Monthly Archives: March 2006

Some Good Thoughts on Leadership

I want to give a quick book recommendation on leadership. Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in California wrote a solid book called The Book on Leadership that takes readers through Paul’s final missionary journey and extrapolates twenty-six leadership principles along the way. Several of the qualities I’ve listed in my study can be found in the book, along with a number of other sound principles of leadership. If you are looking to disciple a young leader, or to inculcate a spirit of leadership in your church, check out this book for some helpful content.

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Emulating Good Leaders is Wise

I think I’ve given a decent summary of what good leadership looks like. I’m sure that there are other qualities one can think of that factor into good leadership. I haven’t attempted to come up with the single definitive list on the subkject, but to merely offer an introductory look at the subject. It would be a joy to go deeper into this subject (read: a book of essays on good leadership), but who knows if that will ever happen.

I’m not going to write any more on characteristics of good leadership. I want to move on to other things, and to try to spark thought on other subjects relevant to life. However, before I do, I want to present a few profiles of men who I think lead honorably. We are told in the Bible to imitate those who are honorable men. Before I present some profiles over the next few days, I want to reiterate the importance of the above sentence, with its burden on imitation. This is a countercultural statement today. Our age prizes autonomy and independence. Virtue is found not in emulation, particularly emulation of authority figures, but in emancipation from authority figures. In past ages, young men and women were taught to identify specific men and women who they could model themselves after. The parents were the first and primary people to fill this role, and then others of the Christian community were identified as worthy of emulation. Today, however, when the parents retreat from responsibility and the leaders recede from the public eye, imitation has fallen on hard times.

I’m going to present a few men I’ve found worthy of emulation. In doing so, know that I’m making a statement about imitation. Young people should imitate authority figures of noble character. Think I’m off? Do consider the testimony of Scripture. Paul, the author to the Hebrews, and John all make the case that Christians should imitate those wiser and better than them.

1 Corinthians 4:16Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

Hebrews 6:12We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 13:7Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

3 John 1:11Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

Think about it. And let me know about the book idea. :)

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Good Leadership is People-Oriented

Good leadership does not see leadership as an end in itself. Instead, it finds its mission, its reason for existence, in people. Far from seeing leadership as an opportunity to wield the heavy instrument of authority, good leaders see it as a chance to better those who they lead. The leader’s tool is a shepherd’s staff, not a despot’s cudgel.

How does this quality manifest itself? There are many ways one could think of. One that stands out to me is that good leaders take time to care for, talk with, and invest in people. They do not run from conversation with folks or avoid being around people who need a friend. They do not act impatiently when people err or behave awkwardly. Good leaders have a heart for all types of people, and see relationships and encounters as soil to harvest. This type of leadership is easy to fake, actually. It’s easy to pretend that you like people when you don’t. It’s easy to pretend you’re listening when you’re not. You can get away with such behavior for a good long while in many settings. But here’s the thing–even if men can’t see your heart, the Lord can. He knows all about your impatience, your uncaring heart, and your thirst for power. That, after all, is the reason we seek leadership when we don’t really care for people. We do care for prestige. It’s an exchange that dishonors God and robs leadership of its joy–and its purpose.

Sadly, I’ve encountered this type of self-centered leadership even among Christians. I’ll never forget what it feels like to be carrying on a conversation with a man who is walking away from you while you’re talking to him. It makes you feel smaller than a mouse. As a result of such experiences, I’ve resolved never to treat people that way. That’s a goal I hope to hit, though I should say that the busier I get in life, the more I understand the genesis of such action. When one is pressed on all sides for time, it can be easy to become nervous and fidgety when conversations stretch long. It is imperative that leaders remember that people, not budgets or boardrooms, are the center of their work. Jesus had this perspective. He gave hours upon hours to talk with and serve His disciples. His leadership was people-oriented, focused on the cultivation of those around Him. So too should all Christian leadership be. When we have a heart for people, when we really listen to them, when we truly care for them, we will love them and not see our hearts grow cold toward them. We will keep a firm grip on the shepherd’s staff and leave the despot’s cudgel behind.

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Good Leadership is Humble

The very essence of worldly leadership is arrogance. Those who are in charge are proud of it. So many in the world see their position of leadership as something they attained, something they achieved, and which their reputation depends upon. Instead of viewing leadership as a privilege, a gift, many of the world see it as a right and an entitlement. Even the castle cannot contain the king’s ego.

