An organizational leadership researcher asked me these six questions. These brief answers are from a biblical worldview, and are broadly applicable in any organizational leadership setting. I think they illustrate how helpful the Bible is for (among other reasons) providing reliable and inspirational leadership principles:
(1) When you think about a positive future for your organization, describe what you see in the days and months ahead.
One question I often challenge individuals and organizations with is this: If in five years, your enterprise or initiative fails, what went wrong? What I am challenging them to think about is what are the intermediate and short term potential failures that might lead to an overall failure. From the perspective of looking back from a not-yet-realized outcome, what were the factors that contributed to failure? It is helpful to look forward, look backward, and then reassess what needs to be done now.
It works the same way with success: There are many small steps along the path to a positive outcome, and every one of those small steps is just as important to the process as the outcome. So while it is important to look forward to the outcome, we have to be diligently focused on the intermediate steps and details. Think of how compounding interest works – the first year’s tiny gains are just as important as the last year’s huge gains, even if the amounts are drastically different.
Ultimately, turning our eyes on Jesus is the way we can endure toward the right outcome (Heb 12:1-3), but there are specific expressions of that focus we have to keep in mind as we go, such as abiding in Him (Jn 15), letting His word dwell richly in us (Colossians 3), walking in His Spirit (Gal 5), etc.
(2) What ways do you intentionally use to communicate and make real to your people what you see ahead?
In order to help people see what they need to see so they can fulfill their roles and ministries, they have to be able to recognize the potential outcomes. That requires a great deal of listening and observation on the part of the leader, and a willingness to understand where they are and how the leader can interact with their context. As a leader listens and observes, he or she can communicate in a relatable and approachable way where the group is headed, how they are going to get there, and how each person plays a vital role. In the body of Christ there are many members, but one body (1 Cor 12:12). Each person has a role, and leadership must recognize the uniqueness and individuality of those fulfilling each role, and understand (by listening and observing) how to best communicate with each one. It really boils down to loving the people you are leading.
(3) As you begin talking about your organization, what is it that triggers the passion and sense of optimism about the future for you?
I am impassioned and optimistic because of four things: (1) the transcendent purpose (the opportunity to glorify God by fulfilling our mission), (2) the divine enablement (God’s provision for the task at hand – He gave us the task, and we can trust Him to strengthen us for it), (3) commitment to being prepared (diligence in developing what He has provided can make the difference between being ready when He opens a door, or failing to seize an opportunity when He makes it available), and (4) camaraderie in labor (we don’t labor alone…the Christian life – and every enterprise in it – is a team sport…we need to value and invest in people and love and support them as we encourage them to meet His design for them). Ultimately, leadership is investing in people to help them fulfill what God has designed from them to be and do. Hebrews 10:24 challenges us to consider ways to motivate and encourage one another to love and good deeds.
(4) From your perspective, what is the shared purpose (not shared goal) that brings everyone on board in this organization or team?
Ultimately, it is in worshipping Him as worthy of glory through the enterprise of expressing His love to people by helping to equip them for life and ministry. I know that is a mouthful, but it is precise: it’s about serving with Him, serving Him, and serving Him with others. Whatever the enterprise is – producing or selling widgets – it all should be done for His glory (1 Cor 10:31) and in His name (Col 3:17).
(5) There’s a leadership saying that people commit to causes, not to plans. What is the cause that inspires people in the organization?
The cause offers significance and meaning. Too often we mistake plans for the cause (means with the end). But the great cause for a Christian is wrapped up in knowing and honoring God. The plans are the intermediate steps to fulfilling that.
The cause is not negotiable. Plans must be. This is where people see authentic commitment to mission, and where they also see flexibility, consideration, and understanding in how to get there. Firm, yet flexible are not mutually exclusive leadership traits. In one context Paul described his leadership and service as gentle and caring (1 Thes 2:7), ultimately for the benefit of those he was leading.
(6) As you communicate your sense of vision for your organization or team to anyone who may be interested in what you do what specific things do you want to communicate in both content and emotional tone?
I love how Paul put it – “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). If the communication is true, it will be authentic, and usually received as authentic. That in itself is inspirational. But if the communication is also in love, that allows authenticity to become personal. When people know that a leader truly cares for them and is looking out for their best interests, that is where the seeds of loyalty sprout and bear fruit.
Because leaders have such power through this dynamic, it is vital that they are truthful and loving, and not simply using these two concepts to be manipulative. So much “emotional” communication can be intended for control or manipulation. My advice to leaders in this regard is simply to be the right kind of person to the people they are leading, and they will be eager to follow.
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.