The Character of Leadership
Being a leader is a great and honorable responsibility. It demands a certain character and behavior which requires your full attention. Although there is personal and professional satisfaction, being a leader is never easy.
Even when things are going well, you still need to keep yourself, and the people entrusted to your care, focused on the mission and moving toward the goal. In the midst of political and social divisions, economic insecurity, inflation, and growing theological and religious bickering, leading people to focus on the mission is as difficult as it has ever been in recent history.
So, how are you coping as a leader?
What Do They Think?
Do you think that you have to act a certain way around the people with whom you work? Do you feel you have to say certain things to your colleagues, so you will be accepted? Instead of being yourself, are you playing a role to fit in, or to impress others?
Most of us have gone through times like this. Instead of behaving in a genuine way, we tell people what we think they want to hear and act in ways that go against our true nature. Living and working this way is confining, tiring, and depressing. It holds you back from reaching your true potential.
On the other hand, to be a courageous and effective leader is to live and work realistically. Knowing and understanding your context, developing healthy relationships, and giving yourself permission to be yourself, provide you the freedom to choose your path for living and leading.
Three Shifts for Leaders
Below are three shifts in becoming the leader needed for the time in which we are living.
1. From Charisma to Character
The first shift is from charisma (personality) to character.
Leaders want people to like them. Often, leaders think if they are liked they are trusted. With that perception, they depend heavily on their personalities. It is a fact that people are drawn to charismatic personalities, but likable personalities do not translate to trust.
Leaders with charisma have a charming and magnetic quality about them. Whether it’s personality or appearance, they have powerful communication and persuasiveness skills. In other words, charismatic leaders have the ability to charm or influence people.
Charisma is a great quality to have as a leader. People are drawn to charismatic personalities, but people and systems thrive where they are led by character and integrity.
The word character comes from the Greek word “charassein,” which means to “to sharpen, cut in furrows, or engrave.” The literal sense of the word is to engrave or to imprint a mark.
Followers look for trust, compassion, stability, and hope from their leaders. I’m not saying that leaders with charismatic personalities cannot be trusted. But I am saying that if trust is not engraved or imprinted on the heart of the leader, personality does not carry the leadership needed.
To be the leader needed today, have the image of Christ imprinted on your heart so that your personality reflects the depth of character needed to navigate the complexities of the day.
Who you are is how you lead.
2. From Aspiration to Authenticity
The second shift is from aspiration to authenticity.
Good leaders aspire to be good leaders. They have ambition and dreams for the future as well as a strong desire to achieve something high and great. Good leaders find fulfillment in making their aspirations reality. They know how to cast a vision for the future and how to engage the people around them to live into that future. Because they are so focused on their aspirations, they sometimes depend more upon wishful thinking than upon the strengths and skills needed to lead effectively.
Aspiration is a great quality to have as a leader. People are drawn to leaders who can cast a vision. But people and systems thrive when the leader is a person of authenticity.
To be a person of authenticity means you are true to yourself. You might hold a position of authority, but your identity is not rooted in the power of authority. Regardless of the pressure that you are under to please others, comply with expectations, and to conform to social norms, you know who you are and hold to your values. When you are honest with yourself you can be and will be generous with others. When you are vulnerable in your relationships, you come across as being a leader people can trust.
To be the leader needed today takes courage and demands mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. It requires stepping away from being who you think people want you to be and being who God created you to be. Your authenticity will inspire others to make the hope of the future a reality.
Who you are is how you lead.
3. From Arbitrary to Adaptable
The third shift is from being arbitrary to being adaptable.
Every leader has to make decisions that affect not only themselves but the people entrusted to their care. Leaders who are trusted have developed relationships that give them the responsibility to make the decisions that work for the good of others. With the image of Christ imprinted on your heart and being the person God has gifted you to be, you are engaging the people around you to live into their potential as leaders.
Often, leaders think that they make decisions based on what they believe or upon what they have always known. They become arbitrary in their decision-making because they feel they know what is best. Without identifying the current reality or contexts, and without checking out why they make the decisions they make, they insist on their way of moving forward. When leaders are not aware of who they are or why they think and feel the way they do, they begin to micromanage others and manipulate people and situations to get the result they want. They might know what to do, but they alienate people by demanding their own way.
Decision-making is an important work of leaders. People are drawn to leaders who are decisive. But people and systems thrive when leaders can adapt to changing situations and cultures.
Even though they might know a way to achieve a certain goal, adaptive leaders are flexible and have the ability to adjust to different situations and circumstances. They are curious. Adaptive leaders are not afraid to ask questions and are eager to explore solutions. They see every obstacle as an opportunity of hope.
Being team players, adaptive leaders do not insist on their own way, but find ways to engage the gifts and strengths of others. And being proactive, they are creative, imaginative, and find alternative ways to make things happen. They have a capacity to care, and a tenacity for tolerance. They are encouraging, empathic, and respectful. Adaptive leaders are mission-focused, are generous with the people who think and feel differently than they think and feel. They are grateful for the opportunity to lead.
To be the leader needed today, you must learn to adapt to changing situations and cultures. And in every situation and circumstance, you will have the opportunity to reflect upon the depth of character needed to navigate the changes, and at the same time, inspire others to make the hope of the future a reality.
Being a leader is a great and honorable responsibility. It demands a certain character and behavior which requires your full attention. This week, take a moment to reflect upon these questions:
What am I doing to develop the character of Christ in my life?
How am I becoming more the person and leader God created me to be?
How am I working to adapt to the changes in my life, my church, and my community?
Remember, who you are is how you lead.
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