This trait of worldly leaders is far removed from the biblical ideal. Biblical leaders are lauded not for their arrogant temperaments or lavish self-congratulation efforts, but for their humility. Imitating the ideal set out for them by such men as David, Daniel, Christ, and Paul, Christian leaders esteem others and downplay themselves. They quickly and gladly pass the credit for success on to others and do the same with blame. In fact, it is in taking blame that Christian leadership most sets itself apart from leadership as practiced by many in the world. Anyone can feign humility before the cameras and insist that others contributed more to success than he. It takes a real man, a secure man, an honorable man, to absorb blame for failure. Yet it is not easy for a man to do so. His flesh hates it. His pride rages against it. His self-conception cries out for anything, anything but the admission of wrongdoing. Why? When others realize that he has in fact admitted weakness, they will see him as an insufficient man, a weak man, a failure. This the king, the man, cannot abide.

But abide it the Christian leader must. When he does, he will realize that he need not hold on to an impossible standard that no one really believes he can reach. Indeed, he must confess his wrong, first because it is right before God, and second because it is honorable among men. So many men, especially leaders, live life in a pretend world in which they commit no wrongs and make no errors. I can think of men I know whom I’ve been around a good deal and who I have never heard admit misjudgement or mistake. What a tragedy this is, what a failure to grow, to honor God and conquer weakness. Christian leaders must be the first to confess their inadequacy. Others will see their sin whether they do or not. It is just that they show their true qualification for leadership, their true strength, when they ackowledge that they are weak. Christian men, to your wife, your children, your coworkers, your church–be quick to confess your wrong. Lay down the weapons of self-defense and the suffocating armor of pride and embrace godly manhood. It is only when the king knows the limits of his castle that he is truly wise. It is only then that he is truly able to lead his people.

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Good Leadership is Motivational

Good leadership should move people. One doesn’t lead for the sake of doing so. We lead people to better people, to bring change, to engage what has fallen victim to inertia. Leaders are by definition those who motivate others to action.

This seems obvious, and it suppose it’s not the most subtle of insights regarding leadership, but it’s amazing how so many who occupy leadership positions possess such little ability to move and motivate other people. Think of sports. Many coaches can stand on the sidelines and yell at people. Many can draw up a play or make a recommendation. But not many can motivate. Not many can take a bad player and make him want to better his game. Not many can take a disinterested but talented player and get him to use his ability. In fact, I think that this is the surest test of coaching ability. Forget how well the talented and pre-motivated players play under the coach. Look at the guys who under a coach were underperforming, failing to produce, and discouraged. Watch them and see what they do. You can tell the good coaches from the bad not by how well the superstars play–they’re going to get 30 points or a touchdown no matter what. You can tell the good coaches (or bosses, office managers, pastors, etc) by how well the bench plays. Do guys come in the game and play tentatively? Do they look over their shoulder when they make a mistake? Do they pass up open opportunities to score? Players who have not been properly appreciated and motivated will fail in each of these areas. Bad or average coaches look at a bad or average player and see weakness. Good coaches see potential.

Phil Jackson of the L.A. Lakers is a great example of a coach who gets a ton out of players 1-12. Mike D’Antoni of the Phoenix Suns also coaxes production out of players other coaches bury on the bench. These coaches lead teams that are fun to watch, both from an entertainment and character standpoint. When people are rightly appreciated and encouraged, creation is in its rightful order. God is honored. Not in a salvific sense, but in a general sense. It is a beautiful thing to see players of all abilities honored and used. Same with the office. Same with the church. Same with the family. Christian men must be those who, like the Savior, lead men to be their best. With a combination of encouragement, correction, and instruction, we should lead our families, our churches, and our coworkers to be their best. The way to this end? A life and a ministry of speech that motivates. Be a motivating person to those around you. See what men could be, and help them to that end. Such is the way of the leader, and such is the way of the cross.

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Good Leadership is Forward-Thinking

Yesterday I covered the idea that good leadership is thoughtful. I covered the idea that thoughtfulness is two-sided. It is able to both plan for the future and react well in the moment. This balance is not easily achieved, but the more one works toward it, the more life improves. The man who can lead with a combination of wise planning and reaction positions himself to lead his family, church, and coworkers well. Yet this is not all a good leader needs.

He needs to couple his ability to think thoughtfully with a certain visionary instinct. Look at the great leaders in history, and you will see that they share an ability to think creatively when no one else is. The changes they propose need not be incredibly complex, but do need to be forward-thinking. In fact, the great leaders of history often proposed simple ideas that threw a little cataclysm into the machine. No one saw them coming–no one, that is except the visionaries of history. Luther thought the necessity of justification by faith when others merely felt it. Wilberforce agitated for the abolition of the English slave trade when other Christians simply shook their heads and clucked their tongues. J. Gresham Machen led the Presbyterians out of the flagging PCUSA when other Presbyters threw up their hands in frustration. Good leaders are often a bit strange, often a little off, but it is usually only because they live a little bit in the future when the rest of us are stuck in the present.

