The End of Leadership?
We see leadership failures regularly, both on the news and in our immediate network. One business leader wrecks a company due to mismanagement; another is fired for mistreatment of staff. A political leader has an affair, a teacher abuses a child, a church leader is fired for embezzlement, etc. In every case, the sordid details are broadcast all over the media for the world to see.
A Leadership Industry Failure
Leadership failure exists in all sectors of society: in business, politics, sports, families, communities, and in the church. As leaders, we’re all too familiar with the risks of failure and the certain shame and embarrassment that would follow.
There is no clear, upward trend line demonstrating progress.
Barbara Kellerman, a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership critically examined the ubiquitous leadership “industry.” In her book, The End of Leadership (Harper Business, 2012), she determined that, over the past 40 to 50 years, while monumental amounts of training, teaching, discussing, writing and promoting how non-leaders can become leaders and how good leaders can become better leaders, which has produced huge profits for many, this effort has largely failed.
There is no clear, upward trend line demonstrating progress. The data is “mostly missing,” and bad leaders are still replete. To Kellerman, leadership, as an industry and societal movement, has not proven that it has or can make good leaders.
What’s a Good Leader?
Yet, we can agree with Kellerman that, while questionable overall, leadership as a discipline certainly has produced some good learning and discovery that has been personally beneficial to many leaders. However, while greater technical knowledge, skills and abilities may enhance one’s effectiveness, we can also agree that this alone does not necessarily make one a better leader. It also does not preclude failure.
This misappropriation of values contributes to leader failure.
What Christians should know is that leadership must involve more than hard science, know-how and business-school practicum. From a Christian perspective, a good leader is one who studies, learns, and follows the example of the only one who was actually “good.” Jesus is our Good Shepherd (John 10:7-18), and the Bible has much to say about leading like Jesus. Sadly, however, Christian leaders have too often traded believed-in gospel-centered values for secular ones. This misappropriation of values contributes to leader failure.
The Corinthian Example
No one is perfect, of course, and there is no perfect leader no matter how accomplished or successful one appears in the eyes of others. Yet, Christians get into trouble when they lead according to the values espoused by secular society instead of the values modeled by Christ and taught by Paul.
The early Corinthian church struggled to lead in this regard and Paul confronted them to correct this errant behavior. Though they knew the gospel and had been trained by Paul, these church leaders were acting selfishly which resulted in boasting: “…for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?”...”neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:3–4, 7, ESV)
What about You?
Fast-forward to today and, like the Corinthian church leaders, we still see Christians behaving no differently than the rest of secular society, especially in family and church contexts. So, let’s get personal. Do you think you’re a good leader? Are you following the example of Christ? Or, are you getting ahead at the expense of others? Are you boasting, like the Corinthians, promoting yourself in a manner contrary to Christ’s calling and example? Examine your own life and ask, “In what ways have I appropriated secular leadership values?”
Gospel-Centered Leadership Values
In his book, Lead Like it Matters to God (IVP, 2021), Richard Stearns presents “…seventeen values and leadership qualities that I believe are essential for a Christian leader to embody,” each of which is sourced from and supported by the Bible. These values like surrender, sacrifice, humility, trust, love, forgiveness, and encouragement, are available to any believer, regardless of role or position. Stearns’ deep experience as an executive (Christian) leader in both profit-seeking and nonprofit organizations qualifies him to speak authoritatively about the necessity and the impact of leading with gospel-centered values. I commend his book to you.
Leadership Lesson: Be Found Faithful
The message for Christian leaders everywhere today is the same as Paul’s admonishment to the Corinthian church leaders: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 4:1-2, ESV)
So, I encourage you to read Stearns’ book, and search the Scriptures for gospel-centered leadership values. Pray for wisdom to implement these values in your leading and for protection from the influence of secular values. Then, remain faithful for God’s sake.
Justin Boswell is Operations Director for the Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO). SAWSO is dedicated to improving the health, economic, and spiritual conditions of the poor throughout the world where The Salvation Army is active – currently in 133 countries. Connect with Justin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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