December 2, 2010

Leadership: Character, Connection and Direction

Leadership is the ability to influence others to move in a certain direction.

There are many books filled with leadership principles and long lists of the qualities that make for a good leader: courage, vision, compassion, perseverance, and the list continues.  Others have lists about what a leader is and what a leader does.  But in my thinking about leadership I have come to the conclusion that all these attributes and axioms can be grouped under three heads.   A person's effectiveness as a leader will be determined by (1) character, (2) connection, and (3) direction.  All leadership qualities fit under one of these categories, and each of them is essential.  No one will be an effective leader who is strong in only one or two of these areas. 


Leaders lead others. They exert influence. This influence is driven by the power of their character. A leader's character is their strength to pull others toward a goal. A train with no engine goes nowhere. Weak character is like a puny train engine, but strong character is a mighty engine.  The Lord told Joshua, "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people" (Joshua 1:6).  To grow as a leader you must consistently develop traits such as integrity, courage, honesty, initiative, humility, consistency and perseverance.  You cannot grow as a leader without the hard work of focusing on the growth of your own moral character.


It has been said that if you think you lead but no one is following, you're just going for a walk.  A driven visionary who sets forth on his own is not a leader unless there are other people he is causing to move with him.  By definition you cannot be a leader on your own.  Connection is like the coupler on a train that connects the engine to the cars.  Without connection the strongest engine is a worthless leader.  This is why leaders cannot be self-oriented or isolated.  Connection grows through relationships with people as you care about them, pour time and energy into them, and cast your lot with them.  Think of the connection that Joshua had with the people of Israel after spending 40 years wandering the desert with them.


Not all good leaders are good leaders.  Hitler was a good leader, but not a good leader.  In Numbers 13 most of the leaders were successful in influencing the people... to disobey the Lord by not moving forward to take the Promised Land.  Thus you can have powerful character (or a sort) and an iron connection to everyone around you but fail miserably as a leader because you influenced them in the wrong direction.  Leaders need to have a vision of the right goal and they need to know the wisest way to get there.  This is why God told Joshua, "Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; mediate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful" (Joshua 1:7-8). 

People follow leaders when they want to go where the leader is going.  Make sure you are heading to the best destination and inspire others to come with you.

There is a lot more to say about leadership.  In a recent series of talks, I was able to pull several dozen bullet points on leadership from the passages I was working with.  However I wanted to find something simple and memorable that would tie everything together.  What I came up with was character, connection, and direction illustrated by a train.  If this is helpful to anyone reading this, I am glad!  I realize that some of these qualities often amplify each other; for example good character should help strengthen connection with others.  Still, I haven't been able to think of any leadership quality or principle that doesn't fall under one of these three heads.  However I want to test this hypothesis, so if you can think of something, let me know! 

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