Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Learning about Leadership

“This church just does not respond to leadership.”  The voice on the other end of the phone was that of a pastor whose vision for his church had been defeated in a business meeting the night before.  He had not been helped by an enthusiastic supporter who had recommended that the plan be accepted by a two-thirds vote!

As I remember, my response was something like, “It depends on the type of leadership.”  Leadership is a complex concept.  The way it is exercised and accepted is based on context, culture, attitudes, history, and personal needs and expectations.  Leadership is a stewardship to be handled with care and humility.  To do otherwise leads to marginalization or alienation and conflict.

One mistake my friend made was to think that the primary measure of his leadership was a vote in a business meeting.  If a leader, especially one in a church, thinks that getting an affirmative vote on the floor of a business meeting validates one’s leadership, he or she has grossly miscalculated.  Leadership is measured much more by the authority conferred by the people rather than the authority assumed by the leader.

To be a real leader requires a connectedness to those who are a part of the group.  Certainly, the leader thinks, dreams, encourages, and cajoles, but the best leader is one who carefully cultivates a future that the people come to desire and are eager to pursue.  If the future is only the leader’s project, people may well be reluctant to embrace it.  As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A leader is best when people barely know the leader exists. When the leader’s work is done, the aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did it ourselves.’” 

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