think about what some commonalities are in leadership. There are three things that leaders seem to have in common: a leader is someone people follow. You are amazed, right! As you ask yourself whether or not you are a leader, then ask who is following you? Well, my dog follows me! Peter Dreger, sort of the guru on leadership, says that the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. After all the writing on leadership, that was his statement. The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. John Maxwell has also written a lot about leadership, has a favorite proverb, ‘he who thinks he leads but has no followers, is only taking a walk.’ Gary Wills, I mentioned him earlier, says, ‘a test of a leader is not temperament or virtue but the ability to acquire followers.’ So, let’s think of some examples from Scripture; who are the leaders who had followers? Moses had followers, yet sometimes they seemed to be against him. Sometimes, your best leadership is when the least number of people follow you. John F. Kennedy wrote Profiles of Courage before he became president. It was a story of people in congress who defied their peers, people who put them into office. They didn’t do what was popular but what was right. This raises the question of whether or not they were leaders. If the basic definition of leadership is someone who has followers, but sometimes leaders have to make decisions where people are less inclined to follow. Was Jesus still a leader at the cross when everybody left him? Yes, of course. In John 6, everybody wanted Jesus to be their king because he had just fed them all. He turned and said, ‘I am the bread of life, anyone who is going to be my disciple must eat my flesh.’ This sounded strange but he was calling for total commitment. But, instead, everybody left him, except for the twelve. And Jesus asked them whether they wanted to leave also.
C. Leaders in Scripture:
If they had left, would Jesus still have been a leader? Who else in Scripture was truly a leader? Gilead who had a lot of followers; David was also a leader and there was also Nehemiah. Anybody that gets a group of people to go and build a wall was a leader. What are the implications? A leader has to manage that relationship. For example, Franklin Roosevelt with his fireside chats and this was all about understanding the nature of leadership. He paid a lot of attention to his followers. Abbot here is a leader; he has been in the computer industry as a VP in HP computers. Abbot in all of your years of experience, what attracts followers? ‘A lot of what you see is the context and character. Who you are as a person and how Christ is manifested in you in different ways. But leadership is always in context. I just finished up a pastor search process. How do you take on that leadership role? It is a calling by God and it is really important. As you think about all of that, part of the leadership model is in regards to who you are leading; what is the group and what is the task? Who is on the team and does everybody understand the objective? What is the timing of it? You can have an academic discussion about leadership until you realize that it involves timing and a completion of a task. So, when you think about it, a lot of your good leaders are people who you would want to be your friend. If I’m having a crisis at three in the morning, this is the person I’m going to call on the phone. It is because that is the person who is going to be authentic with me; they are going to tell me perhaps what I don’t want to hear. There is a high degree of person integrity. With my team, I always used to say that I believe in absolute integrity vs situational integrity. This is when it doesn’t look good and you change your story.
Those kinds of character traits are very important; trust and dependability. You ever had to follow someone that you didn’t trust or you can’t depend upon, not when it is easy but when it is hard? What do you do when someone gets in your face on the leadership team in regards to a total disagreement about either what you are doing or how you are doing it? They start pushing your buttons and start doing pointing at you. What do you do about that? I am sitting there going through the Bible as fast as I can and come to Proverbs and try to find an answer there. Everything becomes a test as you go through it. A great thing about a good leader is encouragement; a natural ability to encourage people. Encouragement within a bad situation and not to whitewash over it or push it off to the side is one of the gifts of leadership; to be an encouragement to others. Another great gift is active listening, not passive listening where you just agree but instead where you involve yourself in the listening. One of the most important things though is servant leadership. This gets a little upside down sometimes because in servant leadership you need to have a humble spirit and you have to be confident. Typically leaders are required to be change agents. Does anyone know a leader of the status quo? If you are going to lead change but at the same time always be aware that somebody there is not going to want to do the change. How do you win them over? And you may not; how do you do that? Another key point in leadership, if you are on a team, there are usually some very quiet people and usually these are the people who are very clever. Being the kind of a leader where everybody feels safe; they trust you and they will follow you. But you need to hear from them at the same time. Create a safe environment where they can do that. One of the very first questions that we had on our pastoral search team; is it safe for me to say what I think about this process? You could be disagreeing with the eight other people on the team.
E. Know Your Decision Processes:
As a leader, what are your spiritual gifts? And what are the spiritual gifts of your team members? In doing leadership in church, I will say that I learned more about leadership in the church context that helped me in my career than the other way around. In my career, I was sort of like the Roman soldier that said that he simply follows orders; just doing what he is told. This is what you can do in the business world. As VP at HP, I can go and say do this and they would do it. But try that here in church! There is another whole model of how you lead here in church. You need to understand what your decision processes are. I live in the Silicon Valley and we do things totally different than in other parts of the country. So what is your individual decision model, how do you find that out? Remember the test where you figure out whether you are an otter, a beaver, a lion or a golden retriever? I can’t remember what the test is called, has anyone taken that test? This helps you, providing different models in terms of your style of leadership. What about spiritual discernment? Before we begin this task, the number one thing we did, we read Concerning God’s Will, we read this together. You can get this book for kindle only or perhaps a used book store. That is a whole different thought process because now we say that everyone has value and everyone has a voice and you are going to listen to everyone. That leadership model gets fellowship because you just valued everybody and now you have the team going in the same direction, understanding what to say and what the delivery needs to be.’
