Thoughts on leadership

For a recent seminary assignment, we were asked to share our personal definition of leadership, and address the question: "Why do church leaders fail?" We were supposed to answer in approximately 400 words. After typing my response, I thought it might also make for a good blog post. Here 'tis…

My definition of a leader is someone who is "in the trenches." A leader is often thought of as someone who sends others to fight for his cause. The true model of leadership is found in the inverse: someone who is willing to die for those s/he leads. I think we see people fail at leadership because they have misplaced motives. They want the title of "leader" but for self-glorification, not the edification of those they purport to shepherd. They want to pad a résumé, not build a congregation.

One key tenet of a leader is that s/he never asks of subordinates something that that s/he is unwilling to endeavor to accomplish him/herself. I think another way to describe it is a player-coach. The best suited to lead a group of like-minded individuals is someone who has learned from the school of hard knocks what it means to achieve in a particular venue. When Michael Jordan was in the twilight of his athletic career, he briefly came out of retirement and worked on the coaching staff of the Wizards. He would also take the court from time to time, showing by example what it meant to exude excellence.

Much of my thoughts on good leadership come from friend, former co-worker and boss, Stephen P. Anderson. His philosophy on leadership is that a leader is supposed to inspire, not micro-manage. The last thing any organization needs is another MBA touting suit, thinking s/he has all the answers because it came straight from a textbook. Stephen's leadership style was very much lead by doing. When I thought my work was top-notch, he would look it over and say: "Have you considered… ?" I both dreaded and looked forward to those moments. Dreaded, because I knew it would require more work on my part. I appreciated it though, because I knew that 95% of the time, he'd be right. It was very much an iron sharpening iron experience working alongside him.

Though he and I don't work together anymore, I still hit him up for advice, when having a creative block. He always brings a fresh perspective to everything he does, and is very well versed in the psychology of how to best communicate. I asked him if he'd be my mentor for this class, and he said: "I'm flattered. I'd love to be your mentor." I think that's a key quality in leaders as well: They make others feel like a million-bucks, rather than working out their own insecurities by putting others down. A true leader has a quiet inner self-confidence.

Anyway, I'm over my allotted 400 words. I do want to push this article though, because it succinctly summarizes much of my beliefs on effective leadership:

Why I Am Not a Manager