Beyond How-to

By Mark A. Taylor

Roy Lawson once wrote at this site that he generally avoids books about leadership. I haven’t pressed him, but I’m guessing his point is something like this: There must be some substance beneath our leadership methods. “Casting vision” and listening to the team and being decisive, along with a dozen other useful tactics, don’t mean much from a would-be leader who is not himself a person worth following. So let’s read books that nourish the soul and expand the mind before we go looking for technique.

And yet many among us devour leadership books and seminars and newsletters. Perhaps this is a reflection of a natural longing for someone to lead. Perhaps it is an indication that many of us called to lead aren’t sure how.

John Maxwell, one of the most-read and most-heard purveyors of leadership advice, was on the radio the other day, talking about his “irrefutable laws of leadership.” The conversation inevitably turned to politics. Maxwell gave his opinion about the leadership acumen of several past presidents, but when pressed, admitted, “There seems to be a vacuum of leadership in Washington these days.”

A few days earlier, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan had expressed a similar conclusion in her weekly Wall Street Journal column. She was reporting on conversations with a variety of “thoughtful people” she had encountered the week before. “Two things we all know to be true became more vivid to me,” she wrote. “The first is that nobody is optimistic about the world economy. . . . The second is that everyone hungers for leadership.”

I couldn’t help but think about local churches and national church ministries as I read her take on the American mood.

People today “want so much to be able to respect and feel trust in their political leaders,” she wrote. “Everyone hungers for someone strong, honest, and capable—as big as the moment.”

I suspect most churchgoers feel something similar about their ministers and elders and small group leaders. To her list they would add “devoted to Christ,” “studying the Scripture,” and “obeying the Bible in daily life.” But none of these descriptions are only for leaders. And all of them are necessary before any other “leadership skills” really matter.

John Maxwell’s status as a leadership guru seems to underline a leadership vacuum that transcends our current time. (For those who haven’t studied his “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” a summary is available at a website called “Perspective.”*) His proposals really do seem like requirements for leadership success.

But they are no guarantee. The leader embarking on some task for God should look first to God and then deep within himself before he bothers with anyone else’s list of how-to’s.




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