It is important to have a realistic view of the nature of leadership. Without this many who could be competent leaders may feel it is beyond their ability and others may try to operate with wrong view of leadership. This module begins with an opportunity for you to work out what you think leadership is about and then reviews a number of myths and realities about leadership.

This lesson is in two sections below, for technical reasons there are two videos, one for each section. The notes follow both videos:


Section 1: Experience of Leadership

  • Take a Moment: To reflect upon your experience of leadership?  You may want to make some notes
    • Who have been your leaders?
    • Which ones have had the biggest impact, (good or bad) and why?
    • Which ones have had the least impact and why?
    • How would you describe the leadership style of these leaders?
    • Where have your leadership models come from? Has anyone ever taught you to be a leader or have you been left to work it out on your own?

Practical experience of working with Christians in leadership shows that most have simply been given leadership roles and have then been left to work out how to be a leader by themselves. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Christian organisations and churches frequently find it difficult to be effective and have problems with people. (There are of course other causes than leadership behind such issues but lacks in leadership ability are often a very significant contributor.)

In colleges where Church leaders and missionaries are trained, leadership development is mainly confined to the areas of theology and worship. Very little is taught about how to lead people and establish organisations.

Does all this apply to churches? The Bible doesn’t describe “church” in organisational terms but describes it in terms of organic entities such as the “family of God” and the “body of Christ”. Jesus never set up an organisation. However, whilst one would not want to impose the secular styles of organisation on a church, organisation is important because churches do things that need to be organised.

Also, because of the lack of attention to the area of leading people, most leadership approaches in the church and Kingdom enterprises come from the world and been have brought in by Christians who have been trained in business organisations. This results is the wholesale adoption of worldly models of leadership in Kingdom service. Often these are not compatible with the character of Jesus and the Kingdom values that he taught. See: The Jesus Model – Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom

Section 2: Leadership Myths and Realities

Keeping in mind the things we learned about Jesus’ leadership model and the fact most leadership practice has its roots firmly embedded in the world’s philosophies, let’s consider some of the myths about leadership.

Effective leaders are Cool and Analytical

Historically leadership theory has been heavily influenced by process and systems thinking.

Henry Ford, credited with mass production and making the automobile available for the masses, achieved this by effectively making people to be “cogs” in the machine. Also, the later development of “Systems Thinking” (Senge) was about looking at organization in terms of ordered processes and Total Quality Management (Crosby) seeks to measure, analyze and control in order to improve quality.

Because of this machine/systems perspective, generally the search has been for leaders who are rational, logical and analytical; people who are cool and unemotional under-fire. Thus a myth has grown up that the key quality of a leader is being cool and analytical.

When researchers speak to people who are effective leaders they discover that they talk about how they use their emotions. The people they lead gain insight on what the leader values from their emotional responses and it helps them to be followers. Because they don’t leave their emotion at home, these leaders also care about the people around them. They want to understand their “followers” and help them to succeed by doing their jobs well. These are emotional qualities and they are seen in the best leaders.

It’s not that it’s wrong to remain cool and analytical in a crisis, BUT seldom are crises every hour or even every day occurrences. It’s just that the emotional dimension builds stronger connections with people and is more helpful to those who follow.

Effective leaders possess a special dynamic personality

If effective leaders demonstrate emotional characteristics then one could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that this is not a myth. It suggests that their character and personality inspire those who choose to follow them.  They are people who are easy to follow. However, such charismatic leaders can be destructive. They are often people who lead by dominating their followers and often create a dependency on their guidance and direction. With a moment’s thought one can probably identify people who are that in the extreme.

Leading by charisma is more about the leader than the people they lead, nor is it about the organization they work for. History shows that when a strong, charismatic leader moves on, often the organisation will get into difficulty. This can be interpreted that the charismatic leader was essential for success. Alternatively it could be a condemnation because the leader did not grow and develop the organization to survive and thrive. They were more concerned for their own success than anyone else. Thus, they actually fall far short of the mark.

The more negative characteristics of charismatic leaders are the exact opposite of those needed in any organization. Studies show that effective leaders have a strong sense of purpose and conviction and are able to envision those they lead but they do not dominate, instead they motivate and empower their team and draw the best out of them.

Jim Collins (Author of Good to Great) researched companies that turned around from being just good – or worse- to being great and sustaining that for at least 15 years. His conclusion is that this happens when “leaders commit themselves and all who work with them to becoming the very best at what they collectively do. Deep, personal commitment precedes greatness. There is no other way[1].

All this means that leaders can be grown. Some may be born but the majority can grown.

Effective leaders must have heavenly vision

Emerging directly from the myth that leaders have a charismatic character is the myth that the leader IS the source of vision or, that they are the only ones who are inspired to achieve great things. It is true that certain people seem to be destined to bring some great goal to reality and it is true that some of these people are gifted leaders, but neither of these things are necessarily true of every leader.

