Leadership is an important organizational concept which is present in virtually every aspect of human society, ranging from the Church to one’s place of work. There are multiple perspectives on leadership, but most emphasize two primary elements – uniting people towards a common goal and bearing responsibility for those who follow one’s leadership. In the Bible, it says “…from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (New International Version Bible, 2011, Luke 12:48).
Leaders are given much power and tasked with overseeing important decisions, resources, and wellbeing of the subordinates, in exchange also gaining many benefits in the process. However, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of a leader if something goes wrong. This guide will aim to present and construct a full portrait of a true leader. Although this is not an exploration of spiritual leadership, many of the concepts of spirituality will be used as guidance to present a conceptually wholesome and competent leadership manual.
Discipline and Schedule
Being a leader begins with the foundations, with the small things when getting up in the morning. So the first topic in this manual will focus on discipline and scheduling. According to Snyder (1977), one of the key functions of Christian community life is the maintenance of discipline. The discipline applies at the personal level as well. Christian faith and life are based on certain disciplines such as prayer. Blackaby and Blackaby (2001) further support this by suggesting that leaders have used spirituality to discipline their minds. By diligently studying the Scriptures as an example, they have brought discipline to other areas of life. Which is why, many renowned researchers have been Christians, as they sought to know God, they pursued His will for themselves and society.
Spiritual leaders often embrace the spiritual disciplines. These spiritual disciplines such as prayer, worship, confession, worship, and Bible study among others are key to building a relationship with God and becoming in His likeness. By becoming more effective in spiritual lives, leaders can be healthier, confident, and wise in all other contexts where their management or decision-making is needed, contributing to the overall health of the organization (Taylor, 2013).
The question is, what does it take to become a disciplined leader, both in life and spiritually. Well alongside finding the time for spiritual disciplines mentioned above, disciplined leaders follow certain habits and approaches to life. Some are evident, such as not procrastinating, respecting the time, focusing on key elements, communication, mastering thoughts. Others are less so, such as practicing self-care, which is vital for success in everything else, making time to meet personal goals, and finally understanding the meaning of commitment (Gulledge, 2018). By incorporating these important elements into daily life, leaders realize their commitment, strong potential, and the ability to help themselves and others in achieving necessary goals.
In Ephesians 5:15-17, it is written, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” It aims to emphasize the limited time that each person has each day, and then obviously the limitations of our healthy lives. It is an adage as old as time, that no time should be wasted, especially for those who bear responsibility. One key element to achieving this is scheduling, and utilizing discipline, to closely follow that schedule that everything is done. A good leader knows how to schedule effectively and proactively, doing everything possible to avoid conflicts and maintain a smooth flow of activities and operations.
A Leader’s Vision
Vision is a highly abstract concept, but all leaders are expected to have it. Vision at its core is meant to describe what a leader sees for the future of their respective group or organization, one that will make the organization better, perhaps different and evolved, and more effective at what it does. Vision can be compared to a Northern Star, a guiding light that helps to orient the leader as they lead and influence followers. In contemporary organizations, vision has become somewhat a cliché, it is discussed and posted everywhere, and leaders must spend extensive energy to get people to buy into their vision. However, at the same time, vision is critical for organizations as it allows leaders to be true visionaries (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2001).
Most everyone is familiar with famous vision statements or slogans which represent them, such as Apple Inc and their “Think different” approach. However, not all vision is correct. Some visions only focus on the immediate obstacles for the organization, while others may lead a company on a misguided exploration seemingly because of an opportunity. In his book Davis (2010) suggests that for success in the contemporary world, it is important to return to tradition, the core beliefs, practices, and commitments of the Christian faith.
By exploring the truths of the past, it becomes potentially easier to identify the vision that one has for the future as a leader for yourself and one’s organization (Davis, 2010). Many leaders borrow from visions of the past success, but few succeed with that as anything, especially God’s work, rarely works on a formula twice. There are many potential inspirations for vision, such as vanity, need, resources, or leader-oriented visions. However, each has their upsides and downsides, but what unites all of them is that they are generated by ‘worldly thinking’ (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2001).
