By Mark A. Taylor
Where would you be without the leaders in your life?
How would you have faltered or failed? Where would you have wandered? What do you know and value that wouldn’t be in your heart and mind without the ones who have influenced you most?
Without those leaders, there would have been others. Someone influences each of us. None of us blazes his path alone without some sort of guide showing the way. And none of us makes a turn in the path—a life-altering decision for good or bad—without some stimulus outside ourselves.
Testimonies from 35 leaders this month show us the value of healthy influence. Each of these leaders has developed his thinking and honed his outlook by learning from someone he or she deems wiser and worth following.
Leadership is a favorite topic of both Christian and secular media, maybe because some have learned to lead by studying leadership itself. More often, though, we learn how to lead by watching someone else lead—or fail to lead. History is filled with disarray and disappointment because an appointed leader led poorly or not at all.
Writing about Abraham Lincoln this April* on the 150th anniversary of his death, James L. Swanson and Michael F. Bishop mention the “grave harm” that came to the Union because of the poor leadership of Lincoln’s successor as president, Andrew Johnson. “Crude and inflexible, Johnson botched the reconstruction of the nation,” they wrote. “Eager to usher Confederate states back into the Union, and himself a racist, Johnson was indifferent to the callous treatment of newly freed slaves. The eventual reconciliation of North and South came at the expense of civil rights for black Americans, which poisoned race relations for a century.”
They conclude with the point of their illustration: “The death of Lincoln reminds us that leadership matters. . . . We must do more than yearn for great leaders like Lincoln. We must cultivate and elect them.”
As we are posting the testimonies of thought leaders about their thought leaders this month, we hope their input will contribute to the cultivation of leaders in local churches and other ministries everywhere. All of us need leaders. And most leaders could do better with an improved decision about which leaders to follow.