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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 Oct '09

The Core Of Leadership

Posted by T.J. Addington in Healthy leaders, The heart

What is the core of good leadership? What makes one leader qualitatively different than another? Why do some leaders seem to lead from the hip while others seem to lead from somewhere deep inside? Why is it that some leaders lead effectively for a period of time while others have a leadership that stands the test of time?

For thirty plus years I have mulled on these and other leadership questions. From age 16 when I became the leader of my youth group at church, to leadership with InterVarsity in College, then leading a congregation as a pastor and for the past twenty two years in senior leadership within the Evangelical Free Church of America in various capacities. I have written on leadership (High Impact Church Boards and Leading From the Sandbox), I have read hundreds of books on the subject, have taught leadership principles and lead an organization (ReachGlobal) of six hundred individuals.

I have worked for good leaders and poor leaders. I have paid enough dumb tax in my own leadership to fill a book. I have consulted with ministry organizations and countless churches. I have written hundreds of blogs on leadership issues. I have learned much from countless people and have often read through Scripture with my leadership lens on since this is one of my life passions.

All that to say that I, like you, care a great deal about leadership and what makes for a good leader. As a leader, I want to lead well. At fifty three I am far more interested in long term leadership development and success than I am in the quick wins and fifteen minutes of fame. I realize that while I was wired to lead as evidenced by the leadership positions I had early on in life, that my understanding of leadership then was immature and undeveloped. It has taken 40 years of leadership in various capacities to understand that becoming a leader of Deep Influence is something that truly comes from great depth in our hearts and minds.

I believe that the answer to the questions above is that the best leaders, those who make the largest impact over the longest period of time. Who lead with the greatest wisdom and discernment for long term results and the building of the best teams lead from deep inside themselves and as a result have deep influence with the organization they lead. And the deeper that influence, the greater the leadership: influence to impact our world in significant ways for a cause greater than ourselves.

Both the Old and New Testaments make it clear that what is deepest in our hearts, souls and minds is that which informs our actions, thinking, priorities and leadership. Consider these examples:
Proverbs 4:24
“Above all else guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
Proverbs 3:5-8
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes: fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”
Matthew 15:18-20
“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Here is a truth about leadership that is often not acknowledged or paid much attention too. We lead from the core of our hearts and minds. The deeper that core is steeped in healthy and spiritual practices, the deeper the influence of our leadership. The shallower that core, the shallower our leadership.

The preponderance of books on leadership focus on what good leaders do, how they act, or the strategies they practice. Many of these books provide real insight into good leadership principles. But these are neither the most important issues in leadership nor are they were leadership starts. Great leadership starts deep inside us and the best leaders are different than other leaders. Their uniqueness lies not first in their ability to lead but in a set of intentional practices that they nurture - out of which comes a unique, powerful, and deeply influential leadership. Those practices, combined with good leadership ability make the difference between the average leader and a leader of deep influence.

Our world has many leaders but few leaders of deep influence. Much of what passes for leadership is not true leadership but simply a position of authority. True leadership is not about authority. Whenever you hear, “I am the leader and this is what we are going to do,” you rarely have leadership (there are exceptions where that kind of leadership is required, but seldom). You have someone in authority who thinks that leadership is about their telling others what they should do. They are not only wrong but do not understand the call of a leader.

Then there are many leaders who think that if they adopt the latest leadership theory or the style of leaders they admire that they too will lead well. This is often “flavor of the month” leadership which leads to cynicism among those they lead as the leadership practices and philosophy change with the winds. In this case, both the style and substance of the leader is coming from other people rather than from a place deep inside themselves.

Other leaders believe that the core of great leadership is action and they are always on the move, looking for the next strategy or initiative to pursue. Leaders are people of action. But the best action comes out of deep thinking, great understanding and the ability to connect the dots of opportunity, needs, organizational ability and strategy. The question is not whether leaders are people of action but whether their action comes from a depth of understanding that leads to an inner conviction rather than an addiction to action.