It’s easy (but shortsighted) to assess leadership purely on the basis of policy and productivity.
The recent mid-term politicking here in the United States provides a classic case-study. We tend to gravitate towards leaders who share our views (policies) or get the job done (productivity). Often, they do not need both prongs; just one will do. As long as we are somewhat ideologically aligned with a particular person or feel that we benefit from their productivity, we throw our support behind them.
The same might be said of church leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, and community leaders. Do they stand for what we like? Have they improved our lives (irrespective of other consequences)? When they add a dash of promise or fear-mongering, we become like moths drawn to a flame. It’s largely irresistible.
But leadership — transformational leadership — is much larger than this. It must be. It’s about producing change and building lives but always in a particular way. Decades of research affirm that the pillars of lasting and transformational leadership include:
Authenticity… integrity, honesty, humility, and transparency.
By contrast, mainstream and social media indicate that we live in an era of lies, deception, and duplicity. Style (what we project to others) matters more than substance (what we are beneath the surface). And we can be suckers for it.
Inspiration… casting vision, giving hope, and clarifying reality for people.
By contrast, much current leadership traffics in name-calling, innuendo, and accusations. Many leaders (going back to the days of Machiavelli himself) have found that frightened followers are more subservient than inspired ones.
Empathy… listening, caring, and responding to others.
By contrast, listening has been replaced by telling (and yelling), caring has been replaced by threatening, and responding has been replaced by intimidation.
Innovation… taking risks, allowing for failure, and building ownership among others.
By contrast, many of our leaders (religious, political, business, and otherwise) tend to avoid risk, deny failure, and act like patrons rather than partners with us.
Policy and productivity can obscure real leadership all too quickly and easily. They distract us. Real transformation of church, society, marketplace, and families depends on far more than the smoke and mirrors of stated ideology and short-term achievements. When we succumb to the temptation of building a resume rather than building people, we diminish our transformational impact.
Whether you’re a parent, a pastor, a politician, or a person on minimum wage, you can shape your world in unimaginably powerful ways. Let the policies and stories of productivity rest at the bottom of the pile of importance. Instead, elevate these core, biblical, Gospel-consistent, Kingdom-advancing, Christ-honoring qualities: authenticity, inspiration, empathy, and innovation.
David Timms is Dean of the School of Christian Leadership at William Jessup University, and author of Shape Your World: Transformational Leadership for Everyday Life.