According to Blackaby and Blackaby (2001), truly wise leaders recognize that life is too complex to understand without God’s guidance and revelation. Therefore, when creating a vision for oneself and the organization, it is important to combine faith and the practicalities of reality. People connect with God in different ways on different levels, but it is important for leaders, no matter religious or commercial organization, to keep in mind the distinction between faith and worldly thinking. Vision-setting for leaders is an inspiring and future-oriented activity. It also embodies the values, direction, and accountability that are set for the organization.
Therefore, it is critical to consider the important aspects which are unique to the organization and create a vision that inspires and improves the entity and its members.
Jesus indicated that the goal of any Christian is to serve others and glorify God, with the path to such service through the cross (Snyder, 1977). Goal-setting is an important concept for leaders. It is more objective, more concrete than the abstract nature of vision. However, goals can and should help a leader and an organization to reach their respective vision. Goals are more easier achieved by groups, especially dedicated ones, rather by individuals alone or organizations as a whole. A flexible and driven group with a strong leader has the potential to achieve their goals, having the resources of dedicated professionals but unincumbered by organizational structure (Snyder, 1977).
Whenever goals are met, leaders consider themselves successful, but sometimes organizations may pay a heavy price (i.e. layoffs in a cost-reduction goal at a company). Organizational leadership is more complex than just achieving set goals. Great leaders focus not as much on the metrics of the outcomes but fulfilling the organizational vision and improving it. Leaders seeking to achieve just their goals will likely destroy the organization in the process. Furthermore, modern organizations are increasingly complex.
One personal leading or learning for the organization is not possible and to lead from the top while everyone follows orders (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2001). The strongest organizations are the ones that have both leaders and followers at all levels, therefore goal setting should be a collective process or at least understood by many so that the organization can move towards the respective goal together.
There are three types of goals that should be avoided at all costs, but unfortunately remain highly appealing, particularly in commercial organizations. These so-known ‘misguided goals’ are 1) bottom-line mentality, 2) perfection, and 3) bigger, faster and more results. At first sight, they are not seemingly bad, especially for a commercial business, they may even be popular. However, these goals are not achievable, or even if they are for a time, they create such a toxic unhealthy environment that the organization begins to fail. These goals are based on superficiality, deception, and most likely unscrupulous practices to achieve the outcomes (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2001).
Meanwhile, there are some practices in goal setting and fulfillment which embody the concepts of spiritual leadership. The first, leading to spiritual maturity, is emphasizing that empiric results alone are not the indicator of health and growth within an organization. Leading to spiritual maturity allows for the organization to develop holistically as its culture, employees, capabilities, and vision are achieving sustainable long-term growth. Second, building a relationship with God. The third practice according to Blackaby and Blackaby (2001) is bringing glory to God.
Character and Values
A leader’s character and traits say just as much about them as their actions. Of course, one of the original theories of leadership was known as the Great Man Theory, also known as Trait Theory, which suggested that all great leaders have certain characteristics in common. It is not as popular in modern times, when society recognizes that leadership can come in various forms from different types of people (Villanova, 2019).
However, there are still some recognizable traits of character which typically benefit leaders greatly. Some of these have been discussed earlier, such as dedication and commitment, strong self-reflection and self-awareness, good communication skills. Leaders are typically confident, empathic to others, influential, and demonstrate integrity.
Just as traditions are more than formalities but represent meaning that had been given to them by the Church over the years, so do one’s values. When appealing to Christian values, one appeals to centuries of wisdom and faith behind them, highlighting morality and human behavior (Davis, 2010). Every denomination has Spirit-inspired persons who are charismatic natural leaders, regardless of if they hold an official position or not. However, it is difficult to pinpoint what makes a great leader. All culture, all areas of life, all disciplines are interrelated within the context of biblical truth and values (Snyder, 1977).
While character traits may differ among leaders, there are some core leadership values which are generally recognized among good leaders, both within and outside the church. One is vision, a leader with a strong dedicated vision is more likely to reflect it in their behavior and style.
