Leadership: What’s It All About
By Jeff Jernigan
This article is being written on an airplane headed east. I am on my way to help the leaders of a former communist country implement change.
They have come to the West for help because their leaders are having difficulty recovering from seventy-five years of totalitarianism. One of my tasks involved teaching what leadership is all about.
During my last visit, a senior general described the dilemma. People who held positions of leadership, filled leadership roles, and even demonstrated the skills of a leader simply could not lead. “What is leadership,” he asked, “if it is not a position, a role, or the exercise of certain skills?”
That is a tough question. The dictionary tells us a leader is someone with the capacity or ability to lead, someone who fills the position or office of leader. The Bible uses a number of terms to describe these positions or offices- ruler, chief, prince, magistrate, governor, judge, guide, captain, and noble are just a few. But because someone holds this office or has these responsibilities, is that person a leader? The general sensed there was more to it than that. He was asking, What does leadership look like? What does it involve?
Part of the problem in defining the qualities of a leader is that we tend to look only at the outward manifestations of what the world calls leadership. Often people have vision, exercise faith, motivate people, mobilize resources, persevere courageously, or administrate well, we call them leaders. Actually, a person can demonstrate these qualities and still not be a leader. Why not? A leader is not defined by performance or results, but by character.
A leader is someone who influences others to follow a decision or course of action through strength of character. As Samuel prepared to anoint the first king of Israel, the Lord told him, “Do not consider his appearance… The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Having a title or position, possessing leadership skills, even having the power to make others follow your decisions does not make you a biblical leader. Without the character of a leader these things are just so much window dressing.
The Character of a Leader
What kind of character, then, influences others? It can be summed up with three words: shepherd, steward, and servant.
Shepherd. When Paul called the elders of Ephesus together at Miletus, he gave them a warning: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This word communicates that leaders have a deep sense of responsibility for their flocks.” They do not run when things get tough. Nor do they point fingers and shift blame.
Shepherds are concerned about the condition of those they lead. They act protectively toward them, staying alert to any danger they might face. Each person is important to them. They exercise discipline with compassion, focusing on correction rather than punishment. Shepherds are loyal, hardworking, and know where they are going.
Steward. A true leader is also a steward of those he leads. We usually think of a steward as someone who manages money or other resources wisely. Peter uses the word with a much wider meaning in 1 Pet. 4:10 (NASB): “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” A steward leader uses the gifts and the grace he has received from God to bring out the best in the people he leads, in order to accomplish God’s purposes.
The closest we come to the concept of a steward is captured in our word
manger. Managers take responsibility for what must be accomplished and the people who do the work. Good managers focus on people, realizing it is they who must accomplish tasks. Managers who ignore this principle leave damaged relationships in their wake. Managers direct and coordinate, often participating in the work, not just giving orders.
Isaiah gives us another look at steward leadership in Is. 32:1-8 (NASB). He speaks of princes (position) who rule (role) justly (skill). But these princes go beyond ruling. They are to their people a refuge, shelter, streams of water, and shade in a parched land. They protect those they steward, provide for them, and create an environment of peace.
Servant. Too often we gauge our success by what we accomplish, not whom we serve. Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “Let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. ” The idea here is of a host or an attendant who waits on others.
Servant leaders know people are the most valuable resource and that serving the Kingdom means serving people. Servants work hard at making other people successful in reaching the goal. They do not take credit for what others have done or seek the spotlight.
Anyone Can Lead
Shepherd, steward, servant-this is the character of a biblical leader. Shepherds focus on nurturing those they lead. Stewards mobilize people to accomplish a task. Servants pour their lives into others and the Lord’s purposes rather than serving themselves.
These qualities are not always distinct n one another. Like the colors of a rainbow it may be difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins. But when these qualities are the foundation for teaching, administrating, exercising any of the gifts; when they energize our ability to influence, mobilize, and motivate people then the positions we serve, the roles we fill, and the skills we use will demonstrate true leadership.
Leadership, in this sense, is something everyone can exercise – not just those who have a title. Whether you are a parent leading a family, a woman motivating her Christian neighbors to share their faith, or a person directing a ministry or leading a group, these qualities define your leadership. They enable you to influence others to follow a decision or course of action. They enable you to be a leader.
(The above material was published by DISCIPLESHIP JOURNAL, 1993)
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