I suppose good leaders are many things and this post is intended to just name a few… A few that simply won’t leave me alone these days.
Good leaders are good learners.
I doubt I coined the phrase, but at least around Renovatus, I’ve definitely made it my own. Largely because I think it’s true, but moreso because I need it to be true if I have any hope of doing my job well at all. While I firmly believe the Lord to be faithful to order my steps according to His purposes for my life and for the life of His church, I am also confident that He has surrounded me with the tools and opportunities to learn what it is to be human; to be a good wife, mother, friend, and leader.
What I like about learning as an essential for leadership is that humility is implied within. Learning means we haven’t arrived, that we still have questions, that we are growing and maturing. It implies a thirst and a motivation to have that thirst satiated.
I am skeptical of anyone who has all the answers, of those who can’t seem to find the courage to say “I don’t know.” What is there to be done with someone who thinks they know enough in every category and situation? I have no patience for that kind of arrogance or lack of self-awareness. The best leaders are the ones who model learning in their own lives, regardless of their credentials, regardless of their platform or success. Those who still have something to learn will always have something to teach, something to say, something to give.
Good leaders are good followers.
The most effective and influential leaders are all good followers. And I don’t think it’s simply because they want to model that virtue for those that follow them. I think it has more to do with the fact that you cannot lead effectively if you are unable or unwilling to sympathize with those who are now where you once were, no matter how different the context may be. Followership could never be overrated. In fact, I think I’ll go ahead and declare that your leadership potential is directly correlative to your commitment to faithful followership. Leading is the fruit, the reward, the blessing of a life lived following really well.
Following who? Whoever the Lord puts in authority over you in any season or area of life. If you acknowledge the Father’s lordship over your life, you trust Him to order your steps, including the ones that are in the footsteps of another. I’m currently reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. In it the main character is passing down wisdom to his son that he once received from his own father and instructs him:
“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate.”
Good leaders can heed that wisdom and follow well, looking for ways to honor the Lord in how we honor and respect those in authority over us. Followership is an exercise in seeing redemptively and acting accordingly. If that skill isn’t established early and honed along the way, what are you leading people toward anyway?
Good leaders are good at admitting fault; not finding it.
Leaders who can readily accept their mistakes and own up to them in front of their teams, those are the ones to emulate. I think this is because admission of failure or even of a misstep is a sign of self-awareness. And self-awareness goes a long, long way in leading well. Conversely, those who are not self-aware are often the ones hunting down fault in others, not even a speck goes unnoticed despite the gargantuan plank in their own eye. It’s a most unattractive quality. Thus, one to be avoided whenever possible!
Good leaders are in touch with their teams, themselves, and the Lord enough to know when the mistake is of their own making. And the best leaders can say as much out loud and to those who follow them. It is refreshing and energizing to see a leader do this well. It strengthens morale and makes people want to work harder and better.
Good leaders are good at delegating.
I had a dear friend in college, Kathy Barksdale Giles, whose mantra was: DELEGATE OR DIE! She was pretty genius at it, too. Wise beyond her years, she learned early on the value of multiplying herself and empowering others. Whether that was in how she led her volunteers in our local Youth for Christ Urban Ministries or in how she discipled us Berry College girls, she employed the strategy whenever applicable.
Good leaders like Kathy know that one of their principal functions is to develop more leaders. If what you are leading is worth people following, it’s worth entrusting to them to lead, as well. This can be an intimidating practice at first. Those who struggle with insecurity may have a particularly difficult time delegating.
“What if he does it better than I do?”
“What if they like her better?”
“What if I work myself out of a job?”
Good leaders are always looking ahead. If someone does take that responsibility from you and does so with excellence, that creates more time and space for new endeavors, new growth for you as a leader and for your ministry or company.
Delegating must be done responsibly and people must be well-equipped for receiving new responsibilities and challenges. But when done successfully, delegating is quite an achievement. You have invested your time and talents in another individual and that investment is reaping greater dividends than it ever could have if kept to yourself. If you raise up a new, strong, healthy leader you have no reason to be uneasy and insecure. You have every reason to be really proud. And you now have other things you need to go do!
Not just highly practical, delegating is a means for inspiration. People want to be noticed. People want to be challenged. People want to be a part. Give them a part! (And if they do that well, give them more parts!)
It’s a privilege to be in a place of leadership, big or small. It’s worth the work, the effort, the discipline to be a really good one- for your sake and for the sake of the leaders you are shaping one way or another.