So, Abbot has given us a list of what attracts followers; a great list of things. When we study leadership and we look at leaders that a lot of people follow; we need to ask ourselves questions. For example, have you ever heard of Alexander the Great? He was this young man in his early twenties who started with an army and went south of Greece and then conquered all the known major powers of the time, including Persia. He took his army all the way to India through Afghanistan. He could lead his men all the way to the edge. So, how did this man have followers? One of the things about him, he knew the names of ten thousand of his men; at least that is the tradition. For myself, I have a hard time with a hundred names. It was said that his men would go over the cliff for him. Now, I believe that all of you are fascinated or at least interested in leadership, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. One of the things you should do, is to read leaders and ask yourself what makes people want to follow these leaders? I am reading about Steve Jobs, a complex person. He was part genius, part jerk and a whole lot of other things, and yet when he would stand up at Apple Computers and announce a new product and talk about it; people would rise to their feet even though he treated most of them badly. I read it and ask myself what made this a leader? What is it that I would want to immolate and what is it about him that I wouldn’t want to be like at all? A big part of my question is, what causes people to follow people?
The second thing that leaders have in common; a leader is someone who influences. That doesn’t seem all that insightful either, but it is true. Ask yourself who the leader is or I’ll put it another way, ask who the person in a group that influence others the most? In my first church, there was a person named Virginia, who was in that church all of her life. She never married and in a sense, the church was her husband. Whenever we had a church vote on anything, others would look to Virginia to see what she was doing. Now, she didn’t have any defined office in the church, but she was a leader. Why, because she had influence. If you are a leader, who are you influencing? In the Latin, it actually means ‘in flow’. So, who are you flowing toward that causes them to want to follow you? In almost any given situation, there is a prominent influence. In going back to my first church, there was a maintenance man at Multnomah. I will always remember him because as a young pastor, he told me that he always shoots straight. After ten years in that church with him, knowing what I know now, I would have said, ‘how about we don’t just shoot?’ I would prefer another analogy because I am not into shooting. Whenever there was a church vote, Jim would raise his hand and find something that we didn’t do. We actually got him on our board and we would always make sure that he agreed with us before bringing it to the congregation. So, Jim was a person who influenced people. The basis of leadership involves the capacity of the leader to change the mindset and framework of another person; this is influence. According to Harry Truman, leadership is the art of influencing people to do what they should have done in the first place.
Thirdly, a leader is someone who mobilizes people toward a common goal. This is why fundamentally, leaders are directional. Leaders have a purpose; this is what I know about leaders and myself. I seemed to have been hardwired to have the ability to direct; I’m always talking to my board about where we are going. Where are we going as a church? Churches that don’t have direction start to drift and when that happens, they start to go down. A leader always has to be thinking about where he and his followers are going. A leader also has to recognize false summits. I’ve climbed Mount Hood a couple of times in my life. I get up at one in the morning and start the climb going to timber line lodge. You start of in the snow and then after an hour or so, you begin to wonder what in the world were you thinking when first thinking about this. It is about an eight hour climb and so you keep going. And you climb all night and you realize that you are almost there; this is great and you arrive sooner than you expected.
Upon arriving you realize that it isn’t the summit but instead it was a false summit. You discover that there are about three false summits on Mount Hood. So, leaders have to recognize false summits and true summits. Leaders bring people to where they are going. Ask yourself this question again; are you a leader? If you are, then where are you going? Do you know where you are going? Have you sorted out in your mind where you want to take people? If you can say that you know where you are going and where you want to take people, you are a leader. But if you don’t know or you are not interested in going anywhere, then you really aren’t a leader; leaders catalyze movement. The reason Obama got people to follow him is that he catalyzed movement. He found the language that set things in motion. Leaders figure out the language that people will follow.
F. Let the Structure Serve You:
Sometimes I will say something like this at the village to people who say that they are down on the institutional church. But yet, everything has to have structure which isn’t bad. The smartest churches take their structure and let it serve them. We’ve done a lot of the hard work; we can now take the structure and go do it. But what happens over time within organization, we start to serve the structure. The organization must always serve the organism, but what happens is that the organism starts to serve the organization. In my first church, the organism or the body began serving the structure. This is what it looked like; hey, we are in a bad location, we ought to think about moving. But hey, I was baptized here; this church is where I grew up. Well, we need to think about doing this; no, you don’t understand, the bylaws will not allow that. This is a classic one; I came to the church and realized that the covenant was written back in the 1940’s. The words that it was written in used words from that era.
In suggesting that we change the covenant, not the meaning, but just the use of language? It failed because one person voted no in the congregation because in the wisdom of the forefathers, every decision at the level of covenant must be unanimous. So, when a church or any organization has an organism submitting to the organization, it collapses. What leaders must do is to look beyond the structure and not get caught up in it and serve it and help the people to say that they are going beyond the structure.
So, in reviewing, leaders have three things in common: they have followers, they have influence and they are directional. Think about leaders in Scripture; great leaders knew where they were going. Moses knew where he was going. David knew where he was going and finally, Jesus knew where he was going and when people got in his way, even his own disciples, like Peter; Jesus would get them to get behind him. If people find somebody who knows where they are going, they want to follow because people don’t want to drift.