Leaders don’t happen by accident. Nor does becoming a great leader just happen randomly or by mere coincidence. There’s not a “big bang” in the cosmos and suddenly a great leader is born. While older schools of thought suggested that great leadership qualities were by innate design and some were just blessed to be natural leaders, in-depth studies have shown that great leaders share very similar characteristics and guiding principles. Furthermore, by studying, using, and practicing these same concepts, anyone can improve and become a better leader. As James Kouzes and Barry Posner state in their book, The Leadership Challenge: How To Make Extraordinary Things Happen In Organizations, “These leadership practices are not the private property of the people we studied. Nor do they belong to a few select shining stars. Leadership is not about who you are; it’s about what you do.”
One of the most important concepts in effective leadership is first understanding who you are. It has been said many times, especially by health buffs, “You are what you eat.” I contend, however, that you are what you believe. It is one’s belief system that is the driving force behind everything they do and every decision that they make. Our beliefs and values determine our speech, actions, disciplines, and how we interact with people. So, it seems clear that, in order to be effective, a leader must first know and understand his or her own driving principles. As a leader, you will be putting your values and belief system out there for others to follow. They are, in essence, following who you are. Thus, before engaging with people, the first question that must be asked is “who am I?” Every leader must be able to look at the person in the mirror and know who they are.
Hand-in-hand with this concept, it’s also important for leaders to put a voice to the values they believe in. As Kouzes and Posner put it, “People expect their leaders to speak out about matters of values and conscience. But to speak out, you have to know what to speak about. To stand up for your beliefs, you have to know the beliefs you stand for.” It is through the act of speaking that a leader begins to forge the unity and commonality of a shared group of values, principles, and ethics that he or she expects the group to be modeled after.
Subsequently, a leader must always be ready with an answer. A leader must be able to hypothetically put themselves in situations and know how they would respond and react. Furthermore, a person must know and understand why they would react that way. Doing so will help a leader learn more about themselves and what drives them to act in certain ways.
When it comes down to it, being a leader is all about setting the example for others. But that is more than just a simple statement to live by. It has to be implemented in our day-to-day lives and behaviors. What do we spend our time on? What do we give our attention to? To others, this is a huge indication of our values and principles. What we spend our time doing speaks loud and clear on whether we actually live by the principles that we have vocalized.
Actions certainly do speak louder, and are more powerful, than words alone. When striving to be an example, it’s important that the values that we voice match the actions we take. The outward actions that we display have the ability to completely undermine the things that we say, if they don’t match up. There shouldn’t be any discrepancies between the two. The things we do are a much greater indication of our guiding values and principles than the things we say that we believe. This can come in a variety of forms, including how we act, how we interact with and treat people, our language, our emotions, what we spend our money on, and, as already stated, what we spend our time and attention on.
In conclusion, all of us should strive to be a better leader, no matter what capacity we serve in or what our ministry is. I think many times we aren’t always fully aware of our sphere of influence and how powerful it is. People are constantly watching us, from the people we lead in ministry, to co-workers and acquaintances, and, most importantly, our family and children. Through influence, we are constantly shaping and developing others, many times in unseen ways. We are constantly duplicating and depositing a little part of ourselves into other people. For this reason, the concepts of knowing who we are, voicing our values, and being an example in our actions can’t be overstated. The question will always come down to how we decide to use our influence, whether for good or bad. No matter what capacity in which one may serve, good principles on a solid foundation will allow a person to maximize his or her potential to the fullest and make extraordinary things happen.