In the first assignment in our “Introduction to Leadership Studies” class here at Columbia, we ask students to describe what “good” leadership looks like. As we read their responses, it is fascinating to see how they arrived at their conclusions: someone has lead them well and thus provided a model to follow, or someone has lead poorly and their answer is the opposite of whatever that person did.
If leadership is influence, then there is much work to be done to ensure it is truly good. Thankfully, we have the best example of leadership in our Saviour, and provision of instruction throughout Scripture.
So, what then does great leadership look like, and how does it contribute to an organization’s success?
Depending on Jesus with a humble heart.
Great leaders are not perfect people. Great leaders are those who acknowledge their standing in relation to who God is.
In each course on leadership that I teach at Columbia, I spend at least one class working through the concepts of pride and humility. As the students study Scriptural references, they identify that pride and humility are two sides of the same coin that can flip easily without our full awareness.
When we journey in humility, we understand who we are in light of who He is; when we journey in pride, we begin with us, and understand Him in light of who we are. The danger here should be evident: we become our own gods, and therefore no longer believe we need Jesus. We decide that our way is best, and we stop listening to His Spirit, His Word, and the people we serve.
The severe language Scripture uses around pride should serve as a clear marker: start with Him. Depend on Him. Great leadership is found when leaders are known for who they truly are: humble, dependent creations who belong to Jesus.
When leaders lead in this way, we want to follow; the organization then experiences success because the employees can trust their leader.
Submitting to God.
Understanding God to be sovereign, Jesus demonstrated His response in Luke 22:42: “Yet not my will, but yours be done”. He expressed His human nature in desiring another option, yet exemplified submission in choosing God’s will, knowing the greater cost.
When we submit, we are no longer obstacles, and His work can be done. When we submit to God’s sovereignty, we can heed the words of Chip Ingram: “Refuse to worry. You can stop trying to manipulate situations and trying to figure out how to make them work out because you know who is in control. You can rest in his sovereign goodness” (God: As He Longs For You To See Him, 2004, p. 94).
My response to daily circumstances and situations that arise can express who I believe God is, and how much power I inaccurately grant myself. Great leadership calls us to recognize our Leader, and allow Him to lead us first.
When leaders practice this, they exhibit calm and clarity; the organization then experiences success because the leader sees the bigger picture, refusing to worry or manipulate, and subsequently we can work as a team.
Living with purpose.
It was early in the morning, and Jesus had left the house. The whole city had been gathered there the night before, asking for healing, witnessing His power. There was still much work to be done in this place, and Simon and his companions finally found Jesus: “’Everyone is looking for You.’ He said to them, ‘Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.’” (Mark 1-37-38).
Our Saviour took time to be with His Father, and while there were so many opportunities right in front of Him, He knew His purpose. His direction was clear.
Great leadership requires us to define our mission as we follow our Leader, spending time with Him so He can renew and refresh our focus. The qualification here is that we are indeed spending time with Him, and then choosing boldly to act on what we hear Him asking of us.
When we lead from this place we communicate purpose; the organization then experiences success because we stay on mission.
Committing to those we serve.
The wrestle between task and relationship will forever be a tension as I lead. I continue to learn from Jesus’ example, and appreciate Luke’s inclusion of this story in the gospel: Jesus was approaching Jericho, when a blind beggar on the side of the road became a distraction. This man was seeking Jesus, but the group He was with was on a mission, and these leaders saw him as an interruption. But Jesus stopped. Jesus commanded that he be brought to Him. Jesus took the time and asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41). In my faulty ways, I would have assumed I already know this man’s needs. Jesus reminds me to ask those I serve, and not to assume.
As we commit to those we serve, we build relationship by practicing vulnerability: “Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life” (Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, 1989, p. 61). Great leadership calls us close to our Saviour; from His lovingkindness we love others, we serve, and we lead them to His lovingkindness.
When leaders operate in this way, employees feel valued; the organization then experiences success as employees desire to contribute well.
Multiplying our leadership.
As Jesus journeyed and lead the disciples, we see how he called them into a new way of life. He had called them (Matt 4), explained the cost (Matt 8), modeled and taught what God values (Matt 5-7), and related in ways they could understand (Matt 13). He heard their questions and found ways to explain this new life for them. And then He sent them out to do as He had done (Matt 10). Jesus equipped so that His Father’s work could continue.
There is a continual question that runs through my mind as each year at Columbia passes: am I leading in such a way that others could continue the work after me? Am I equipping and teaching more than task; am I truly imparting vision? When leaders consider how to empower those working with them, they create culture. The organization then experiences success as those entering new leadership roles continue to build on the foundation laid: the organization becomes even better.
As I share these five points with the students, I see their eyes grow bigger with awareness of all that leadership requires. I ask them if they now feel like leadership is beyond them, and when they inevitably nod back in agreement, I let them know it needs to feel that way. We are the clay, and He is the Potter, and I am so very thankful for that reality. As we consider what success looks like in His eyes, may we be guided into great leadership. ■
Kathleen Doll serves as the Associate Dean of Students and Co-Director of the Applied Leadership Program here at Columbia. Want to share with her what you’ve learned about great leadership? Email Kathleen.
This article first appeared in the 2017-2018 issue of Columbia’s Contact Magazine. See the full issue here.