76 – The Public Life of the Leader
Creating the Right Mix of Ideas, Structures, and People
Leadership has become a “hot” topic in the church and in commerce. Why is so much being said about leadership these days?
A man who isn’t thirsty doesn’t think about water, but a man in a desert will think of nothing else. A man whose car starts when he turns the key won’t think about his battery, but a man whose car doesn’t start will be focused on it.
In life we think and talk about things lacking. We don’t spend much time on that which is working well, but that which is not. We don’t fix things not broken. So much is being said about leadership today because it’s broken. We are in a leadership crisis-there simply are not enough strong leaders to go around.
Ironically, everything that needs to be said about leadership has already been said. There are only two reasons I can think of that might make another article or book on leadership useful. First, to show a different “organizing metaphor” or “system” that may click for someone. Second, to show examples of leadership in action which can put pictures in ours minds of how the leader can apply what he or she already knows. In the short space of this article I would like to address the first reason, and suggest a way of thinking about the public life of the leader that may be useful.
The essence of leadership is the ability to help others do things, and all that this implies.
The first principle of leadership is, or should be, that ideas are more powerful than labor. Therefore, the leader focuses principally on three “public things”: first, the ideas to which people give themselves, second, the structures suggested by the ideas and third, picking and developing the people who will work those ideas.
Leadership is a skill set – one which few perfect. The circle of leaders who shape the future will be a small one. At one level they will appear to have little in common, perhaps nothing at all. But in their own language forms, they will each have grasped, among other things, the following:
Leadership is focusing an organized structure of people on a compelling idea, vision, or purpose. Implied is the breaking down of this desired result into a concrete, measurable agenda.
Leadership for the Christian is not orchestrating things, but understanding what God is doing. This is the unique emphasis Christians put on “finding” God’s will. This implies both public and private dimensions. Private dimensions include all facets of self-understanding and intimacy with God. Public dimensions include understanding the theological and cultural moment in which one lives. These understandings endow the private life with a resolute sense of purpose and calling which can animate public life, especially when one is going against the grain.
Leadership is organizing the structures in which people do together what they could not do alone. The idea will suggest the structure.
Leadership is scrupulously guarding values that create a cohesive culture
Leadership is accepting that there is a correlation between predictability and impact-the greater the predictability the greater the impact. Once people come to know how the leader will respond to different situations-the boundaries-they are then set free to take appropriate risks without fear of censure. This is a matter of self-studied consistency.
Leadership is wooing people to the “right” ideas. Since most people give the best years of their lives to ideas that don’t have much chance of working, the leader has the responsibility of helping his people choose the right ideas. This is not to say that the leader always knows what the right ideas are.
Leadership is creating an environment that empowers people to fully exploit their natural, spiritual, and acquired abilities. This implies, among other things, unconditional love, celebration, and rapid, honest feedback. It also suggests that leaders must require people to lead balanced lives, for not doing so may weaken the ones you would empower.
Leadership is bringing an attitude of serving those involved to the task at hand. This concept is uniquely rooted in Christian thought. Leadership is accepting that people do exactly what they want to do. Therefore leadership focuses not so much on changing behavior, but changing minds.
Leadership is fostering trust relationships. The formula A-R-T-T (Appointment-Relationship-Trust-Task) captures the essence of how to maximize productivity. A person cannot “task” beyond their “trust.” Trust (or faith) is foundational to everything. Trust is the by-product of healthy “relationship.” We cannot have these relationships unless we spend time getting to know each other-unless we make the “appointment.” The leader spends time with his people.
Leadership is a fearless attention to morale, which is 100% a leadership issue. Good morale is merely having the courage to honestly love people and quickly, squarely resolve human conflicts.
Leadership is the art of compromise so that life can go on. This implies the skill to solve the problems and make the decisions that stand in the way of accomplishing the vision.
Leadership is always fluctuating between visionary and operational activity. Implied is the wisdom to know what is needed at a given moment-whether high-minded or practical.
Leadership is recognizing that success usually comes by “being there” for a long time. All the factors mentioned take a good while to develop. Longevity communicates stability, which suggests trustworthiness. People want to know that if they make a commitment to the leader and his idea that he or she will be around for a while.
Leadership is loving people enough to take a long time to hire someone and a long time to let them go.
Leadership is balancing the needs of the institution and the individual. How much do we ask the individual to adjust to the institution, and how much do we ask the institution to adjust to the individual? Surely this question, as much as any other, determines the culture and ethos of the organization. Issues suggested include: control and creativity, authority and delegation, love and respect.
THE LEADER IN ACTION
The leader should start each day by looking at an outline of the agenda he is trying to accomplish. He regains his perspective by looking over his whole agenda. This is how he insures that he is working on the right ideas. He would be wise to write the outline of this agenda down on a single sheet of paper:
I. The Ideas
Only after getting his head straightened out does the leader then decide which “parts” of the outline need attention on that given day. Think of a general looking at his maps to decide from which direction he will attack. He is trying to win a war, but on any given day he has to pick his battles wisely. In a similar way, the leader works on specific things, but always in context of the war he wants to win. The leader who lives this way will rarely do the wrong things.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
©2000. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved. This may be reproduced with proper attribution for non-commercial purposes.