Reflections on Leadership
Dedicated to students of Leadership
Do we need leaders? In Western, Christian thought, we all possess equal value as children of God; created in God’s image, we are autonomous like our Creator and capable of leading ourselves. Yet there are situations where leaders are necessary, such as coordinating the activities of a team, facilitating decision-making processes by moderating and guiding the direction of discussions, or representing the team at the final moment when a decision is taken. In some cultures, the leader is expected to have greater specialist knowledge; in other cultures, the leader is rather expected to act like a loving and caring parent.
Is there an “ideal leader”? First of all, the leader must be a needed person. This means that he must possess some ability in greater measure than the rest of the team, whether it be specialist knowledge, social competence, strategic skills, or some other important quality, such as the ability to sacrifice one’s own interests for the sake of the team members. If the leader is in no way better than the team members, he or she will not survive in that position unless propped up by an incompetent or irrational power structure. Being able to recognize that one is deficient in many areas, is itself an important ability.
The most decisive point for good leadership is to act for the sake of the entire team rather than to fulfill one’s own selfish interests such as personal professional advancement, polishing one’s image or fulfilling a need to exercise power over others. In other words, a good leader needs to be altruistic and have the mindset that he is representing the entire team; he has to rid himself of any fantasies about ruling over others. These are what define the qualities of a good or evil leader. The advice of Jesus of Nazareth that the one who wants to be lord over others has to be the servant of all makes the point well.
A good leader has strong moral and ethical values which act as a guide when making decisions and dealing with people. He feels that he exists for his subordinates and not they for him. He is not in his position for personal profit, but in order to benefit others. A righteous leader is often persecuted as he tries to separate the valuable from the worthless in his environment in order to smooth the way. In so doing, the selfish interests of others are naturally challenged.
A needed leader seeks to protect those under him and raise them to become people more capable than himself. He is the invisible root giving nourishment to the whole tree (the team). The root needs to be deep, representing steadfastness and good character, so that the tree can grow strong and healthy. He seeks to have a positive influence on his environment, likes his subordinates, and feels that they are equal in value to his own family members. The subordinates of a good leader feel, “I need this person”. Those under him will want to respect him as a model for their own lives. A good leader, though delegating responsibilities to his team, has the heart to work harder than all of them put together.
A true leader shows the example of working co-operatively with his own superior, otherwise he cannot expect co-operation from those under him; it would be similar to a disunited husband and wife expecting their children to trust them or trust their siblings.
Not everyone is suited to lead other people. Some people perform better as the thread rather than the needle.
An exemplary leader does not automatically take advantage of passing opportunities of the moment out of mere expediency, but analyses them to assess their permanent value. He has a clear vision of the future and is able to inspire others to share that vision. Goals that are made together are taken seriously. Only such a person of character can gain natural respect. Without such values, the leader becomes a branch swaying in whatever direction the wind blows; he is unreliable, changeable and ready to compromise principles. His leadership leads to absurdities and those under him suffer.
A leader that adds value pioneers new ways, so, even though he is respected by his subordinates and is their friend, his path is in some ways a lonely one.
It is human to seek out good leadership because human beings are created to co-operate with others, to constantly seek higher value and thus to naturally strive to come closer to the being of highest value, God.
Contributed by Mark Bramwell