So What is Leadership About?

Leadership is….

One definition is that Leadership is:

the dynamic process in which an individual influences a group of people to achieve a goal.”  Dr Peter Northouse

According to Dr John Kotter[1],

“Leadership is the set of processes involved in creating a vision of the future and a strategy for getting there, and for communicating that to people in a way that causes them to choose to embark on the journey. It creates an environment that motivates people, that inspires them to want to make that vision a reality.”

Using different words these two speak of the same things: By relationship and influence a leader engages and inspires people to achieve something. It’s about envisioning people to embark on a journey with a common and shared objective, which is to achieve a specific outcome. It is inherently a process of change, through which the leader guides those who have embarked upon it.

  • Take a Moment make some notes on your responses to the following questions:
    • Compare this view of leadership with the myths & realities that we looked at earlier.
    • Is it what you thought leadership was about? If it was or if it wasn’t, ask yourself why you thought that way?
    • How well do these definitions fit with your impression of Jesus as leader?
    • How well does this view of leadership fit with my own leadership style?

Leadership v Management

At this point it’s worth a short diversion to consider management.

  • Take a Moment: “ Are leadership and management the same?”

We saw Dr Kotter’s description of leadership above and how it’s essentially about leading people on a journey. Because a journey is about ending up some place different to where you started, it inherently encompasses change.

Dr Kotter’s view on leadership and management is in line with most teachers on the subject. He says

Management is about maintaining course in a stable, consistent, repeatable fashion.” He goes on “It’s about the use of monitored processes to ensure that change is minimised and consistency and control are maintained. Management is inherently about stability whereas leadership is inherently about change.”

As we will see later in the programme, when we look at teams, processes are important in ensuring solid relationships and effective collaboration so that a team can successfully complete its journey. It’s just that the processes do not govern the outcome, they enable it.

Dr Kotter also observes that

Often management and leadership are fatally confused. When the need for leadership is most urgent, most often more management is applied. It is leadership that develops and grows organisations; management maintains the status quo. Both are vitally needed at all levels but it is leadership that seizes the day and completes the journey.”

Servant Leadership is?

Dr Robert Clinton develops Northouse’s definition of leadership and applies it to the Christian context defining Christian servant leadership as:

“the dynamic process in which an individual with God-given capacity and responsibility influences a group of God’s people toward God’s purposes for the group.”

This simply recognizes that in the Kingdom our goal is to achieve God’s purposes and the leader uses influence as his key tool – a far cry from domination and the exercise of power. As Christians we recognize that God calls individuals and groups to a specific purpose. Sometimes this is a long term call and involves the development of a substantial organisation. Other times the call is to something much smaller in scope and shorter in duration.

There is more to servant leadership than this however. As we have observed in “Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom” that it’s about focus and character. Even in the secular business schools it is acknowledged that being a servant leader is about more than technique and that there is a required ‘spiritual’ dimension if one is be truly effective.  Some even talk in terms of a kind of conversion experience as the realisation arises that servant leadership is not about position, power and status but about enabling others – i.e. concern that others achieve their potential.

This spiritual dimension is hardly surprising because true servanthood, arising from agape-love, is an essential part of the character of the triune God. It’s clearly shown in Biblical accounts to be the very essence of the character of Jesus, the Son of God, who himself is the “exact representation” of the Father. (see Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom”)

Christ-centred servant leadership emerges from the Christian’s growth to maturity in the character of Christ. Thus servant leadership should emerge amongst Christians, allowing for man’s fallen nature, not because it’s a good leadership technique but because it grows from a faithful, maturing, Christ-like, Christ-centred character.

Perspectives on Servant Leadership

From the secular perspective Robert Greenleaf rediscovered servant leadership while working as an executive with AT&T in the United States, a monopoly which in its time was the world’s largest telephone company. He described servant leadership in his seminal book “Servant Leadership – A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness”.  Because servant leadership is an inherent outworking of the character of the Son of God it therefore predates Greenleaf by at least two thousand years.  Greenleaf observes:

 “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possession. 

The leader-first and the servant first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

Robert Greenleaf “The Leader as Servant First”

Greenleaf, who it seems had a Christian upbringing but was probably not a Christian, recognised that servant leadership was first about serving, i.e the role of the leader is about enabling those he leads.

Stacy Rhinehart, one time vice president of Navigators and founder and chairman of MentorLink International, writes in his book “Upside down: The Paradox of Servant Leadership”

“Servant leadership is currently a popular term in both business and ministry milieus; however, often those who write and speak about it (servant leadership) focus on the second word: leadership. Viewed with this emphasis, serving is simply a means to an end . . . This is just another subtle form of power leadership”

 Rhinehart identifies the heart of the issue. The world sees servant leadership as a technique that enables the people in an organisation to achieve more effectively and will adopt it for that reason. When that is the motive, it is no different than any other form of secular leadership, it may be more subtle, more pleasant but it is about power and the leader achieving their goals. Not so with Christ. His servant leadership emerged from his servant character, his model of servanthood was sacrificial.

Servant leadership is first about serving others; for the Christian it is a desire that emerges from a character centred upon Christ. Therefore, it is the way Christians should lead, not because it’s effective, it is, but because it is Christ’s nature.

  • Take a Moment
    •  Review what you learned in the previous lesson “Exploring leadership in the Kingdom”.
    • If you haven’t studied that lesson yet, now would be a good time.

Kingdom Leadership Review

In “Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom” we explored what the Bible has to say about leadership in the Kingdom of God and how it is modelled upon Jesus.  The “take-away” headlines drawn from the things we discovered are:

Leadership in the Kingdom:

  1. is to be radically different from how the world sees and executes leadership.
  2. is not about the leader’s power, position or status, rather it is about humbly serving those who follow.
  3. emerges from a humble, Christ-like, Christ-centred character that expresses the maturing nature of Christ in the leader.
  4. is an expression of Kingdom culture, which is radically different to any and every culture in the world.
  5. is about serving a higher purpose, i.e. God’s plan.
  6. is about relationship and influence not command and control.
  7. focuses on the wellbeing and growth of others not self and the leader serves others by enabling them to achieve their full potential.
  8. recognises that leadership works at many levels and seeks to grow leaders at all levels.
  9. enables others to align to a shared vision and a common purpose.
  10. guides those who follow on a journey and enables and helps them to handle the change that this inevitably entails.

The challenge for Christian leaders is to deliberately seek to become mature in Christ and live out this Christ centred model of leadership, leaving aside the leadership philosophies and approaches of the world in favour of the character of Christ.

[1] Dr Kotter PhD is Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School