The task of the leader is to lead people on a journey and a vision of the destination is vital to helping people to choose to undertake and complete the journey. BUT the vision does not have to originate with the leader. Many people are navigators not the pilots. They initiate the vision but are unable to express it clearly or are not able to lead people on the journey. They are the navigators and need the leader to be the pilot.

Effective leaders ensure that there is a vision, it may be their vision but when necessary their job is to help others collectively crystalise and express the vision. Sometimes a leader is called to take hold of another’s vision and bring together a team to realize it. The leader must enable the team to make the vision their own. They then lead the journey to that destination.

Effective leaders control their environment (time, money, and people)

This is a classic myth and one can see it reflected in Henry Ford’s development of the production line. It is an authoritarian model which places all the responsibility on the leader, who by necessity must micro-manage his work force by command and control. A moments thought brings forth the weaknesses of such an approach.

It might also be considered to be a classic military model. It may have had merits when Wellington and Napoleon sat astride their horses surveying the battlefield, moving the divisions of their armies against each other. But even the military has moved from such an approach to one that is more about setting objectives and developing their men to be able to lead on the ground to achieve the desired results, without forever seeking instructions from the command chain. When things chnage quickly this approach is vital.

It is worth noting in passing that many mission organisations have their origins immediately after the Second World War; established by men who had seen the desperate need for the Gospel while in overseas military service. The organisations they established were based on the leadership style they knew which was a command and control style military model. Frequently Christian organisations are extremely conservative and slow to change and the command and control model can still be seen today. As we look back to “Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom” we can see that it is not a model that reflects the way of Jesus.

The most effective leaders are those who grow their people, motivate and empower them, enabling them to do their job, and then provide the back-up and support so they can do what has been asked of them.

Effective leaders promote progress through great policy

Great policies and vision, mission and value statements are what deliver great leadership.

It’s true that an organisation’s purpose, vision and mission need to be clear and understood. However, unless they are lived out they are dead words that simply show up the duplicity or hypocrisy of the leadership.  The classic example is the value statement that “Our people are our greatest or most important asset”. This sets an expectation on the part of the people about how they will be valued. When that doesn’t happen it is seen and recognized and remembered. It disengages the workforce, reducing their levels of commitment and energy.

The most effective leaders genuinely know that integrity is the vital underpinning of trust and that trust earns them a hearing from those that choose to follow. Like Balam’s deceleration about God in Numbers 23:19 a leader must align his words and deeds. When they are not aligned trust can be lost and while it may be recoverable this is a hard thing to do. Thus, the most effective leaders know that their deeds are more important than policies. Words must be backed up by deeds to maintain integrity and earn trust.

It’s lonely at the top

The brave leader as the fount of all knowledge and wisdom, braving the forces arrayed against them, directing operations in detail, issuing instructions to all as necessary is a classic conception. It is a recipe for loneliness because that leader fails to develop relationships with his people.

The most effective leaders build relationships with the people they lead. They know them and know how to call upon their expertise when necessary. They recognize that it’s only when the team works collaboratively can they resolve issues and accomplish their goal.

A key element of building relationships is building trust and where there is trust, even the most difficult issues can be shared. It may not always be prudent to share some things with the whole team but where there are trusting relationships they can be shared and assistance sought in finding solutions.

The most effective leaders enable their people to achieve their full potential and seek to be able to do that for themselves too. This means that they need input and feedback from others, so that they can grow as a leader. Coaches and mentors help leaders in this way.

All together, it’s clear there is no reason for the leaders to be lonely, if they have set about becoming truly effective.

Leadership is reserved for only a very few

This is only true if you subscribe to a view that says leaders are only those with a charismatic personality and are born with the personality traits necessary to be leader. Whilst on occasion such people may turn out to be good leaders, studies and practice show that excellent leadership skills can be developed. Therefore leadership is not reserved for the few.

More than this look at any organised situation and it is clear that leadership happens at many levels. There may be only one CEO but there are many department leaders, many project leaders and many team leaders. Each of whom needs to achieve their full potential as a leader and can be developed to do so.

Beyond these layers of formal leadership every group of people includes informal leaders. The ones who come alongside and help newcomers integrate with group, those who share their expertise to help others develop and so on.

It is a very narrow view that sees leadership as being limited to a very few rather than being practiced, in many forms, by many people.

  • Take a Moment
    • Before we proceed, take a few moments to ponder and note down what you think leadership is about.
    • How does this differ from secular views of leadership? Then we will continue our exploration of the subject.


[1] Viewpoint: Jim Collins –pp212  Business the Ultimate Resource – Third Edition –  A&C Black Publishers Ltd.