Are Leaders Born?

You will recall from the Reflections on Leadership module we discovered that, while undoubtedly some are born leaders, leadership skills can be grown and developed. Studies back this up and hence Kouzes and Posner assert that “Leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices.”

From the spiritual perspective, our aspiration is to be leaders modelled on the character of Jesus; that is to be a Christ-centred servant leader. The Bible is clear that unspiritual people cannot grasp spiritual things and we were all once unspiritual people. Therefore, it is also clear that the Christ-centred characteristics to which we aspire can only be grown by the work of the Holy Spirit through a discipleship in which we seek to attain the fullness of the maturity of Christ.

Exemplary Christ-centred Servant Leadership Practices

So now we move on to discover the qualities, practices and characteristics of a Christ-centred servant leader. There are seven in all; 5 general ones derived from the work carried out by Kouzes and Posner and two which are specifically focussed on a Christian context courtesy of Rick Sessoms.

  • Modelling the Way
  • Inspiring a Shared Vision
  • Challenging the Process
  • Enabling Others to Act
  • Encouraging the Heart
  • Nurturing the Character
  • Considering the Individual

Again its worth being reminded that these are not theoretical methods to be applied, rather they all derive from observation. How best-in-class, or exemplary leadership works has been examined and these characteristics emerge. If you like they represent the distilled wisdom of leadership role models.

The Kouzes and Posner set reflect the best-practices of those we might describe as servant leaders and as such, at the very least, they are sympathetic to Christian leadership. However, considered examination will show these practices to be a natural outworking of a leadership character that possesses an agape-led, Christ-centred servant heart.

Seven Key Practices of Leadership

These practices are the outworking of a servant heart focussed on others. They are about leading people, in whatever situation, so that those being led can grow and develop and achieve their full potential.  They work best from such a heart where they are natural expression of the leader’s character and concerns.

Consequently, as we examine these we will seek to gain insight from the principles involved because keeping these principles in view will be the leader’s best guide. It means that as leader you must ask yourself, in each situation, with each individual, “How can I work out these principles in my leadership of others?”

So, we must recognise that these leadership practices are not a method of leadership but a reflection of character. They are not primarily a list of essential steps that form nothing more than a sophisticated manipulation of the work force. Rather, they are about the character of people who, out of a servant heart, care about the people they lead.

As we continue through the course we will provide some practical guidance and recommend some approaches and outlooks. These have the express purpose of helping you to live out a Christ-centred servant leader’s heart.

Essential Reading

Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge James M. Kouzes (Editor), Barry Z. Posner (Editor), John C. Maxwell (Foreword by) ISBN: 978-0-7879-8337-6.

Leadership is about leading people and this excellent, insightful and challenging book relates the basic principles of people leadership identified by Kouzes and Posners to Kingdom service.  Their five practices of an exemplary leader are clearly set out in the Christian context and they are accompanied by the reflections of 5 prominent Christians who are in leadership. It’s full of practical, real-life accounts of the leadership of Christians at work. Consequently it grounds leadership practices in reality.

Leaders Model the Way

The writer to the Hebrews set down a challenge:

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7

There is no way out of that; the expectation is that leaders are a role model. We are required to lead the way by example. The only question left is what kind of model should we be?  The Biblical requirement is that we be a godly role model, reflecting the Bible and the character of Christ in what we say and what we do. We are confronted with the fact that “acts speak louder than words”.

Jesus explained in  Matthew 12 and 15 that our deeds, good or bad, result from our hearts, that is our character and the things we value. Thus the model we give must show a consistency between words and deeds. This means that the things we value, the things that are important to us will show up in our goals and our actions.

Find Your Voice by Clarifying Your Personal Values

It is important for leaders to understand what motivates and drives them because without this they do not understand their values and cannot express them, thus effectively they have no voice.

Values translate into our ethics and determine our goals. When we have confused ethics and unclear goals we are unable to express what we are about and what we desire to achieve. We are neither able to explain the destination of our journey, nor declare the qualities we will exhibit whilst on that journey. Thus leaders need to be clear in their own minds about their values because values are the compass that guides us.

You may think, “No it’s the Bible that does that”. Well if you do then it’s because you value God and the principles he has set out in the Bible. However, those principles, the things that are important to you and that you feel strongly about, will be interpreted into action in your response to real-life. As a result you may find yourself called by God to some work or ministry and in so doing you effectively give expression to those principles and values that guide you. Thus these values work out in your behaviour and actions. But before you can give expression to those values you must have worked them out, clarified them. This may require time and much prayer before the Lord.

Set the Example by Aligning Actions with Shared Values

Modelling the way requires that the leader expresses their values by living them out visibly in front of others.

Because values are a compass, those who follow and those who lead must share the same values; They become the expression of what is jointly important to all involved in the journey. It is these values that motivate them and thus are a key element of that which binds them together. A team with mixed, perhaps conflicting values, will be confused at best and split at worst.

Values cannot be forced upon others but rather they must be forged. Imposed values are an expression of authoritarian styles of leadership. The process of imposition results in desertion, minimal compliance or rebellion. Most often rebellion. Whereas forging them is about working them out together so all involved own them.

Trust in the leader is an important factor underpinning the sharing of values. Trust is achieved when words and deeds are aligned. In Reflections on Leadership we considered this issue and the negative impact a lack of alignment between a leader’s words and deeds has on their constituents.

How you spend your time, use available resources and respond to critical incidents are exceptionally clear indicators of what you value.

Response to critical incidents form “moments of truth” which spotlight the leader’s real values. They will be seen ever so clearly by those that you lead. Then, if good words are not matched by actions very soon there will be few to lead.  Again these issues were considered in Reflections on Leadership.

Additionally, people will do what they see the leader doing not what they are instructed to do. Where the actions of a leader are inconsistent with the expression of their values, those they lead will do what they see the leader doing not what the leader says, because it is actions that show the true values. Such inconsistencies are incredibly destructive and corrupting to the people who follow. By this witness God will also be brought into disrepute.

However, when words and actions are aligned, the example is good and trust, good attitudes and positive outcomes result.

A salutary thought:  “Leaders know that while position gives them authority, it’s their behaviour that earns them respect” James Kouzes and Barry Posner.


  • Take a Moment: Well, truly this will need more than a moment.
    • How clear are you about the values that guide your life and leadership?
    • Consider your values, that which is important to you, and write them down.
    • How well aligned are the values you expressed and the things you do? What can you do to improve that alignment?
    • To what degree are your values truly shared with members of your group? How can you improve that?

  • Take a Moment: Who are your leadership role models?
    • Why?
    • How does that work out in your leadership?