What does it mean to be a leader?
Dave Newton, Director of Elim Training, answers some challenging questions on this crucial subject.
Leadership seems to have been the buzz word in the last ten years. Do you think we’re grasping its importance?
The term leadership is one that easily divides. There are some that will argue it is essential to make anything happen in organisations, churches or indeed life… that leaders hear from God, have vision and help people to journey to where they haven’t been before. Others would suggest the Bible talks very little about leadership and we are called to serve, shepherd and show humility. They may purport that we are called to be followers first!
If the term is used as a means of exerting power and authority then I will be the first to run in the other direction. However, if leadership is perceived as a function or role rather than a position of power, it can have a tremendous impact.
One biblical model of leadership reveals that we are followers first and we seek to follow Christ as he leads us on an adventure of seeing his kingdom revealed on earth.
However, as we pay attention to the lead of the transforming, all-powerful God, we are invited into many exciting adventures.
We are called to lead in announcing his kingdom and living out and modelling new ways of living in society and culture. As leaders, we need to grasp the bigger picture of his calling on our lives and call others to come with us.
Who have been the best role models of leadership to you personally?
Some of the best models of leadership that I have personally benefitted from have not been the superstars or those in the public eye but rather those who I have had the opportunity of walking alongside and learning from.
Two leaders I grew up with and learnt so much from taught me to be an encourager and understand that my words have power. As I was growing in my teens and taking on my first leadership assignments, they were always quick to speak life and encouragement. They would fan into flame my gift rather than pouring water on it. It is so easy in leadership to offer the critical word rather than one that builds up.
Another leader I learnt from and watched closely taught me the importance of humility. I often puzzled why he did not shout about his multiple business accomplishments but would always posture himself as a learner even from those who had little to say. Great leaders release great leaders, and the people I look up to in leadership don’t try to cling to position, power and authority, but walk in humility and release, investing in and encouraging others.
What are the biggest dangers leaders face?
I would say one of the biggest dangers facing leaders is taking ourselves too seriously. We can so easily fall into the trap of thinking the world revolves around us. I call it the ‘IKEA’ principle; any time I get so consumed with what I am doing and I find all my conversation, thoughts and energy are wrapped up in ministry and work I take a trip to IKEA (other large stores are available). As I walk around a large department store where nobody has a clue who I am, I realise that the world is a lot bigger than me.
As leaders, we do have lots of influence. However, we can fall into the trap of thinking that we can influence everything or are responsible for everything.
As Christian leaders, it is vital that we remember we partner with what God is doing and need to be careful not to try to do what only he can do.
How do you avoid burnout?
It was Bill Hybels who once said, “The best gift you can give the people you lead is a healthy, energised, fully surrendered, focused self. No one else can do that for you.” It has to be our responsibility as leaders to lead ourselves and ensure that we are leading for the long haul. From my experience, there are two things that can certainly contribute to burnout.
Firstly, doing too much of the wrong thing. Competent leaders can get drawn into doing things outside of their gifting, calling and responsibility – we see a job that needs doing and just get on with it. Realistically, we all need to do tasks that we might not enjoy from time to time, but if we are not disciplined or fail to release others we can find ourselves bogged down with tasks that drain the life from us.
Secondly, some leaders try to do everything – they want to be central to all the action, in control of all that is going on, making every decision. Leaders who act in this way can easily become a bottleneck, restricting growth and working every hour available and still not feeling like they are achieving.
In leadership, I have learnt that a nice, balanced life is probably unachievable. Instead, we can recognise and respond to rhythms. We can understand that there will be busy times: plan for these and embrace them, but equally there will be moments to slow down that we need to enjoy and value.
Top tips would be to keep those close to you informed what season you are in and let them be involved in your diary planning. Be ruthless with your days off; make sure you have a 24-hour period where you down tools. Find others who you can trust to talk to and offload. Carve out moments of connection with God daily, weekly and monthly.
What books have you read on leadership? Any recommendations?
Where do you start? There are so many. I was impressed with The Road To Character by David Brooks. Many say the hardest assignment in leadership is leading yourself. This book eloquently and intelligently explores how to examine, order and take responsibility for your own life.
Another author on leadership that gives some great insights on managing teams and understanding organisational management is Patrick Lencioni. His book, Five Dysfunctions Of A Team, gives real insight into building, understanding and managing teams in a way to help them thrive. A book I enjoyed a number of years ago was Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick. This book seeks to unpack the values that drive an organisation. It is an easy read but provides a challenge, especially the chapter on courage.
What leadership principles from Jesus’ life could be adapted into leadership today?
Jesus models so many great leadership principles but there are a few that stand out specifically.
Firstly, Jesus was accessible. Whilst there were moments when he retreated for time with his Father, he walked, talked, ate, drank and sat with his followers. Jesus was up close and personal with those he sought to invest in.
Secondly, whilst we know Jesus was God himself and therefore had the power to do everything, at all times on all occasions he involved his disciples in so much of what he did. At the wedding in Cana he sent the disciples to collect the jars, and at the raising of Lazarus, he got them to move the stone. He sent them to preach the kingdom and heal the sick, not simply watch him do it.
Other aspects of Jesus’ leadership which stand out was that he always made time for his Father; his ministry operated from a place of intimacy. He constantly trusted people with real responsibility, allowed them to make mistakes and gave them second chances when they fell flat on their faces.
Why is Elim so focused on leadership?
Elim is seeking to develop leaders at all levels of our Movement, identifying, training, equipping and releasing Christlike, servant-hearted leaders into all spheres of society. It is our desire to see leaders who, regardless of gender, ethnicity and age, are exemplary in character and service; leaders who navigate and are fruitful through all seasons of life; leaders who equip and empower others and give the next generation a platform to fulfil the purposes of God.
How vital is it to keep learning throughout life?
Leaders tend to be future orientated. For a leader, there are always places to go, people to see and tasks to achieve. It was Socrates that once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I would suggest that a leader who has learnt to reflect on their own journey and glean wisdom from others will go a lot longer and further than someone who doesn’t.
Some would simply view training as something to do at the start of our journey – preparation or formation – meaning that once you are trained you simply get on with the job. Others would see training as some kind of punishment, assuming it is required because they haven’t got things right. But training, reading, fresh input and ideas must form the diet of any leader. Whether we glean information from courses, coaches, books or podcasts, I would suggest that every leader must prioritise this time.
The challenge we face as leaders is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Intentional learning offers us moments to reflect, creating a posture of learning where we seek to grow from every encounter.
A commitment to learning also keeps us fresh. Whilst it may appear to cost us in time and finance, and in some cases leave us feeling vulnerable, it is an essential part of leadership.
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