Humility is often cited as a core value, despite strong leaders seeming audacious in public, they are typically grateful and humbled in more private circumstances, recognizing the burden of responsibility. Many leadership values emphasize interactions with others, let it be having respect for others, no matter their background, empathy for those that may be emotionally vulnerable. Good leaders seek to empower others and promote development and growth rather than bringing anyone down. Courage is a must-have value for leaders as well, being faced with consistent challenges.
Values typically go very deep, and are unlikely to be influenced by any guide, pitch, or speech, people either believe in something or they do not. However, as a leader, there may be points in time when one’s values conflict with the philosophy of operations of an organization or contradict corporate values. That can be resolved if a leader has a strong vision which broadly appeals to their values and makes appropriate changes (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2001). In the end, it is up to the leader to communicate their values to the subordinates, organization, or community in the hopes that the majority supports them.
It is the responsibility of every leader to make decisions. These decisions range from easy ones to extremely challenging ones where the fate of individuals or an organization may be on the line. It is part of the inherent burden of responsibility that comes with leadership, there is no denying it. Therefore, competent leaders should always be prepared on the way they approach decision-making. For example, it may be a specific process or a set of values that they adhere to. A good leader is
- consistent in their decision-making
- takes accountability for the consequences of their decisions.
Those leaders that are spiritual, make every decision with the awareness that one day they will be accountable before God (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2001).
Decision-making is a fundamental responsibility of leaders so those unable to do so are unlikely very good leaders. At the same time, each decision must be weighed carefully, since each one is an effective intervention into the system of an organization. However, if a leader is meticulous in their decision-making, they will not waver or doubt after it is made, the confidence to stand firmly behind decisions and take accountability is what it takes for a strong leader. It takes courage, a crucial value of leadership as discussed earlier, to stand behind a decision or make one that is inherently unpopular but necessary (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2001).
However, leaders are humans, and humans are flawed. Even the best and greatest leaders can make significantly bad decisions unintentionally. The reality is that extremely critical decisions made by highly intelligent and responsible people with the best information and guidance possible and the correct intentions, can still be flawed. No human can predict all factors. That is why leaders are encouraged to be oriented towards God as they make consequential decisions for the organization or community, with hopes that God can provide guidance which would prevent negative impacts (Snyder, 1977).
Meanwhile, other leaders search for answers in the past, let it be history or tradition. As the adage says, ‘history repeats itself’ – the answers can potentially be found, but in another context in history or Scriptures (Davis, 2010). Therefore, the best course of action a leader can take is to study and evaluate the information available, seek guidance from those they trust, and consider all potential outcomes. Once a decision is made, prayer and steadfast faith may help to deliver, but if not, leaders should take accountability and act for the best interests of their subordinates and organization.
The concept of leadership is critical, particularly in Christian leadership, as many have misused influence to enlist followers. Elements such as power, position, and personalities are considered as sources of influence in modern society, but it does not consider true spiritual leaders, where the influence comes from the Spirit. The reality is, even in a superficial society, true influence is hard to buy with position or money.
The influence where followers stick by one’s side no matter what and believe in one’s vision, that stems from the inside, whether it be the Spirit, charisma, or skill. For some people, exerting influence is just natural, others may pursue leaders through force and manipulation. Nevertheless, leader become symbols in their influence as they represent the vision of their agenda. However, it is important to consider that power impact of influence, as wielding it becomes a significant responsibility (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2001).
The ability to influence is a key skill for leadership, because it impacts the behaviors, attitudes, opinions, and choices of followers. Influence is powerful because it occurs subconsciously and arises based on emotional and cognitive responses that others have towards the leader as an individual and their actions. Influence is also based on trust, which effective leaders seek to build with time. Trust reflects to key leadership value of integrity, and the general Christian principle of honesty before others and God. Influence can be built by establishing credibility combining intent with integrity, and then demonstrating transparency and accountability. Leadership also encourages engaging with followers, following a transaction style of leadership.
