Good leaders, whether in the church, the family, education, government, or business have several qualities in common. Each of these areas of community must function differently and different gifts and skills accompany leadership in these places of service. Yet there are some basic truths concerning leadership that applies across the board in all these areas of life. Of course, the greatest kind of leader is one who is first a follower of Jesus Christ. All leaders would do well to head the words of the Apostle Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” This is the first and greatest obligation of any leader, “Does he submit himself to the authority of Christ and subsequently submit himself to the leadership God has placed over him?” But after that, I believe there are three aspects of good leadership that need to be better cultivated in my life as well as in the lives and service of all supposed leaders in every possible venue. Simply put, good leaders think deeply, act decisively and react humbly.
Good Leaders Think Deeply.
This is the first task of leadership to think clearly, deeply and sufficiently. This not only prepares the leader for what may or may not happen as they encourage others to follow, but it also prepares them for possible opposition, and gives them confidence (passing that on to those following) that they as a leader is competent to lead. In a parenting context, fathers need to think clearly (and I believe Biblically) about the negatives and positives that accompany any decisions, the loss and reward, what is to be gained and what is to be lost in certain choices and decisions, and how to implement certain ideas and actions. A father ought to think about the immediate ramifications of decisions as well as the long-term effects of decisions. A father needs to think more than his children and his wife about decisions, so that he is ready to lead when it is time to act. The same is true regarding church leadership. The pastor ought to “out-think” the entire congregation, staff, and/or deacons in proposals, ministry plans, staff decisions, and ministries or projects. This must not be confused with leadership by oppression or force or tyranny. It is not that the leader does not listen to those he is leading and even change his plans and decisions at times based on other’s counsel. In fact, thinking deeply requires at its most basic level listening intently to others. Receiving trusted counsel, bouncing ideas off of others, asking for input, prayer and continually searching the Scriptures and how other mature individuals understand the Scriptures (living or deceased) is all a part of thinking deeply. This thinking deeply is the opposite of running over people to accomplish plans, but considering everyone who will be impacted by a decision. It is considering, most importantly, what God thinks about a certain issue or decision. Of course most people in this age struggle to think deeply on account of all the distractions that infest our lives. This is why it is so important that godly leaders spend much time in solitude with the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and their God-entrenched thoughts. At the same time, it is necessary to know the people we are leading so that we can think deeply concerning how our decisions will both temporarily and eternally impact them. On a personal note as a pastor, any individual who desires to be a leader in the church must be willing to spend hours upon hours thinking, meditating, reading, listening, and learning. If he is not willing to do that, then he is not yet fit for leadership in the assembly.
Good Leaders Act Decisively
Do not be mistaken, this is not the same thing as stubborn or impetuous leadership. Remember that we have already explained that the first step is to think deeply. When a decisions must be made, whether difficult or not; and when the thinking has been largely done, because Scripture has been counseled, people have been considered, effects have been weighed and clarity seems to be opening; then a leader must act decisively, but not necessarily hastily. Mark Dever, an excellent teacher on pastoral leadership in the church, has often written that a serious mistake made by pastors is not in making wrong decisions, but in making right decisions as the wrong time. His illustration is driving 80 mph when the particular congregation’s speed limit is 35 mph. There is a distinction between acting decisively and acting hastily. Decisive action is knowing the right choice and timing (because the thinking, listening and instruction has been done) and then acting with confidence on that matter. This also does not mean that once a decision is made and further clarity emerges, that one cannot go back and alter their decision. But what it does mean is that men make choices based upon correct thinking and then speak and act with boldness in those choices. Our society, for some reason, has made decisive actions and propositional statements of truth into a weakness while elevating uncertainty and ambiguity as true leadership. What we need are leaders of integrity who will have thought long and hard and Biblically and then who will act decisively and prudently…unafraid to speak boldly for what they believe to be right. Men who will gently and patiently instruct and stand with authority of God’s Word are needed in our families and assemblies. This used to be called being a “man of action.” But now being a “man of inaction” is considered humility. I disagree, there is no humility in being unwilling to study, think and then act with conviction and conscience. Which brings us to our third point of basic leadership principles.
Good Leaders React Humbly
There is no leader on the face of this earth (except Jesus, the God-man) who has not been required to admit that a decision he made was not the best (or worse, destructive) and to go back and re-examine the issue thinking through it all over again. That is what the term “react” implies – to act again. Two reasons we might need to “act again” is because we were wrong or someone else was wrong in their actions against us. In either case, if we as leaders are not willing to humbly react, either at our own wrongs or someone else’s wrongs, we are not leading well. Humility is a very simple concept, yet none of us do it well. Humility simply implies that I embrace my weakness and acknowledge to myself as well as others that I am not the end of all knowledge and answers. Reacting with humility is being willing to say with sincerity and freely, “I am wrong, you are right, will you forgive me?” Good leadership is not seen in the ability to maneuver oneself through mistakes never fully admitting guilt (so as to save face) while still retaining the confidence of the populous. It seems though that this is the definition of humility in modern politics. Good leadership is seen in a readiness, even an eagerness to admit wrong even when it may destroy future leadership opportunity. At times however, leaders will have thought deeply, acted decisively, been absolutely correct and still refused to be followed by those they are leading. What then, what do good leaders do when they are not wrong, but those following them are convinced they are in error? Good leaders take a page out of the greatest leaders handbook. Jesus Christ was always right, but at times everyone thought he was wrong. So what did he do? Well, he had a benefit we do not have, he saw into the heart of man. What Jesus did with his disciples is the best example we have as to how we should lead when others think we are wrong, but we know we are correct. Jesus kept teaching and leading. He did not give up. He was gentle and compassionate and patiently explained himself once again. Jesus should have only had to tell the disciples what he was going to do one time, but he explained it over and over to them; and then only after his death did they get it. Are we willing to lead like that? Are we willing to not live to see the fruit of our leadership? (Of course Jesus rising again and being God meant that he did see the fruit of his leadership, but all examples using Jesus break down, do they not?) A humble reaction comes when we submit our leadership, whether desired leadership or leadership thrust upon us, to be used for the glory of God and not for our advancement; humbly being willing to either admit wrong if we are wrong or to gently continue to teach and lead if we are right.
There is a lot more that could be said about leadership. I pray that God gives me grace in this life to be able to increase in these three basic areas for the glory of God. Leader, the closer we follow Jesus, gazing upon his glory and grace, the more we will be equipped to lead others how God desires us to lead.