The qualities of good leadership that I’ve proposed work in concert. To be forward-thinking, one must be principled. To be forward-thinking and make a difference, one must be courageous. It is the pairing of visionary thinking and courage especially, I think, that is potent. When a man can think for himself, see what others are not seeing, and then step up to point out his findings, he is a powerful man indeed, for he can be used to change the minds and hearts of many. Add in a little persuasion and charm, and men like that can change the world. We can look to our familiar example, Christ, for the utmost picture of visionary thinking. He brought the message of the kingdom when all others were mired in the dungeon of works-righteousness. He is the ultimate visionary. If you doubt me on the importance of visionary thinking on this or other examples, take a good, long look at history. And then–do yourself a favor. Look to the future, and tell us what you see.

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Good Leadership is Thoughtful

Good leadership mixes together a combination of qualities. Do not be fooled into thinking that it depends upon the exercise of one trait or another. It is not simply courage. It is not simply truth-driven. It is a blending of many different traits, such that it may plan for a variety of situations and handle them with grace.

That last sentence contained a bit of foreshadowing for today’s blog. It included the idea of planning. Good leadership necessarily involves planning, and planning necessarily involves thoughtfulness. This statement goes against a good deal of what we see in our emotion-driven world. So many of history’s mistakes, its broken hopes and sorry ends, have formed from a hasty reaction, a thoughtless decision, an uncritical response. How many harmful words have been said that would have passed from mind with but a few seconds’ contemplation? How many families have drifted apart from such exchanges? How many foolish steps were taken by an emotionally fueled decision that soon proved unwise? Many things are not as they seem at first glance. The critical remark proves false, or without basis. The job offer hides a morally compromising position. The peace treaty crumbles as the one-time friend changes into a foe’s clothes. Good leadership possesses the sense to stop the tongue, the pen, or the offensive.

But we might also say that good leadership need not be plodding. It is often true that it is wise to evaluate things and think them through. However, it is also possible to live in a state of thoughtfulness, to cultivate the habits of analysis and insight. In other words, we can train our minds to think well, and thus make good judgments in crucial moments–or, perhaps more commonly, in the moments that precede the crucial moments. We men act as good leaders when we counter swiftly the wrongs our families commit. We act well when we volunteer for worthy work in our church. We live wisely when we ask the girl from church on an initial date. Our Lord often acted swiftly to make decisions. He spoke against unrighteousness when He heard it, turned over tables when they held merchandise in His Father’s house, and preached the gospel to the lost when He encountered them. We seek to emulate His life, and thus we seek to live and lead according to His wise example. In our lives, then, we should both take care to think hard about significant decisions and to respond decisively when the moment calls for it. The blending of thoughtful planning and decisive response is not easily achieved. It will take time to learn how to do so. But in the end, it will be worth all our effort. Strive for thoughtfulness. Strive to think well and plan well but also to respond swiftly when you must do so. Consider the outcome of our Lord’s ministry. He took a few from the Jew’s rabble, trained them up, and started them on a mission that has exploded over the centuries. May we be leaders who over the course of our lives bear fruit from thoughtfulness.

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Good Leadership is Loving

The first two parts of this series touched on two attributes that guys are generally quick to claim: ethical/moral belief and courage. Though they erode in the current day, these values are still prized by many men. It strikes me, though, that there are many who think that good leadership is neatly situated in these two qualities alone. That is to say, so long as one holds true beliefs, and lives a virtuous life according to their design, and leads people, one is a good leader. In this brief blog, however, I will argue that such a view of leadership is lacking.

Before I launch into my argument, though, let me just elaborate on the above claim that many think that leadership is a rather bloodless affair. I turn once more to the world of sports to show you that many, many men out there think that leadership is a matter of knowing what best to do–the plays, the system, etc–and a matter of getting out there on the field and doing them no matter what. I am sure that many out there have suffered under such a coach, who treated men like animals and felt proud for doing so. When the wins came in, he was only validated all the more in his approach. Such men might say that leadership is simply a matter of doing whatever is necessary to accomplish what end is most preferred. I don’t think I need to convince you that such thinking is bloodless, coarse, and ugly. It is so for a simple reason: it fails to comprehend that in leadership, one deals with people. People are the gum that messes up such mechanistic thinking.