Why is influence so critical in modern organizations? Each day, employees make choices, from the small ones to larger ones, and decide how much they care or energy they want to dedicate to the job. Leadership is a limited source of power, and while directives and authoritative style can be effective to an extent, in the long-term it is not sustainable, the vision and the organization will fall through. Influence is the underlying concept which can generate desire and excitement in employees, stimulate them to contribute towards the leader’s vision for the organizations, because they believe in it themselves.
Even as a Christian, positive influence is a healthy means to promote the values and faith in an appropriate manner, and ensure that the organization is following in the ethical and God’s footsteps. When God entrusts leadership, especially spiritual leadership unto people, he holds them accountable for their stewardship of that influence, as to use it wisely and not abuse it for personal gain.
Living Life that Inspires Others to Follow
As Christians, our lives are meant to inspire others to follow Christ and aid others in finding Him. Some do so through dedication to missionary work while others live daily lives following Christian principles (Snyder, 1977). Many Christians aspire to be as Jesus and the prophets, in their history-changing influence and lives so many seek to follow. Similarly, it is perhaps in the mind of every leader, how to live a life that inspires others to follow.
Either in professional organizational contexts or personal ones, leaders want others to be inspired and follow in their footsteps. However, even if one is a great leader and manager, there is an effective divide between great and the truly inspirational leaders which have inspired millions. Inspirational leaders are value-driven, as they lead from a fundamental sense of purpose and bear the responsibility to generate positive change. These leaders have tremendous self-awareness of what their values are, and they follow them, not caving under pressure even when giving up values would say, lead to results. There is a commitment to values and great leaders stand up and voice injustice, especially in this day and age. Regardless of popular opinion, truly inspirational leaders act with integrity in commitment to their values. It is at these points of contention, that they gain influence of followers and respect of those who may disagree with them.
In organizations, when employees are not just engaged, but inspired as well, there is a potential for significant breakthroughs. Inspired followers are productive, innovative, driven, and in turn, inspiring those around them. Therefore, inspiration produces result of productivity. Unfortunately, less than half the leaders are thought to be inspiring, and even fewer foster engagement at the level of corporate culture (Garton, 2017).
Similar to those leaders who focus only on performance results, inspiration alone is not enough for effective leadership. Inspirational leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths and qualities to help, motivate, and guide teams while also holding them accountable for results. The optimal result in such cases is unlocked not through control or pressure, but empowerment of others. The amazing thing is, out of the many traits and attributes that people find inspiring, an effective leader can only have one or two, but if they know how to use it to their strengths, others will follow (Garton, 2017).
After reading this guide, it is the author’s utmost hope that the reader understands deeply the inner depths of leadership, both in theory and in practice. Leadership is undoubtedly a complex concept, but it embodies certain principles, values, responsibilities, and characteristics. As shepherds in the Savior’s service, leaders must embody spiritual qualities for influence their followers and guidance in ethical decision-making. Faith calls upon leaders to remain proactive but humble, take responsibility while walking alongside their subordinates, stay true to Christian values even when faced with sinful realities of the real world.
This guide provides some meaningful insights inspired by key literature in the context of spiritual leadership. It provides guidance and actions that a strong, competent leader can take in their daily lives and leadership initiatives. Few get called upon to be leaders, and even fewer are good ones, but embracing faith, unity, and responsibility can help in achieving one’s greatest potential as a leader.
Blackaby, H. T., & Blackaby, R. (2001). Spiritual leadership: Moving people on to God’s agenda. B&H Books.
Davis, D. L. (2010). Sacred roots: A primer on retrieving the great tradition. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Garton, E. (2017). How to be an inspiring leader. Harvard Business Review. Web.
Gulledge, C. (2018). Nine steps to develop leadership discipline. Forbes. Web.
New International Version Bible. (2011). BibleGateway. Web.
Snyder, H.A. (1977). The community of the king. InterVarsity Press.
Taylor, G. L. (2013). Transformed leadership: The role of spiritual discipline in leadership development. Lucid Books.
Villanova. (2019). The great man theory. Web.