Leadership - What Is It?

There’s been a lot of talk the past couple of years about “leadership” -- in government, the church, business, really all types of organizations. This has gotten me to thinking: just what is “leadership” anyway? Have you ever wondered about that?

Some people define “leadership” by pointing to particular leaders they like and see as effective. Perhaps a pastor, lay person, or bishop. Or maybe a mayor, governor, president, or business leader. I’m sure we can all name several.

Some see leadership best in a quiet servant leader whose faithful example inspires countless others. Lots of those come to mind.

People also point to examples of weak leadership and problems that were created when a person (or group) failed to lead when needed. Unfortunately, I can think of some here too.

I agree with John Maxwell that “leadership” is primarily about one thing -- influence. A good definition of leadership is this: the capacity to influence people toward a positive outcome.

Can you recognize the elements? Capacity. Influence. People. Positive outcome (a.k.a. “fruitfulness”). That last part, getting results, is the necessary result of good leadership.

And what are some things that good leaders do? They don’t do all the work themselves, but they make sure that, in pursuit of their mission, the right people are enlisted to get the right work done. In a word, leaders delegate.

They also question. I appreciate Lovett Weems’ statement: “Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions.” Leaders ask questions – good questions, which remind folks of the “mission” or purpose of the organization, to focus their activities on accomplishing their mission. That’s influence.

I also like this quick list of “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” (from James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge, Fourth Edition):

Model the Way
Inspire a Shared Vision
Challenge the Process
Enable Others to Act
Encourage the Heart

So what does all this have to do with the church? Well, every congregation has a pastor who is in a position of leadership – with both the opportunity to lead and a congregation that needs good leadership. And each congregation typically has several lay people in positions of leadership – lay leaders, board and team chairs, teachers and many others. Do they really lead (influence people toward positive outcomes)? Do they seek to grow their capacity to lead, doing things that help them become better leaders? Or do they simply fill positions?

All across our conference, congregations are beginning 2013 with a slate of “leaders”. Some people are continuing in their established leadership positions, while others have been called to new leadership roles. Regardless, each leader has a certain capacity to influence an important part of the congregation’s ministry -- to ask right questions leading to alignment and accountability for accomplishing God’s mission for the church. Of course we know that no leader is perfect, so our leaders, both lay and clergy, must work together (collaborate) to discern, plan, and accomplish the ministry that God has placed before them.

Hopefully, while praying and seeking God’s guidance, all of our leaders will work on strengthening their own leadership ability – perhaps by working on the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” listed above. Or maybe by participating in a LLD group, Lay Servant Ministries course, or maybe something else. Good leaders seek to improve so that the congregation they lead will be even more effective at the “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” that we should all know so well from Bishop Schnase -- and fruitful in their mission.

My prayer is that you and all the lay people who have taken on positions of leadership, through the gifts and inspiration of God’s Spirit, will strengthen your capacity to provide real spiritual leadership focused upon Jesus Christ. And that your leadership, combined with your pastor and others, will produce positive results in your congregations. The church needs real leaders now more than ever – growing, spiritually engaged leaders – to make a difference in our communities and our world.

In 2013, let’s all work to strengthen our own “capacity for influence” to lead congregations that lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ – for the transformation of our communities and even the world.

THAT’S what I would call Leadership!