Leadership is an Art
Leadership is an Art is one book that has shaped my understanding of leadership as much as any other. In some ways it is hard to read; it’s more a collection of insights than a story. But I have found some of those insights to be quite profound.
I’ll share two of them with you.
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” It took me a while to understand what this meant; now it is one of the truths that defines how I lead. What does that mean? It means as leaders, we shape how people think. Not what they think, but how. It means we communicate what the bigger picture is, what the deepest values are, what assumptions are being made, and the consequences of different decisions.
For example, with my daughters growing up, we talked about dressing modestly. But we seldom, if ever, gave the order “dress modestly.” Rather, we helped them think through what was modest and what wasn’t; why did it matter; how do boys think about girls; what your dress communicates to others, etc. They ended up valuing modesty, but not because we commanded it; they valued it because it made sense to them.
One of my favorite Sundays in our church is “Ask the Pastor” Sunday. For one full service I just take questions from the church. They are asked anonymously, so people are free to ask their real questions without fear of being judged. There are a lot of reasons I like this time, but one of them is that it gives me an opportunity to frame my answer in a way that defines reality. And in doing that, I am shaping their thinking in a much more profound way than I could ever do simply by giving an answer.
One of the questions this year pertained to hell. The person said they were plagued with the thought of people they knew going to hell, and they couldn’t reconcile that with a God of love. That wasn’t really a theological question; in this case it was an intensely personal, emotional one.
In answering the question, I framed it in the context of God’s love. That a God who loves so much he will sacrifice his life for us will also be doing everything he possibly can to reach people. I shared stories I knew of people being visited by the Lord in their dreams; missionary stories of miraculous interventions, etc. all of which revealed a God who is still pursuing people hard. I made a point of the fact that God did not stop pursuing us after the cross. I was defining reality for the questioner.
The second insight is that “everyone gets a voice, but not everyone gets a vote.” That helped me navigate the balance of welcoming input from everyone without being at the mercy of everyone’s opinion, or having to make everyone happy. It allows me to benefit from the wisdom of those around me without giving away the authority I need to lead. Interestingly, when I explain the principle, people consistently “get it.” It frees them to share their thoughts without fear.
There are lots of others, but I’ll stop there. What are yours? What insights did you take away with you, or what would you add?