Everyone understands leadership differently. There is no single definition, no magic formula that will make you the perfect CEO, prime minister, community organiser, or Instagram influencer. Christians like to talk about the model of Jesus but given that Jesus, unlike us, never made any mistakes, it’s a pretty impossible standard.
The exciting thing about leadership is that we all have the opportunity to grow in leadership, according to the unique combination of gifts, personality and experiences we offer. Here’s four tips to help us along the journey.
If you’re an ear, be an ear.
We might look at a leader and think ‘I wish I was more like them’. But our differences don’t mean that we’re necessarily a better or worse leader than them, it just means that we lead differently. There’s a lovely passage in the Bible that talks about the church being like a body – some people are toes, some people are ears, some people are fingers. If we all tried to be the same, it would be a disaster! God made each of us a unique human being, and God loves us just the way we are. Our innate talents, personality and characteristics were all given to us by God, even the ones we don’t like, and they can all be a gift to others.
Often, the leaders we see on our television screens and on stages are big personalities – charismatic, visionary, amazing speech-makers, and let’s face it, often pretty good looking. They revolutionise their industries and re-imagine how we see the world. They inspire us.
But I’ve met some incredible leaders who are quiet, kind and generous. They wouldn’t stand out in a crowd but they are still respected change-makers. I’ve met people whose names you’ll never hear who have changed lives and leaders who are grinding away in the background to turn someone’s inspiring speech into a reality.
What are you good at – practical skills, personality characteristics, values you exemplify - and how might they be a gift in your leadership?
Be the kid that asks “why”.
A child who won’t stop asking ‘why?’ can be the most irritating thing in the world. But it’s also a sign of curiosity and imagination – a desire to see beyond the surface and understand how and why things are the way they are.
Asking why allows us to get to the root of problems. It opens the door to re-centre a conversation from another point of view, to see a project in a new light.
If you see a need for change, don’t be satisfied with how things are. Dream big.
And when you know your ‘why’, don’t forget it! It’s so easy to get distracted by other ideas, and we need to be open to a changing, adaptable vision. But keeping our focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing will help to ensure that we don’t get side-tracked into doing what other people want instead.
“It’s not me, it’s you.”
If you’re already in leadership, you know that there can be a lot of demands on your time and a lot of voices around you. Whether you’re leading a business, organising a group of friends on holiday, or moderating an online forum, everyone has opinions about what you should do and how you should do it. So, we have to remember who we are leading for.
Often, that’s the people benefitting from our leadership – the colleagues who work with and for us, the friends we’re on holiday with, or the people buying our products. When we keep these people at the forefront of our mind, it helps us to make decisions that will allow them to flourish.
Who are you leading for?
Part of leadership for Christians is also about leading for God and listening to God’s will. In the Old Testament, Samson’s leadership role was to protect the Israelites from the Philistines, who they were at war with. But he became prideful and allowed himself to think that his leadership was all about his physical strength, not about God’s protection of his people. Following God as a leader isn’t always easy, but it is part of being a follower of Jesus.
Be a daffodil, not a tulip
Tulips and daffodils are both flowers that grow from bulbs. But tulips are traditionally thrown away after they’ve flowered, even though they can flower again the next year, and attention moves to new bulbs instead. Daffodils, on the other hand, are left to regrow again the next year. They create new baby bulbs, so that every year there are even more flowers than before.
Sometimes, we can see leadership qualities as a list to complete. We attend a course about relationship building in teams – tick! We read a book about public speaking – tick! But in reality, we can always grow more in every skill and attitude, both things we’re naturally inclined towards and things we find difficult. Just because God loves us how we are doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to deepen our abilities.
What can you do to grow in a leadership quality this year? You could attend a course, read a book or listen to a podcast, or find a mentor or coach. Being with other people who journey alongside you can be crucial. The disciples spent three years living with Jesus, learning from his leadership, and after his death and resurrection they continued to spend time together, supporting each other in their leadership.
Following these tips won’t magically make you into a better leader, but they will help you to be intentional in how and why you lead. But make sure you don’t just read this blog – pick one thing that you want to take further to develop your leadership and go out and do it.
Want to check out some different Biblical leaders? There are plenty to choose from – Esther, Paul, David, Peter, Deborah, Lydia, and of course Jesus. A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of blogs, articles, podcasts and books on these people and more about biblical leadership, so take some time to find stories and resources that will inspire and encourage you.