Leadership Practice
By Dr. Scott Wilson.

Leadership Theory and Practice was a subject I took at University. The title of the course (Theory and Practice) could not have been further apart. Two opposites or paradigms. Some are interested in the theory, the academic pursuit of leadership, while others just want to get on and get the job done (practice). And here is the contention. The practice of leadership is important in shaping any organisation, none more than the church. There five basic practices leaders should follow. Communicating Direction, Inspirational Motivation, Resolving Problems, Building a Team, and,

1) Communicating Direction

Jesus’ inner sense of direction is clearly demonstrated in his reply to the Roman governor.  Jesus answered Pilate with these words: “You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Vision or direction, is essential for organisations, without it they will not succeed in articulating the reason or purpose of the organisations existence. Bill Hybels in his book “Courageous Leadership“[i]stressed that vision is at the core of leadership: it is the fuel that leaders run on, the energy that creates action – and the fire that ignites the passion of followers. “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.”[ii]  Without vision, people can’t focus and therefore cannot reach their goal or follow their dream.

2) Inspirational Motivation

Leaders with high moral and ethical standards serve as strong role models for followers. This is the heart of leadership, the ability to inspire and motivate in such a way that people are changed and ready for a great future. This results in what is known as “engaged” people. “Engaged employees are a manager’s dream. Put them to work on a clearly defined mission and goal and set them free to do what they do best…” and then, “…your biggest problem as manager may end up being what to do with all that extra time.” [iii]Engaged people love what they do, serve the bigger picture, can be trusted, respect their leaders, have new ideas, and do their best.

3) Resolve Problems

Often, people are held back by the checks of their own fears or failures, hamstrung by laziness, distracted by their pride or paralysed by uncertainties and conflicts. Problems and conflicts emerge on macro and micro levels. In my experience of 30 years working with ministers, most enter the ministry wanting to “save the world”. They want to make a major difference, and feel sure that the problems around them can be resolved by the church and the message of Christ. After a few years, many of them become disillusioned by church politics, lack of commitment and the general apathy of the people they serve. Leaders that tackle micro issues have a greater chance of “saving the world” – or handling the macro challenges. They are working on both levels at the same time. I have observed that church leaders who have remained in a church for a long time – 25 years or so – often work with issues of world poverty, politics and trauma far more effectively than newcomers. They have prepared the church they serve on the micro level before taking on the macro. It can take some time to obtain enough respect, influence and finance to deal effectively with the problems. But once that’s done, they can have a huge impact.

4) Building a Team

Much has been written about teamwork and the influence it has on the successful completion of a vision. Without a great team, little can be done. The workings of the team are too great to discuss here, however, Kennon Callahan in his book “Effective Church Leadership”[iv]outlines four things that can happen when you use people who are willing over those who are competent, but are fewer in number. In other words, it is better to have a few who know what to do than many who don’t, even though they are willing. Callahan says:

  1. It does damage and harm to the person who is willing. They may well find that the task is just too much and that they don’t have the right gifts, which causes them to fail.
  2. It hurts the team. The team now has to “carry” a person who is not at a suitable level.
  3. It seriously hinders the leader’s ability to attract competent people. When you fill the post with “willing” people you imply that willingness is more important than competency.
  4. Itfrustrates your leadership. Willing people make your task even harder as leader because they are not equipped for their tasks.

5) Trust

Good leaders use a “pull” rather than a “push” style of influence.  General Eisenhower once demonstrated the effectiveness of this kind of leadership by placing a long piece of string on a table. When the string was pushed, it bunched up and went nowhere; when it was pulled, the string followed readily. The “pull” kind of leadership places great emphasis on trust. Jesus chose His team of twelve prayerfully and carefully. He was their leader and teacher. Trust is a key factor for leaders. They don’t get far without it. Over time, trust is built. The axiom “trust grows over time“[v]is apposite here. Too many leaders attempt certain organisational processes that have not been bankrolled by the deposits of time. Only after time can a team be convinced by leadership that they are the leader’s best interest.

In conclusion, these are fairly easy to grasp and most leaders are well aware of them, the big question is how do these practices work out in the life of an organisation or church? For another time maybe

[i]Hybels, B. Courageous Leadership. Zondervan, USA. 2002.

[ii]Proverbs 29:18

[iii]Finney, M.I, Getting the Best From People “Get rid of the carrot and the stick” Prentice Hall, USA. 2008. Pg. 7

[iv]Callahan, L, K. Effective Church Leadership: Building on the Twelve Keys. Jossey-Bass. USA. 1997

[v]Gitomer, G. Little Teal Book of Trust, How to Earn it, Grow it, and Keep it to Becomes a Trusted Advisor in Sales, Business and Life. FT. Press, New Jersey, USA. 2008