Leadership Lessons: More on Leaders and Character

This is an article I wrote for CARE's Catalyst magazine in Autumn 2011.


Will 2011 turn out to be the year that finally dispels that most pernicious of myths, that there is no connection between the ability to provide good leadership and what a person does outside of the public eye?

Will a combination of MP expenses scandals, phone hacking revelations which go right to the top, and looters claiming their behaviour is no worse than bankers perhaps begin to impress on us that the link between the private and public integrity of leaders is, in fact, indelible?

The myth that there is no connection is dangerous because it divorces leadership from character. It turns it into merely a combination of skills to be exercised, opportunities to be pursued and networks to be leveraged. Of course, with that combination it is possible to create, for example, a very profitable business. But what it is not possible to do is help people be the kinds of people they should be and do the kinds of things they should do. Because that kind of leadership isn’t driven by values, only by end results, with leadership ‘success’ being defined by a very narrow and inadequate set of criteria. It doesn’t have to be honourable, compassionate, moral or even honest in order to seem to work.

The devastating result is that a large percentage of the population believes that leaders are only in it for themselves. When the link between public leadership and private character dissolves, credibility and trustworthiness are the inevitable casualties.

It would be easy to think, ‘well, that’s just politicians and greedy bankers, surely the same isn’t true for Christian leaders?’ I am pleased to report that by and large it isn’t. But it raises a very important question: what do we value most in our leaders? If they just have to be a good preacher, theologically acute, able to deal well with people and put on a good show to get bums on seats, we are perilously close to making leadership into merely a combination of skills.  Take one non-leader, impart the necessary skills through a training programme and, lo and behold, Christian leadership! With no necessary connection to whether or not the Lord has their heart in a serious and deepening way.


Roots of leadership

In his book The Spiritual Formation of Leaders (Xulon Press 2007), Chuck Miller suggests that God-glorifying leaders must root their life in the ‘soul room’ - meeting with and being transformed by God, receiving and appropriating His saving, strengthening grace -  before they spend time in the ‘leadership room’ -  the place where they develop, hone and use their leadership skills. Everything they develop in the leadership room is founded on and informed by what they receive in the soul room. Godly character comes first.


Critical strategy

There is no doubt at all that there is a pressing need for new leaders at all levels in churches across the UK. The number of new emerging leaders is falling and the number leaving leadership prematurely is rising. The average age of the main leader in most congregations is now in the 50s and going up. Within 15 years many will retire and there won’t be nearly enough replacements. It is critical, therefore, that every church develops a strategy for identifying and releasing new leaders. The church that doesn’t is unlikely to have any in 15 years’ time.

But the kind of new leaders we need are people who spend time in the soul room, whose worship and prayer life are genuine and who make the Scriptures their daily delight and joy. We need leaders whose walk with Jesus means they are known for the depth of their love, forgiveness, wisdom and kindness - people who overflow with the grace of Christ and who work with others for their joy in God.

In short, leaders who know that there is an unbreakable link between the value of their leadership and their invisible character before God.