This is an interesting era for tracking the appeal and lifespan of leaders.On the one hand, we live in a time when more and more people think of themselves as leaders – more than six out of ten adults say they fit that description. This is probably egged on by the “everybody is a leader” nonsense that some people teach. What a happy day it will be when serious trainers of leaders realize and communicate that leadership is not something you choose to do, it is a calling that God gives to some; that relatively few people are called to this challenge; that those who are called are discernible by the gifts and abilities they are given by God so they may succeed in fulfilling the calling; and that godly character is one of the prerequisites for receiving and maintaining that calling.On the other hand, we have been witnessing a revolving door among leaders, perhaps as a reflection not of the public’s fickleness, but of the absence of the calling, character and competencies that enable one to succeed in leadership in their times of intrusive media scrutiny, public micro-management, unreasonable performance expectations, and widespread skepticism and cynicism. As you explore the downfall of many of these so-called leaders, you find several things in common.
One is the absence of vision, which is a clue that the “leader” is merely playing a role without the requisite substance. Over the years I have made it a practice to study the vision that propels people in leadership positions forward, and have found a galling paucity of vision among those attempting to lead. In my experience, a majority of those who seek the chance to lead are simply pandering and posing in order to get the platform to pursue outcomes that are peripheral to the needs of the public they seek to represent – not necessarily bad outcomes, but certainly not the critical results that the audience they serve deserves.
Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that a recent Pew study discovered that about three-quarters of Hispanics in America are unable to identify America’s primary Hispanic leaders – that is, the people who best represent their needs and interests in this multicultural society. With all due respect, the most frequently named Hispanic “leader” – recently appointed Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor – is hardly the kind of leader that the Hispanic community needs at the forefront. I do not mean that she is not skilled, intelligent, or trustworthy. The issue is that her position precludes her from providing frontlines leadership. Justices are discouraged from publicly speaking out on issues, do not organize people to fight for causes, typically write about matters of policy and social substance (other than Court opinions) only after they retire, and maintain a low public profile. By the way, Justice Sotomayor topped the list even though she was mentioned by only 7% of Hispanics.
Hispanics are not alone in struggling with this leadership vacuum. A recent study among registered Republicans revealed that six out of every ten party members were unable to identify who they believe is the true leader of their party. While we’re at it, let me note that Christians are in the same boat. Past Barna Group studies found that both Protestant pastors and individual Christians are generally unable to agree on individuals – other than Jesus Christ – whom they believe are providing significant leadership to the Christian body in America.
It is not hard to list a plethora of reasons why people are unable to identify leaders. But one of the reasons that may get too little attention is that we have ceased to understand what a genuine leader is. It is not someone who has a title, training, tenure, or even popularity. It goes back to the marks of leadership that we can readily distinguish: a clear and compelling vision, upstanding character, commitment to serving people, skills that facilitate progress, a track record of accomplishment in leadership situations, ability to attract a competent team of leaders to work with, a history of openness and accountability, and a blend of courage, confidence, wisdom and humility.
I think there are more of these kinds of leaders out there than the media would have us believe. We encounter them every day in business, government, churches, schools, non-profits, and families. And how great it would be to begin highlighting the good ones, and being able to support and learn from them.
Who are some of the leaders – not by virtue of position, but as recommended by their calling, character, competencies, vision, performance, and commitment – who have impressed you? What have they done that has made that impression upon you? Surely we can all point to alleged leaders whom we have found to be disappointing, or even counterfeits – people more interested in the position, perks and power than in serving people with humility, justice and righteousness. We don’t need more attention cast upon those who are not getting the job done. Instead, focus on those whose behavior you believe deserves some credit. What did they do that set them apart from the rest? What can you and I learn from their example?