So you want to be a good leader?

I just had to write something about leadership, given the present political impasse in my country, Australia. I have read and heard so much about ‘leadership’ and its signs and qualities during this present political crisis. So many commentators are talking so much nonsense about ‘leadership’ that I am sadly convinced more than a few of them wouldn’t recognise it if it jumped up and gave them a wet sloppy kiss on the cheek.

After years in leadership roles in schools and churches I would like to imagine I have a few insights into effective and authentic leadership; at the very least enough to know what it isn’t, and I just can’t help sharing some insights with you.

The top four ‘not-to-dos’ of leadership: (inspired in part by the present political situation in my country)

Any leader requires a certain toughness, but not the toughness of pig headedness and intransigence. An effective leader does not surround themself with nodding heads, but instead listens to all voices and encourages honest criticism.
A leader needs to be pragmatic and flexible, but should never allow themself to betray their core beliefs or principles in the process.
A leader needs to use power intelligently and cleverly, but not in a way that is cynical.
A leader needs to enjoy and nurture popularity, but not allow it to become a consuming passion. All leaders need to remind themselves constantly of why they are in their role and whom they are there to serve.
A leader must use the media intelligently, but an effective leader will use it to communicate with and inform his or her constituents, rather than to score short term political points in the news cycle.

I have some advice for aspiring leaders too (and not only political leaders):

Love the people you lead. Care about them. Listen to them and sit down beside them frequently. Mix with them, eat with them. Don’t become one of the ‘boys and girls’ though. You can not be just a good guy or girl, liked by all. You are their leader and they want and need you to lead; to articulate the dream; to help them achieve great things. They can’t do this themselves. They need you to do it for them. They also need and expect you to do hard and unpleasant things they themselves wouldn’t want to do. Suck it up. That is what a leader does.

Don’t be afraid to make decisions, even though they are unpopular, as long as you make the right decision (that is one of the tough things people ask of their leaders). Listen, accept advice, and seek consensus where appropriate, but realise that sometimes consensus is not the right way to lead and may even be unachievable. That’s when courage is needed.

Know the vision/dream and teach it to those you lead. They need to know why they are doing things.

Do not accept favours and privileges not available to those you lead. Be a humble servant, not a taker. Put others first. Jesus is quoted a lot of times in the New Testament on this issue. Jesus knows what He is talking about.

Most importantly, it is never about you. It is always about the people you lead. Forget that and you cease to be a leader (or at least an effective and authentic one anyway).

Putting these things into practice won’t make you a good leader, but they will help you avoid becoming a thoroughly bad one (or have your followers despair of your leadership as I do of some of my country’s present political leaders).


2 thoughts on “So you want to be a good leader?

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  1. Thanks, Rob,

    I think I related to you the long conversation I had one day with the Principal of the large secondary school my kids attended in the UK. There’s no leadership that isn’t servanthood, and no headship that isn’t humble. He, a lapsed Catholic, had a certain view which regarded headship as unpacking suitcase of full of skills he manipulated through the day, and then he packed that up at night. He said to me “You can’t do that in your role, can you”. I said something like “If that’s all you were doing in this school, you’d be a failed Principal…there must be something else going on”… It led to two hours of so of very rich conversation. Even though he rated himself as an agnostic at best, it was one of the most theological conversations you could imagine đŸ™‚


    *Rev. Dr. Noel Due* * * *Regional Resourcing Pastor*, *Lutheran Church of Australia, Queensland District* P. O. Box 516 Clifton Beach, Qld., Australia, 4879 Tel. 0435212930

    1. Yes I remember your story Noel. Thanks for your comment on what was my fairly superficial examination of leadership. You identified the essential elements of good and effective leadership: humility and servanthood. Thinking about it, good and effective leadership don’t necessarily go together do they? You can have one without the other.
      I don’t give credit to much of what often counts as leadership. it is often yet another manifestation of the narcissism endemic in human beings.

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