Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What exactly does a "people leader" do?

I happened across something called the 'People Strengths Quiz' online. As the title implies, it's supposed to tell you about your biggest strength as a person. The possibilities were people pleaser, people leader, people guru, and people persuader.

This was a test I couldn't "psyche out" the way you can with some instruments like Myers-Briggs, where one can figure out what they're going for and, if you were so inclined, push the test toward the outcome you want. So, whatever the result of this simple instrument, I was going to be a bit surprised, I guess.

The test told me that I'm a "people leader." Fortunately for me, that's what the work I've been called to do entails.

But the result got me to thinking about leadership, my experiences with it, and my reflections on it.

Some people misunderstand leadership, I think. It's not about being the BMOC (or BWOC), the person who barks orders out to others.

A leader is, above all, a servant, who strives to help people move from today's point A to a better and preferred point B and beyond.

Leaders are also persuaders. Persuasion isn't manipulation from afar. It is, in fact, intensely personal and collaborative.

[Clockwise: Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln]

This is true even when the leader has coercive power over those being led. Years ago, I heard Pastor Bill Hybels tell the story of a new member of his church, a retired colonel. The colonel told Hybels that pastors' claims to be leaders were laughable. "When I gave an order," he told Hybels, "people did what I told them to do." Hybels answered, "That may be. But when people don't do what I tell them, I can't order them to get down and give me 150 pushups."

There's something to that, of course. But when I told the story to Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti, now the commander of NATO forces and a son of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, where I formerly was pastor, he smiled and pointed out: "You still have to be able to persuade." (That's probably why Scap is a general!) He understands something I first heard said by Pastor John Maxwell about leadership: "First people have to buy into you. Then they will buy into where you want to lead them." Once trust is earned, leaders can be persuasive.

Another way of describing persuasion is teaching. Franklin Roosevelt said that one of the primary tasks of a president is to be a teacher. Presidents (and all leaders) have to take the information they have, distill it, weave it into a vision, and communicate it in accessible ways.

The most challenging lesson FDR had to teach the country during his presidency was about its need to prepare for the possibility of war in light of the rise of fascist Germany and Italy and Imperial Japan.

[Franklin Roosevelt]

This wasn't an easy lesson for the country to accept. After World War I, the country wanted "a return to normalcy" and isolationism was the rule of the day. Roosevelt slowly taught the country the need for preparedness. Miraculously, during this period, he convinced Congress and the country to adopt the Lend-Lease Program, which helped the British fend off a German invasion of their nation.

While the country's military preparedness wasn't where it needed to be when Japan attacked the country on December 7, 1941 and Germany quickly thereafter declared war on the United States, America's teaching president had moved the country closer to being ready for the fight than it would have been had he remained passive.

One of the things I learned from my student teaching experience and have continued to learn from my thirty-two years as an educator of all ages in the Church is that the teacher only has to be one lesson plan or two ahead of the students. Leaders have to try to think one to four steps ahead, far enough ahead to cast a vision, but not so far ahead as to lose people.

All of which means that leadership is a collaborative process. Leaders who don't vision with those they lead and leaders who don't recruit other leaders to help them implement that vision will soon find that they're leading nobody.

Finally, a "people leader" who wants to have a lasting positive impact on others really needs to be in constant touch with God. I think that's true whatever one's field. I try to begin my day five days a week in Quiet Time with God, seeking what God wants to show me, teach me, and call me to do and be that day by digging into His Word. I also pray for guidance. What I've learned is that when we rely on God, He helps us to do what we are incapable of doing in our own power.

I'm not sure I entirely understand or agree with the "people leader" categorization in this test, but it caused me to reflect a bit on my role as a leader in Christ's Church and, occasionally, in other contexts.

One thing I know for sure is that I've failed many times as a people leader. Some of my mistakes have cost me the trust of people I loved and trusted. I try to learn from my failures and mistakes, seeking God's forgiveness and help to do better tomorrow than I did today.

This lifestyle is what Martin Luther (a great leader) called "daily repentance and renewal," turning in trust to the God we meet in Jesus Christ in order to own our sins, receive God's forgiveness, and be reshaped by the Holy Spirit. It's a way of life that can help any of us: people pleasers, people gurus, people persuaders, or people leaders. And everybody else.

[Martin Luther making his defense before emperor and church officials at the Diet of Wurms]

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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