I’ve been in leadership positions almost all my life. Leadership, for me, dates back to youth sports. However, over the past nineteen years my leadership has been concentrated in two main areas: leading ministry in the local church and leading my family at home.
While it is my desire to continue to grow as a leader, I felt compelled to put some thoughts down as to what God has taught me about leadership through my understanding of the Bible, the leaders I’ve served under, the books I’ve read, the podcasts I’ve listened to, and the practical experiences of leading.
There are so many leaders who have offered their own definitions of leadership. Now I don’t know what makes one qualified to give their definition of leadership, but I’ve put some thought into it over the years and I’ve come up with my own. My definition is based more upon an image embedded within the word “leadership”. In short, my simple definition of leadership is: one who leads a ship.
Let me expound on my simple definition. Leadership is the action of leading a ship (a person, group of people, or an organization) from point A to point B in a manner that glorifies God, so that the contents of the ship can arrive safely and be used to bring blessing and flourishing to the world.
By this definition, there are at least 10 things we can learn about leadership.
- Leadership begins with yourself. No one can effectively lead others until they have learned to lead themselves. If you cannot navigate yourself from point A to point B, what makes you think you can navigate others? Those who lead others have effectively led (and are leading) themselves.
- Leadership is purposeful. In other words, there’s got to be a reason (or reasons) why you want to lead yourself (and others) from point A to point B. If there’s no reason or purpose, there’s a good chance there will be no sustaining motivation. This is why I chose to define leadership as leading “a ship from point A to point B in a manner that glorifies God….” The glory of God lays the foundation and purpose for how and where I lead. Leaders who lead the ship well keep the purpose (i.e., the mission) close to the heart and soul of those they lead.
- Leadership transpires on all kinds and sizes of ships. Like point one, leadership can be the size of a one-man boat (or jet-ski). It can also be the size of a fishing boat for five—to fit your family. Or, it can be a cruise-liner taking hundreds and thousands from point A to point B. The kind of ship will determine the destination in which you lead your ship. The size of the ship will determine how many you will need in servicing the ship to reach its destination. If you don’t know what kind of ship you are leading, nor the size of ship you believe you could be, you’ll have difficulty determining and navigating the direction of your ship.
- Leadership is about going where you or others have not been. As of now I’m training for a half Ironman. I’ve never competed before in a triathlon. In fact, until recently I’ve never swam long distances or owned a road bike. Nevertheless, I’m training for one. To help me better understand training for a triathlon, I have met with my neighbor who has competed in a full Ironman. I’ve also avidly read books and articles by other triathletes. Such people are leading me from point A to point B—a destination that I’ve never been before. Most people you lead have never been to where you want to take them. That’s why it’s vital to cast constant vision of the “WHY,” “WHAT,” and “SO WHAT” of the ship (organization).
- Leadership is about recruiting and training a crew for the mission. Depending on the size and scope of the ship (organization), leaders will need to understand who and what they will need to lead the ship from point A to point B. In other words, leaders understand they can’t do everything—nor should they. Therefore, effective leaders recruit, train, develop, and empower others for their role and tasks within the organization.
- Leadership is about strategic navigation. I’ve been on my fair share of smaller boats, pontoons, and cruise-liners. There’s strategy in navigating a boat. Whether through a host of other boats, wakes, or storms, those captaining the boat need to know about the etiquette and best practices of boat navigation. They also need to know what kind of waters they are on. A leader who fails to understand strategic navigation through various elements and obstacles increases the likelihood of sinking (or at least damaging) the ship rather than sailing the ship to its destination. In short, effective leaders know strategically how they will navigate the contextual waters as they guide the ship from point A to point B.
- Leadership is anchored in servant humility. In short, leadership isn’t about the leader. First, and foremost, leadership is about the purpose. For the most part, in any organization the purpose will far outlast the leader. Second, it is about those you are leading. The fulfillment of the purpose is directly tied to the leader’s effectiveness in empowering and equipping people to do the work. Third, it is about those that will be impacted and influenced as you lead your organization to fulfill its purpose. Thus, great leaders will think less about themselves as they busy themselves serving others!
- Leadership is about making the tough and courageous calls. We’ve all heard the cliché, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks!” Leaders are where they are because they can (or should be able to) make the tough decisions. There are many elements that can threaten the safety and direction of the ship and thus the overall purpose and mission of the organization. Therefore, leaders—through wisdom, discernment, counsel, and boldness—know when they need to stand their ground, know when they have to let people go, as well as know when they have to push through the fear, insecurities, and timidity of those who are afraid of going where they’ve never been.
- Leadership is about sacrifice. Taking people or an organization from point A to point B is a weighty task. Just think, leaders have the responsibility of leading people to accomplish a mission that ultimately impacts and influences others. Thus, effective leaders feel the weight of their responsibility. As such, they work vigorously learning and growing in their life and field, setting the example for the organization, and entering in the life of those they lead in an effort to enhance them as people and team members.
- Leadership is about multiplication. Even the biggest boats in the world have limitations—in both their size and scope. Therefore, there is great need for more boats. More boats mean more leaders. Great leaders ultimately multiply who they are. In fact, the greatest leaders multiply other leaders and thus create a fleet of ships that carry a part of the mission and purpose of the organization. Leaders who fail to multiply cap the capacity of their ship.
In closing, if you are a captain of a sports team, a stay-at-home mom, a pastor, a small group leader, a small business owner, a shift supervisor, or the President of the United States, you are leading a ship. So, how’s your ship?