Leadership: reaching for the possible future

1 Jul

Leadership: reaching for the possible future

Last year I heard this definition of leadership and it made a lot of sense to me.
Leadership is so much more than management. Managing makes things happen, but within the existing frame of expectations. Leadership reaches out for what is possible, with the resources and people we have, and the situation before us. It is possible, but only because we have leadership to take us there. That’s the kind of leader I hope to be, too.
In the last week, I have read several articles about leadership which provide some helpful insights.

Darren Cronshaw on ‘Selecting Leaders’:  This short piece was published on a Pastors' Network, and is intended for local churches, where a pastor or leadership council may be looking for new leaders for groups or sections of the organization. There are helpful ideas, here, though I must admit that it reads a bit more like the management handbook.
Cronshaw writes: Here are five good questions to ask when grappling with the critical challenge of selecting and developing new leaders:

1. The character question – who is known to be faithful and reliable
and whose integrity would have the confidence of the congregation and the
broader community?
2. The initiative question – who already shows commitment to the
mission of the church and has initiated ministry out of their passion and
interest, whether or not they hold a position?
3. The synergy question – who will synergise well with the existing
team? Rather than finding more of the same, look for people to complement
the existing team.
4. The question of potential – who shows evidence of teachability and
eagerness to grow in responsibility? Imagine recruiting someone with little
experience but potential to grow into a role.
5. The opportunity-cost question – what would a new leader have to give
up to serve on your team? Consider where a person's leadership energy
is best directed. If they are at a stage of life with other demands, or have
other opportunities for service in the church or broader community, it may
be best to encourage and empower them in that.

These are helpful questions, but as I say, they seem more relevant to a management focus. They do not actually help us understand what leadership is.

In another snippet, I read this short piece in The Age  newspaper, about the CEO of the Australian Football League, Andrew Demetriou (June 29, 2009): (Simon Mann was the writer)

‘Demetriou's somewhat feisty reputation preceded him when he landed [the] job, something he acknowledged tongue-in-cheek in a Melbourne Press Club speech just days after taking up his new role (and becoming a father).
"If I were to believe you guys," he told the audience of journalists, "I'm a hot-tempered, loud, heavy-gambling Cypriot, prone to fly off the handle without warning."
But had he been misunderstood? His self-assessment went like this: "I am impatient when I see injustice, I am not happy with mediocrity, I have no place for lack of integrity, lack of honesty, lack of respect for others. I want the best for those who work with me. I want to be part of the best team possible. I want to be challenged by that team. I want equality of opportunity.
"And finally, I want the right amount of time to consider my responsibilities to my workplace and my family and to make sure the balance works for both. I want that for all who work for the AFL."
Those who work closely with him reckon Demetriou has achieved all of that.

What’s interesting here is that there is very little about ‘how’ to be a leader or a great manager, and much about character. It’s who he is that is most important, in both his self-assessment and in this journalist’s view of him. I like that, very much. There’s a lot of wisdom there, for those of us with the task of forming future leaders.

Then, in the June Harvard Business Review, there’s a series of articles about what is to be learned from the recent business crises and the need for many business leaders to regain trust. Clearly the Harvard Business School also senses the need to restore trust. (There is a significant literature which blames Business Schools in general, but especially Harvard, for creating the basic mind-set which led to the ‘sub-prime‘ financial crisis.)  There’s an especially interesting article about poor leaders. By implication, this catalogue of habits of failing leaders helps to define the priorities for effective leadership as well.
On page 18, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman offer a short digest of some research they have done on inspiring leadership, and the converse—what they call ‘the worst leaders’. They observe that in good times poor leadership can remain hidden, but in difficult times these attributes become ‘a recipe for disaster’. They identify ten attributes of the worst leaders:

  • They lack energy and enthusiasm; they rarely volunteer for anything new and fear being overwhelmed; they can suck all the oxygen from a room;
  • They accept their own mediocre performance, often overstating the difficulty of meeting targets;
  • They lack vision and direction; their job is to get things done, not decide where things should be going.
  • They have poor judgment, and often their associates do not consider their decisions as being in the organization’s best interests;
  • They don’t collaborate: other leaders are competitors, so they are not in touch with the very people whose ideas might help them;
  • They don’t walk the talk: they may set standards, but they don’t fulfil them, and are seen as lacking integrity;
  • They resist new ideas: suggestions from others are rejected, the organization gets stuck;
  • They don’t learn from mistakes: they hide errors, brood over them, but setbacks are not used as opportunities to learn and grow;
  • They lack interpersonal skills, with sins of both commission (abrasive, bullying) or omission (aloof, reluctant to praise);
  • They fail to develop others: being focussed on themselves and perhaps their own ‘struggle’, they do not nurture others, who become disengaged.

There are many helpful insights and reminders in this list, as in the other articles. I find myself wondering how these insights apply to the arena of Christian leaders and the various models of leadership which promise to produce ‘successful’ churches.
The most telling question for me is: What are the attributes and habits which make up the character of a Christian leader and how do these relate to our Christology and indeed our theology? Which of these things could we attribute to God?

In the management and leadership of a company, or even a football league, the nature of ‘success’ is reasonably easy to define. But what is meant by ‘success’ in Christian community? Or in God’s enterprise—creating and nurturing the universe?  Those are questions to be borne in mind, I suggest, as we draw from and learn from these ideas about leadership. But these theological questions also give us something to contribute to the conversation. 

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