What Leadership IS

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The first leadership book I remember reading was Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, Consulting Director for Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

While Sanders authored more than 40 books on the Christian life, three personal experiences made this book particularly important to me.

  • My first spiritual mentor, Gayle Jackson, gave it to me for Christmas 1980.  Gayle is the best Bible-teaching businessman and friend I have ever known.
  •  I actually got to meet one-on-one with Sanders during the time I was reading his book.  I asked how I could pray for him, and he said, “Pray for my strength as I am finishing my race.”  He had recently retired and at age 70, he was writing and speaking around the world.
  • I taught from his book in Sunday school shortly after finishing it.  I prayed that even if only one person came, I would teach as God led.  Only one person came to the first class.

The one thing I remember most from the book is Chapter 3, The Master’s Master Principle.   It began with the words of Jesus from verses Mark 10:43–44…

…whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;
and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.

Specifically Sanders wrote,  “No theological training or training course will automatically confer spiritual leadership or qualify one for an effective ministry.  Jesus was later to tell them, ‘You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you.’”  (John 15:16)

The cost I was later to learn was suffering.  Sanders describes it as “a steep price to pay, and that it cannot be paid in a lump sum.”  He says, “Greatness comes only by way of servanthood, and that first place in leadership is gained only by becoming everyone’s slave.”

Leadership then is a function of God’s sovereignty, to which I am to respond by always serving and sometimes suffering.   Not what you were expecting?

Wait.  There’s More!

In the first article of this Mastery of Leadership series, we discussed what leadership is NOT.  Now let’s look at what leadership IS.

The first definition of the verb lead is “to go before or with to show the way.” Let me propose two important parts to this definition…

1)      To show – as measured by people following

2)      The way – as in a direction or destination worth going to

The Way

The “way” part of this definition is the most important issue, so let’s look at it first. Let’s ask this question:  “Are you going somewhere worthwhile?”

Who gets to decide what’s worthwhile?  After all, who knows best – you as the leader – or the followers you lead?

History has examples of leaders heading to bad destinations (think Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler). It also has examples of followers jumping on board to directions that are less than worthwhile.

When all is said and done, there is really only One Person who can determine whether you are going someplace worthwhile.  That’s our Father in heaven.  God sees way beyond what you as leader and all of your followers can see.

Consider Abraham who “went out not knowing where he was going.”  Although God leads, He doesn’t hand out maps with the destination circled in red. At these times, we walk by faith in who He is and with the faith that He is leading us somewhere worthwhile.

Since only God knows the best way, make sure that you hear and follow Him one step at a time.  One of the best tools I’ve found for pinpointing specific problems in your leadership is to practice this short but effective exercise.

  • Find a quiet place where you can sit and think. Do this exercise at least weekly.
  • Ask yourself, “How closely am I following God?”  Rate yourself on a 10-point scale.  10 points is following him every step of the way, like matched footprints.  A score of zero means you don’t even know where to start, let alone where to go.
  • Rating yourself is important, but the real opportunity for growth comes when you look at the reasons you gave yourself a certain score.  Let’s say you rated yourself a 6.  Why did you give yourself those six points? List the reasons.
  • Now let’s consider why you withheld points.  If you gave yourself less than a score of ten, list the reasons you withheld points from your score.

May I suggest keeping your weekly leadership evaluations in a notebook so you can look back to see how you are growing in your leadership and in your ability to hear and follow God.

Anyone Following?

Now we need to turn to the “Show” part of the leadership definition – people following you.

Let me challenge you.  Within the past month were there times when you were in a position of leadership, but people were not following or performing to your expectations?  Even if someone simply failed to do one thing you expected them to do, it is a reflection on the effectiveness of your leadership.

It does not negate your followers’ responsibility to respond to your requests.  Since you have 100 percent responsibility for your team reaching its goals, you have to accept 100 percent of the responsibility for leading.

So now, let’s repeat the earlier exercise to evaluate your leadership, but this time ask “how well are your followers following you?”

To evaluate how effective you are as a leader, look at those people who report directly to you.  See each of them individually, and then look at them all as a group.

  • First, list all of your direct reports by name.
  • Next, take the first person on your list.  Grade that person on a 10-point scale as to how well they are following.  This is based on your own standards or expectations of how you would like them to perform.  10 means they are with you all the way.  Zero means not at all
  • Make a list of the reasons you gave that person the number of points you did.   Then list why you withheld the points you did.  Be as specific as possible and make notes on the exact ways they are and are not meeting your expectations.
  • Go through the same exercise for every other direct report on your list.  Rate each person on a 10-point scale, listing reasons you gave or withheld points.
  • Finally, take all of the scores of your direct reports and average them. Add up all the scores and divide by the number of scores you added.

This is not simply a score of how well those you lead are meeting your expectations. It is your leadership score. Your measurement of their following is their measurement of your leadership.

Complete this exercise every weekend to get an honest perspective of how effective your leadership was during the past week. Review who is supposed to get what done by when, in light of the organization’s goals, vision and values.  Let the diagnosis identify the good, the bad and the ugly.  Make a plan to speak the truth in love to each of them on Monday.

Leadership Qualities Required?

What you think about what leadership IS!  Reply with answers to these three questions:

  • What hit you?
  • Is it true?
  • What will you do?

It’s one thing to diagnose how well you are leading or “showing the way.”  It is something else to know how to improve.  Take a look at the next installment of The Mastery of Leadership series: Why Follow the Leader.


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