Last weekend, I spoke on leadership at a retreat for my missionary colleagues. I challenged some of our stereotypical images of leadership with comments such as these:,
- “There is more to leading than going first”
- “We confuse leadership with authority.”
- “Leadership is more about being vulnerable than being in charge.”
We looked at Jesus’ model of leadership in John 13. Jesus knew that all things were under his power. And Jesus took off his outer garments, took up a water basin and towel, and washed the feet of his followers.
I also shared something I’m calling the Trust/Influence Matrix. It’s a work in progress, and the feedback I received at the retreat was a great help to me as I continue to work on it. It goes like this . . .
There are as many definitions of leadership as their are people who create definitions. But one common thread in most definitions is the concept of influence. “Leadership as influence” is an elegant, simple way to think of leadership. If we think of the ability to influence others as a continuum, we could represent it like this:
By this definition, effective leaders are those who operate on the right side of the continuum. The more you influence others, the more you are leading. Followers are those who are influenced by the leader to carry out the vision, goals and plan communicated by the leader.
But this only tells part of the leadership story. To lead as Jesus calls us to lead, we need to pay a good deal more attention to other aspects of leadership. Not only should we consider how leaders influence followers, but we should also consider how leaders allow themselves to be influenced by those they lead. This was the subject of my dissertation — a couple of years of work — and yet I feel that I have only begun to scratch the surface of this topic.
In addition to leadership as influence, I suggest that we also need to value leadership as trust.
Is this counter-intuitive? We usually think of trust as the quality of followers, not leaders. Can one say that the more you trust others, the more you are leading? It may be possible to lead without trust, but I don’t think it’s wise and I don’t think it reflects a Biblical perspective of leadership. I believe those who lead across cultures need need a capacity for trusting others, for learning from and listening to and accepting those they serve and lead.
In a world where both trust and influence are necessary ingredients of healthy and effective leadership, we could draw this kind of picture:
Authentic leaders are ones who don’t merely work to influence those they lead — they intentionally put themselves in a posture that allows themselves to be influenced by those they lead. I’ll be back next week to share more about how I see each of the quadrants.