We Need More Leaders. So, What is a Leader?
In a research study that he carried out for his book The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker, Brad Lomenick found that less than one-fourth of Christians feel that “their workplace has a clear vision that is easily understood by employees.” This leads to cynicism, confusion, wasted effort, loss of enthusiasm, and a whole host of negative things.
What’s the solution? We need more leaders, for casting vision is the task of the leader.
It might sound a bit odd for me to say we need more leaders. For sometimes it seems as though everybody thinks they are a leader. And it has almost become cliche to hear people say “we don’t need any more books on leadership. We already have far too many.” Don’t we have plenty of leaders, and far too many resources on leadership?
We have far too few leaders, and far too few good resources on leadership.
The reason people have not noticed the acute need for more (and better) leaders is because we have failed to understand what leadership actually is.
So the first step in undoing the dearth of leadership in the church and in the world is to get back on track in understanding what leadership is in the first place.
One of the most helpful ways to understand what leadership is comes from understanding what it is not, but is often confused with: management. Brad Lomenick captures the essence of the difference very well in The Catalyst Leader:
Managers work on things that are right in front of them. They manage the e-mail inbox, respond to staff crises, sign checks, pay bills, and then drive home to relax at night before they have to do it all over again. Manage, rinse, repeat.
But leaders are fixated on the next day, the next goal, the next project. While managers are tending the grass, leaders are peering over the hill. Sure, they respond to what is in front of them in the here and now, but they are also brainstorming about tomorrow. They exert energy to invent the future. Unlike a manager, a leader lives in the tension of the now and the next.
If you want to lead, you need to be focused more than just on doing what’s in front of you. You have to set your focus on what’s next — not predicting what’s next, but creating what’s next. Leaders are almost obsessively focused on the future — on creating change by inspiring and motivating (not controlling) people to make that change happen together.
So leadership is not first about good process and creating efficiencies. It is about casting vision, setting direction, creating clarity, and giving people hope that things can be better. Leadership, more than management, taps into the side of human beings that is of the spirit. The realm of inspiration and passion. In fact, leaders are often willing to tolerate chaos and messiness in process when it is necessary to fully understand a problem and arrive at the true, long-term solution.
As long as we equate “smooth running processes” (as important as they are) with leadership, we will continue to have a massive leadership shortage in the church and society.
Real change is often messy, and you cannot manage your way to it. It takes leadership, which is a distinct skill in its own right. (This is one reason the path of redemptive history sometimes seems so all-over-the place: God is not just a manager, but also a leader, and guiding his people to the restoration of all things is a leadership task, not just a management task.)
If you want to learn more about the difference between leadership and management, here are three helpful things worth reading:
- What Does a Leader Do?, a post where I try to summarize the essence of leadership.
- The One Thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham’s book that nails the distinction between leadership and management — and shows you how to be effective in each.
- Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?, Harvard Business School professor Abraham Zaleznik’s article that caused an uproar in business schools by arguing that “the theoreticians of scientific management, with their organizational diagrams and time-and-motion studies, were missing half the picture — the half filled with inspiration, vision, and the full spectrum of human drives and desires. The study of leadership hasn’t been the same since.”