It is appropriate to deal with robots or car parts in this manner. Push buttons, throw things, be emotionless, do whatever you want with the inanimate. But the animate. Not so with the animate. It must be led with care, with emotion, with love. Yes, love. We who aspire to be Christian leaders should lead in a loving spirit, and in fact see this loving spirit, not wins, as our ultimate goal. Yes, compete or work to win and succeed. It is right that you do so. But never, never compete or work with winning, not loving, as your highest goal. Swear to yourself that you will not do so. Be a leader who pushes people to do better, who disciplines his charges, who corrects and rebukes them, who challenges them, but who in all these things loves those he works with. See people, not ends, as the goal of your leadership. Exude the sense that you value other people. Accept delays in working to love people and show them that you do. Settle for 98% productivity in order to communicate affection for your employees. Refrain from destroying the confidence of a young athlete who has messed up terribly in order to love him. Stay long after the church service to express to the lonely church member that you care for them. This, friends, is the stuff of leadership. This is the example our Lord set for us. His entire ministry was rooted in and motivated by love, love for his sheep, whom He had come to save. He discipled the apostles in love, bore with them, taught them, rebuked them, encouraged them, all for love.

Reject today the world and its obsession with the bottom line. Disdain its call to “by any means necessary” productivity. Follow Jesus, and lead your family, your coworkers, your church, with love. This will leave a track record that will not burn on the last day.

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Free Madness

A quick interruption in the series on leadership. That will resume tomorrow morning. Those of you who are huge NCAA Tournament fans should be aware of an incredible offering from CBS Sports. If you go to the NCAA sports website here, you can complete a brief sign-up that will allow you to watch all the NCAA tournament games on your computer FOR FREE. This is the first year that CBS and the NCAA have offered such a deal, and I would suggest taking it. Do your work diligently and all that at the office. But now you can do so with an ear to the greatest spectacle in all of sports. Happy tournamenting!

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Good Leadership is Courageous

The first post on leadership dealt with the necessity of a principial foundation. One who would lead well must possess strong moral and ethical principles that will inform and motivate his leadership. The uppermost set of principles, it was argued, are those of the Christian faith, and the ultimate example of strong leadership is the God-man, Jesus Christ.

With that first idea in mind, we proceed to the next essential characteristic of good leadership. A good leader is courageous. There is no other alternative. In fact, it might be argued that the essential quality that separates leaders from non-leaders is courage. Think about people of strong character that you know. Then mentally divide that group into two categories: those who were leaders and those who were not. What provided the line of demarcation? I would guess that it is often this matter of courage. Some of the best men I have known were not leaders. They were high-caliber men, morally strong, and principially sound, but they did not exercise much influence on other people or direct them to a better way. They were quiet, and perhaps meek, and slow to step to the fore in a moment of dramatic necessity. What would they have been with a healthy dose of courage to match their character? One can only guess. Where they might have made a mark on history, the books of the ages record only silence on their part, and leave us alone to our speculation.

What a beautiful thing it is to see courage in action. As with all the fleshed out qualities of Christ, there is such good in seeing a man live as he ought, and everywhere stamp his life with strength and virtue. This quality does not look the same in every man. We ought to realize this right away. Some exercise a bolder, louder courage, while others communicate it with few words and simple actions. In a physical sense, there is no one way to be courageous. Emotionally, there is no one demeanor that is courageous. Want proof? Look at sports. Some lead and show strength by quiet, brave composure, others by fiery, daring fiat. Neither is better than the other. In both temperaments, though, a man shows a willingness to act, to not sit idly while other, lesser men decide the contest. A good leader of courage understands that it is his role to lead the group to safety, prosperity, wisdom, or whatever the ideal outcome may be. He acts according to the requirements of each situation, then. If his children are verbally rude to their mother, he acts swiftly to correct and counter such behavior. If his coworkers act unethically, he compassionately addresses the wrong and seeks to make it right. If his family falls on hard times, he redoubles his efforts to provide, and does not allow doubt or worry to handicap his action. If a large body of church members proposes a foolish course, he risks popularity and speaks against the course. In short, the courageous leader assesses the situation, identifies what action is necessary to overcome or succeed in it, and then puts aside concern for reputation to lead his peers in the wise way. His is not always an enviable task. But it is always a valuable one.

In closing, a few personal words. As a young man desiring to be a leader, I love to see men lead with principled courage. I do not exaggerate, in fact, when I say that it is somewhat thrilling to see good leadership in action, and strong courage in practice. In a culture that is foolishly esteeming feminized masculinity and softshoe manliness, it is a blessing and a necessity to observe Christian men fulfilling their calling and leading their families, churches, and workplaces with courage. Every man can and should be a leader, and should boldly display his brand of courage. In so doing, he follows the example of Christ, the ultimate man of courage, whose strength of purpose and character was so strong that He took upon Himself all the wrath that God could pour upon Him to save His own. Many today celebrate a “cool” Jesus, a “buddy” who just went around passing out love, but we celebrate a man who was hated, scorned, and shamed, and who did not flinch a millimeter in the face of such opposition. To the end, He was courageous. May we think on that example throughout our days and tasks. May we of the Christian church embody it as we, like our Savior, walk through a world of fire, wind, and rain to reach the city of God.

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