Leadership in the post-modern world
My goal is to tell you a little about leadership… what it is, what it isn’t, how you get it, what you do with it. If we’re successful, you will learn some of the basic characteristics followers look for in effective leadership in any setting, an idea of how leadership is different from management and how important each is to a successful organization, that it is learnable, and that you have both the opportunity–and I would suggest the responsibility–to begin the journey of a lifetime to learn and practice leadership.
What are the basics of leadership? One wag has said that, leadership is like love…you know it when you see it. And in a way, leadership is a lot like the term “love”–lots of people talk about it but few can really explain it adequately.
Essentially, leadership is a seamless relationship of influence–not a function, title or status–where, when it is at its best, it empowers leaders and followers to participate in the leadership process. It allows the leader and follower to exchange roles when the situation calls for the follower’s expertise.
Most of my study on leadership is from the follower’s perspective. There is a lot of validity to the idea of looking at leadership from the perception of the follower: what the leader does compared to what he or she says; whether their motivation is perceived to be self-oriented, organization-oriented, or whether the leader has any concern about what the followers and other stakeholders think and feel. After all, without followers, there would be no leader; without followers, nothing would get done.
Secular scientists and academicians have spent countless hours and dollars only to prove that the biblical approach to leadership is the most effective. Men have worked to strive for control over other people almost from the beginning of time. But Jesus showed us a better way, the real essence of leadership. Thus, our “enlightenment” about leadership in the post-modern era, is nothing more than a return to the basics of the Bible, Jesus’ ministry and leadership with the disciples, and the organization of the early church. While there is important discovery happening in the academic research, it really begins to come alive when we evaluate it through the lens of Biblical truth. But that truth includes the emerging reality that leadership is servanthood, not command and control. Even our military is practicing and teaching much of that.
Joseph Rost suggests in his book, Leadership for the 21st Century, that follower-ship is a crucial component to successful leadership. One of the keys to the development of a leader is that s/he learns and practices quality follower-ship. A recent survey of West Point faculty posed the question, “How do you go about developing leadership?” Their response, “We begin by teaching them to be followers.” If we turn to the Bible, we see that the most effective leaders of the early church were the most effective followers of Jesus Christ.
In the Christian context, ministry and community begin to break down when some are considered more necessary or less necessary. Leaders and followers are all active participants in a leadership process. Research demonstrates that successful leadership may be chiefly the achievement of followers, and a high quality leader emerges from the ranks of able followers.
One of the criticisms of the academic study of leadership to date is the lack of a coherent, intellectually defensible definition. I’d like to explore with you the well thought-out, carefully crafted definition of leadership Joseph Rost gives us: Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.
In the older definitions and theories of leadership, the word follower has a negative connotation, something less or lower that the leader. Following Rost’s definition and Christ’s example, leaders are far more leaders of leaders than stand-alone, command and control dictators and wielders of raw power. Christ was the ultimate leader-of-leaders. Look at his disciples…most of them went on to take responsible leadership roles after his death.
What leadership is
I’m going to ask you to consider possibly changing your entire view of the concept of leadership. Up to now, most of us–especially in The Salvation Army–have thought of leadership as “the leader,” the person appointed to be in charge. But, that is not the current view of the concept in the contemporary organization as we move further and further into the post-industrial era. So, just because you are a bandmaster, or songster leader, or corps officer, or department head, or divisional commander, or…you are not necessarily a leader; you may just be in a leadership role. A person is a leader because of how he or she treats people. And, we’ll explore the scriptural and other bases for that in the future.