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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

25 Sep '11

Power, Humility and Leaders

Leadership advancement must be accompanied by a parallel advancement in personal humility. This is a paradox as leadership advancement brings with it additional power, opportunities, freedom, perks and responsibilities - all of which are more likely to lead to pride than to humility which is the only antidote to the dark side effects of additional power.

Humility is not a denigration of the leadership gifts we may possess. Healthy leaders are by nature self confident, self assured and have a bank of experience and wisdom from which to draw on. Some will actually see that confidence as arrogance when in fact it is simply self assurance. Paul tells us to have an accurate read of our strengths and we need not apologize for leadership acumen. Most if not all leaders have run into people who don't like their ability to make clear directional decisions and accuse them of arrogance. Usually that reflects more on the accuser than the accused.

At the same time, leadership gifts bring with them unique personal challenges because of the power it brings. Decision making power which can be used more for our benefit than for others, influence over the careers of others, additional personal freedom with a larger "sandbox" in which to play along with less candid feedback from those around us who may choose to play to our leadership role rather than engage in robust, honest, candid discussion.

It is not unusual for leaders to lose some of their sensitivity to others as their role increases. There can be an expectation for others to serve them, agree with them, and live up to their expectations whether they are appropriate expectations or not. They can also lose the ability to listen closely and carefully - after all they are busy and distracted by many issues. In the ministry world, there is the added dimension of "spirituality" in the leadership equation where "God speaks" and leaders can use the "God's direction" to go where they desire to go. How does one argue with God?

How do leaders grow their personal humility as they are handed greater authority, power and freedom? First, while leaders are often lifted up by others with perks, titles and respect, they go deep into their own hearts, souls and lives to understand and respect the depths of their own depravity. None of us look as good on the inside as we do on the outside and leaders cultivate a high view of their own fallenness in order to not be deceived by the adulation of others. In doing so, they develop a greater understanding of their true self, vulnerabilities, need of God's grace and forgiveness and their personal understanding balances out the adulation of others.

Second, healthy leaders surround themselves with people who will be honest with them. Unhealthy leaders surround themselves with people who will play to their ego. There is a huge distinction! One of the reasons for building healthy leadership teams is that there are multiple voices that weigh in on critical decisions and robust dialogue of a group rather than the single voice of one. You can tell the nature of a leader by those he or she surrounds themselves and by how candid those individuals can be with their leader. Personally, I will never again work for a leader with whom I cannot be completely honest behind closed doors.

In fact, healthy leaders go out of their way to solicit information, opinions, feedback and advice on critical decisions. True self assurance is not intimidated by the differing opinions of others and actually desire the opposing view so that they can understand all angles and potential unintended consequences. Any leader who is intimidated by strong opinions that differ from theirs is actually an unhealthy leader. Those leaders who don't want to listen and dialogue with other strong voices are more concerned with their own ego and power then with leading well. It is about them, not about those they lead.  

Third, leadership brings with it power, options, and greater freedom. Many leaders use those perks of leadership for their own purposes. Healthy leaders use those perks to help those they lead. The power of leadership, for instance, can be used to further our own goals or it can be used to remove barriers and pave the way for our staff to be more successful. Our freedom as leaders gives us the opportunity to extend greater freedom to others, to be their advocates and to tackle the politics of the organization that they are not in a position to deal with.

Leaders do not need to apologize for the greater freedom they have because of their leadership role. They have earned it. But, the best leaders use that freedom on behalf of their teams not on behalf of themselves. They use the power of their position to serve those they lead! Power in itself is not bad. It depends on how that power and influence is used. I have been helped over the years in significant ways by those above me who could intervene on my behalf and without whom I would not be in the leadership role I am today. They used their influence to help me in situations I could not negotiate by myself.

Power and humility are two sides of the same coin for healthy leaders. If you lead, how are you doing on the balance between the two?