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Launching A Leadership Revolution
Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward

Leadership Discussion

"Sometimes if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.

A Question of Leadership

We find ourselves in a time when leadership is sorely needed. From the chaos, confusion, and rampant mediocrity that we find in our schools, churches, workplaces, families, personal lives, national politics, and international relations, the same questions seem to echo: “Will somebody please lead?” “Isn’t there anybody who can fix this?” “Is there anyone who can make sense of all this?” “Is there anyone who cares enough to take responsibility for improvement here?” “Where are the leaders?” “Do heroes even exist anymore?”

These questions and more flow freely. Everybody seems to have an innate sense that something is needed. It is not hard to identify problems in a given situation. Ask someone to identify what’s wrong with their church, employer, or neighbors and you’d better be prepared for a long explanation. Don’t even get them started on the government! That could take days. Identifying negatives and areas for improvement is child’s play. Making suggestions for changes and modifications is not difficult, either. Everyone has an opinion about how to make improvements. Coming up with good ideas is no big deal. The world is full of great ideas and deep thinkers of grand theories. Implementation and results make the difference. They separate the heroes from the rest. And implementation with results, in any field or endeavor, takes leadership.

What Is Leadership?

The concept of “leadership” is a complex one. Most everybody has a feel for what the term means, at least in a general sense, but generalizations about leadership don’t help us very much. In order to understand how to lead and why to lead and what it even means to lead, we’d better get clear on what comprises this complex idea embodied in this simple little English word.

We’ve tried this exercise of defining leadership with audiences large and small, and invariably the same thing happens. We begin getting word phrases that all sound pretty good, phrases like “taking responsibility” and “getting results,” or one-word descriptors such as “commitment,” “perseverance,” “charisma,” and “integrity.” These are all true in a sense, but somehow they don’t go far enough. So then we switch to attempting definitions by combining all these phrases, but it creates so much mumbo jumbo, like one big buzzword soup from a corporate boardroom. Somehow the words meant something to us individually when thinking about leadership, but when fused together the life went right out of them.

At this point it may be helpful to turn to some experts on the subject. Surely they can bring some congruity. The list that follows is just a short offering:

1. James C. Hunter: “We define leadership . . . as a skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good.”

2. Al Kaltman: “The successful leader gets superior performance from ordinary people.”

3. Bill George: “The leader’s job is to provide an empowering environment that enables employees to serve their customers and provides them the training, education, and support they need.”

4. Andy Stanley: “Leaders provide a mental picture of a preferred future and then ask people to follow them there.”

5. Vance Packard: “Leadership is getting others to want to do something that you are convinced should be done.”

6. Garry Wills: “Leadership is mobilizing others toward a goal shared by the leader and followers.”

7. Alan Keith: “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.”

8. George Barna: “A leader is one who mobilizes; one whose focus is influencing people; a person who is goal driven; someone who has an orientation in common with those who rely upon him for leadership; and someone who has people willing to follow them,” and “Leadership is the process of motivating, mobilizing, resourcing, and directing people to passionately and strategically pursue a vision from God that a group jointly embraces.”

9. Kenneth O. Gangel: “I consider leadership to be the exercise of one’s special gifts under the call of God to serve a certain group of people in achieving the goals God has given them toward the end of glorifying Christ.”

10. Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

These insights and definitions are good and helpful, and some we like particularly, but John Maxwell gives an exemplary definition, quoted here at length from his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:

    Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less. People have so many misconceptions about leadership. When they hear that someone has an impressive title or an assigned leadership position, they assume that he is a leader. Sometimes that’s true. But titles don’t have much value when it comes to leading. True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that can’t be mandated. It must be earned.

What, then, is influence? Our favorite explanation of influence comes to us from nineteenth-century preacher and author Albert Barnes: “Influence is that in a man’s known talents, learning, character, experience, and position, on which a presumption is based that what he holds is true; that what he proposes is wise.”

George Barna tells us, “To be effective, a leader must have influence. But influence is a product of great leadership; it is not synonymous with it. You can have influence in a person’s life without leading him anywhere.”

Perhaps there will never be a short, cute definition for leadership. We are certain there will never be one upon which all “experts” agree. This very difficulty in arriving at a concise explanation for the concept illustrates the enormity of the subject at hand. But all of the above definitions hit near the same mark. Any attempts to be more concise or specific are like trying to grab smoke. For the purpose of this study, then, we will fuse the above commentary into the following:

Leadership is the influence of others in a productive, vision-driven direction and is done through the example, conviction, and character of the leader.

Why Leadership?

We have surveyed the thoughts of many great minds on the definition of leadership and, as with a complex painting, the image is getting clearer the more we work with it. To brush in more detail, we must discuss the purpose of leadership.

Many people are interested in leadership for what they imagine it can provide them, including:

1. Power

2. Control

3. Perks or Being Served.

But the life of a leader is quite different from such expectations. The life of a leader involves:

1. Giving power (empowering)

2. Helping others fix problems and move forward

3. Serving others.

Leaders lead for the joy of creating something bigger than themselves. Noted leadership consultant Warren Bennis says that he wants to publish books “that disturb the present in the service of a better future.” That’s good, and it’s a sentiment shared by Hyrum Smith: “Leaders conduct planned conflict against the status quo.”

To illustrate, consider the story of Ray Kroc and the making of the McDonald’s fast-food empire. Kroc discovered the little McDonald’s restaurant in Southern California in the 1950s and was amazed. The McDonald brothers had developed an efficient, unique, and highly profitable operation. They had fast-food production and delivery down to a science, and they were making what they considered a lot of money. But Kroc saw further. He realized that their little restaurant could be copied and duplicated and reproduced around the nation, and he set about trying to make that happen. Author Jim Collins, in Good to Great, explained that great leaders have ambition beyond their own personal self-interest. They are not satisfied with personal success only, but focus almost entirely upon furthering the vision of the enterprise.

Leaders can’t stand to leave things the way they found them.


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