By Victor M. Parachin
In 1964 as Winston Churchill’s health was rapidly declining, former President and World War II Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visited his friend. Eisenhower sat by the former prime minister’s bed for a lengthy period of time. Neither man spoke.
After a while, Churchill slowly raised his hand and painstakingly made the “V” for victory sign, which he was well known for, often flashing it to the British people during the darkest days of World War II. Eisenhower, fighting back tears, stood up, saluted Churchill, and left the room. Composing himself, Eisenhower spoke to his aide in the hallway saying: “I just said good-bye to Winston, but you never say farewell to courage.”
Mention the words leader or leadership and images of individuals like Churchill and Eisenhower quickly emerge. Many people erroneously believe that leaders are born and that others are destined to simply admire and follow them. The truth is that anyone can learn to lead. If you want to be a leader and serve the church more effectively, here are seven leadership “secrets” you must know.
1. Leaders take charge. In several places, the Bible reminds us to be leadership oriented. One example is in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.” A similar biblical call is found in Isaiah 35:4: “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear.’” Behind those verses is this reality: people who lead take charge. They understand they have the power to impact situations and influence people.
Mark Sanborn, author of You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader, makes this clear through a personal experience. Several years ago, he received disappointing service from his insurance broker. He complained to the broker and the broker’s supervisors, but his concerns were completely disregarded. He angrily vowed to take his business elsewhere, but never got around to it because of the considerable time it would take to switch his numerous policies.
Some time later he needed to file a claim and so he contacted the insurance company again. The customer service clerk who previously spoke with Sanborn was gone, so he spoke with a new agent named Theresa. Politely but clearly, Sanborn told Theresa about his previous dissatisfaction with her company.
Her response surprised and delighted him: “Mr. Sanborn,” she said. “I don’t know all that happened to you. I can’t control what happened in the past, but I assure you of this: If you continue to do business with us, I will personally assist you and make sure that nothing like that happens again.” Sanborn later renewed his policies and became a satisfied customer because of the personal leadership Theresa demonstrated.
2. Leaders are respectful. The Bible clearly reminds people who lead in churches to do so with justice and fairness for all. “Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right” (Psalm 106:3). “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).
James Belasco, a business consultant and professor of management at San Diego State University, tells of being with the CEO of a “very large company.” The two were walking across the company’s beautiful campus when they encountered a maintenance supervisor shouting at a groundskeeper. The CEO stopped, waited until the supervisor finished his tirade, and then took him aside and asked, “John, would you talk to your mother that way?”
“Of course not,” the supervisor replied, “but if I don’t make the point strong enough, this guy just won’t pay attention.” The CEO gently urged John to think about other ways to get the employee’s attention.
As the CEO and Belasco walked away, the CEO shook his head and said sadly, “I keep talking about our need to bring people together. It’ll never work as long as supervisors like John keep treating people like third-class citizens.”
3. Leaders accept responsibility. “Judge me, O Lord, according to my . . . integrity,” is the plea of the psalmist (7:8). Leaders maintain great personal integrity. They accept responsibility for their actions.
That quality is one reason Eisenhower was a beloved and effective leader. During World War II, Eisenhower and his aides planned the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. Eisenhower alone gave it the final approval. It was a difficult moment because he knew the invasion would result in the deaths of many soldiers. However, he also understood that if it succeeded, the Allies would have a huge advantage over Germany.
In his book American Scandal, Pat Williams writes that prior to the invasion, Eisenhower prepared a handwritten press release to be given to reporters in the event of the assault’s failure. It read: “Our landings have failed . . . and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and this place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”
4. Leaders motivate. This familiar verse reminds us about the importance of positive motivation: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
A man approaching retirement set three goals for his future. He wanted to play more golf, he wanted to travel more, and he wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren. Problem was, although he had four adult children, all married, they had produced no grandchildren for him.
When they were all together at Thanksgiving, he told his entire family of his retirement goals. Then he said, “As you know, I don’t have any grandchildren. So I’ve established a $1 million trust fund that will be given to the first couple who blesses me with a grandchild. Now, let’s bow our heads and thank our Creator for this bountiful Thanksgiving dinner.”
When he opened his eyes after saying the prayer, the room was empty! Leaders know how to motivate.
5. Leaders exhibit enthusiasm. In the Bible, an enthusiastic, passionate approach to life is promoted usually with the words “all your heart.” Consider these examples: Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your god with all your heart.” Psalm 119:2: “Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.”
Much of the power associated with contemporary leaders comes from their enthusiastic approach. After receiving the Nobel Prize, Scottish physicist Sir Edward V. Appleton said: “I rate enthusiasm even above professional skill.”
Businessman Charles M. Schwab concurred saying: “A man can succeed at almost anything for which he has unlimited enthusiasm.”
Similarly, Henry Ford often said: “Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars.”
6. Leaders persist. They are not easily discouraged. And even when they are, leaders continue on. The apostle Paul wrote: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Unlike many others, leaders are able to hunker down and persevere through tough times. They understand that life’s rewards are released to those who persevere.
In his book, Become Who You Were Born to Be, Brian Souza writes: “Persistence is the linchpin for many of the other components of success. We might have passion, for instance, but if we lack perseverance, where will passion take us? We might have goals, but without persistence they will remain elusive.”
This quality was an important aspect of Muhammad Ali’s success in the boxing ring. He asserted: “Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
7. Leaders face problems. Leaders know problems cannot be avoided. The apostle James noted: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown” (James 1:12). Leaders differ from nonleaders in their approach. Leaders do not run away or avoid problems. Rather, they view obstacles as opportunities in disguise.
Consider the challenge faced by a man in the late 19th century whose small shop was struggling financially. He tells his story this way: “I was paying a sheriff $5 a day to postpone a judgment on my small factory. Then came the gas man, and because I could not pay his bill promptly, he cut off my gas. I was in the midst of certain very important experiments, and to have the gas people plunge me into darkness made me so mad that I at once began to read up on gas technique and economics, and resolved I would try to see if electricity couldn’t be made to replace gas and give those gas people a run for their money.”
That man was Thomas A. Edison, founder of the company that became known as General Electric. Leaders like Edison use problems as emotional stimulants to seek creative solutions.
As you carry out your mission, whether as a minister, Christian educator, or volunteer leader, continue developing your leadership skills. Don’t allow the leadership latent within you to go undiscovered and underutilized.
Victor Parachin is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an author, and a freelance journalist living in Tulsa, Oklahoma.