Sunday, February 22, 2009

Leadership in Proverbs

Leadership is a hot topic these days in many spheres of life. In business, in politics, in churches, in schools--essentially anywhere that people are joined together--there is a recognition that there seems to be a real dearth of quality leadership in our world today. Everyone has their own ideas of what a leader is or what a leader does, what qualifies one to be a leader, and how leaders ought to lead. But one thing is clear--people are crying out for effective leaders.

Leadership books continue to be published by the hundreds every year (currently over 2000 leadership titles are available from Amazon). They mostly say the same thing all the other books have said, but people are still clamoring to read them.

My own personal opinion is that for every organization, its fate rises and falls on leadership. When I examine the Bible and human history, I observe that there has never been any mighty move of God that did not occur without human leadership in place for God to use. That's not to say that God can't operate some other way, but my observation is that he never does. No company, no government, no school, no family, no church has ever been successful without effective leadership in place at the top.

And here's why: The foundational choices about charting the course for an organization are always made by leaders. The choices that other people make in an organization can only enhance or hinder the decisions of the leader, but they can never fundamentally change them. If the leader is not a capable leader and has chosen a disasterous direction in which to lead, no amount of hindering will produce success--it will only blunt the damage.

That sobering reality has caused me to consider what I can do to become more effective in my own leadership, and how I can help develop the other leaders in our church as well. If we are to be effective as a church, the responsibility for that falls primarily to me, as the principal human leader under the direction of Jesus Christ.

For the last little while, I've been personally studying the book of Proverbs, looking especially to see how its instructions might relate to my understanding of how to lead effectively, and it's proving to be a very fruitful study. I just want to share with you some insights from the first seven verses, which serve as a Prologue to the book:

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight;
3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young--
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance--
6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

These verses tell us why the book of Proverbs was written, and these all just happen to be necessary traits of a godly leader--wisdom, discipline, understanding, insight, prudence, righteousness, justice, knowledge, discretion, and guidance. Now the acquisition of some of these traits will enhance a leader's skills, but all of them redound primarily to character.

It is personal character that God is most concerned with, and which will ultimately determine whether an enterprise succeeds or not. Ultimately, all real deficiencies of a leader are, at their heart, character deficiencies.

  • Unwillingness to make hard decisions;
  • Compromising core principles for some other perceived benefit;
  • Contempt for the people they are leading;
  • Allowing competing priorities to eclipse the central mission;
  • A lack of prayer to seek God's direction;
  • A cavalier attitude that fails to take seriously the importance of the mission;
  • A refusal to listen to advice;
  • Placing personal benefits above the good of the organization;
  • An inability to admit mistakes;
  • Hypocrisy, corruption, deceit, etc.
A leader can overcome a number of challenges related to competency. They can ask for help from those who have abilities that compensate for their weaknesses. They can acquire the abilities that they need through practice, reading, or coaching. Or they can simply find coping mechanisms that offset the consequences of their weaknesses.

But if their character fails, there are no coping mechanisms, there is no help that can be given, there is no solution to the problem. A leader can never delegate character. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." Humility and submission before God is the first requirement. If we will not first bow to him, everything else is hopeless.

I believe people are ok with a leader who needs to work on communication, organization, delegation, advance planning, or strategic thinking. But they are absolutely crying out for the chance to follow people they can respect, people of character.

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