Leaders are born then remade

“Some are born great, others achieve greatness, while some have it thrust upon them.“

Peter Baker | 20:58, Tuesday, 03 August 2010


Some are born great, others achieve greatness, while some have it thrust upon them. [www.thejfblogit.co.uk]

You can apply this perspective to the issue of leadership and specifically, Christian leadership.  In the Christian world, leaders and leadership matter.  For me, Shakespeare is only half right however; leaders are born but then have to be remade.

Of course, leaders can be taught and will develop in the right conditions, so education and environment matter.  But we all start with a personal DNA which means we enjoy certain, almost gratuitous, characteristics.  What these are vary from individual to individual, but in whatever combination they appear, they will mark the leader out from the flock.

At this point, they are not necessarily good or bad traits. Hitler and Genghis Khan have some things in common with Ghandi and Martin Luther King - but that doesn’t make the leadership of the former a model to be emulated!  It just proves that leadership is an actuality - like atoms, molecules or kindness - it exists. Only unlike atoms, it doesn’t exist in everyone. Some are born leaders.

When we reflect on Christian leaders, there is a further element to their DNA.  Not only are Christian leaders endowed with the same innate abilities as non Christian leaders, they are also blessed supernaturally by God with His Spirit and the spiritual gift of Leadership.

To that may be added the element of a calling to lead. I think the distinction between a prophetic call in the Old Testament and the New Testament language to describe those called into leadership is over drawn.  The New Testament recognizes that some are called and equipped for the ministry of Leadership.  Not all are Pastor-Teachers. To move into Christian leadership without a clear awareness that this is the right thing to do, as well as specific, measurable skills to lead, is a recipe for disaster.

But in Christian leadership, the leader has to be remade.  That is, truly converted to Christ, genuinely committed to the Leadership Manual of Scripture and to the Leadership Model of Jesus. They may have many other inherent skills which suit them for the task, but these three alone mark out the distinctive elements of the remaking of a leader.

Of course, leaders arrive in position by different routes and with diverse personalities; there is no ‘one size fits all’.  But what gives them a role ultimately, is that they have followers who want to share their convictions and respond to their vision. As some say, if no one is following you, all you are doing is going for a walk!

Followers are the raw material for a leader; they create traction and give shape to the working out of vision. The greater the following, the wider and deeper the influence a leader possesses. And in terms of critical mass theory, leaders can generate a following which has the capacity to influence the direction of a whole culture, society and nation.

What are the common features with which such people are born? Firstly, they have the capacity to attract expertise and vision, simply by virtue of their personality. Tom Rath in Strength Finders argues for the attractional nature of leaders. He and others describe this magnetic quality as the “woo” factor.

A second feature is self certainty; conviction. That is, the awareness of being clear - of seeing before others see, or seeing what others don’t see. Self certainty is not the same as confidence; confidence alone does not make a leader.  Confidence needs to be supported by a persuasion about the direction of change, the timing of change, the pace of change. Self certainty in these areas enables a leader to take risks where others would wait.

But such vision requires three things: a compass, map and goal. The compass is the inner conviction of a leader, his or her centre, the values that steer an organization to its appointed end. And for that goal to be reached, a leader has to possess a map to get there. The leader is skilled at interpreting organizational context, cultural landscape and new ideas.

Here’s just one of several elements that give a leader his compass - being real. The story of the ‘Skin Horse’ in Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit makes the point:

“What is real?“ asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the skin horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you , then you become Real “.

“Does it hurt?“ asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “But when you are real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?“

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse “you become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.“

A leader is committed to the process of being real, and that takes time, and can be uncomfortable. But it’s what helps create his compass. 

Peter Baker - August 2010

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