Last week I submitted the culminating project for my Masters in Leadership program at Regent University. When I enrolled in the first courses two and a half years ago, little could I imagine how the Lord would transform my thinking and expand my horizons. What began as an opportunity to develop skills as a leader in church and non-profit settings became a platform to discover God’s mission for my life and how He fashioned me to be a leader in my family and vocation.
I’ve always been a school girl, one who loves the pursuit of knowledge in an academic environment. However, very early in this journey the information traveled from my intellect to my soul, awakening me to a whole-hearted approach to leadership. The Lord often opened my understanding to concepts beyond the scope of the curriculum. He was my Teacher, revealing to me what I needed, in order to become the leader He desires me to be.
As I reflect on the lessons I have learned as a grad student, the following ones rise to the top of the list.
Be a servant leader. God has granted me leadership so that I can influence others and help build His Kingdom. The best way to accomplish this is through serving. Jesus Christ was the perfect Servant Leader. He willingly laid down His title and walked in humility to meet people’s needs (Philippians 2:3-8). To settle an argument among the disciples about who was the greatest, Jesus taught that the one who is greatest should be like the one who is youngest and that the one who rules should be like the one who serves (Luke 22:24-30). Leadership is not about exerting authority and dominating. Rather it is about utilizing a position to equip others to succeed, and working together to achieve God’s vision for the organization in which He has placed me.
Focus on the heart. While it is important to learn leadership skills, it is less about behavior and more about the heart. It is less about doing the right things and more about being authentic and having integrity. Proverbs 4:23 instructs, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV). As a leader, it is absolutely imperative that I walk daily with Jesus, allowing His Spirit of grace to transform me. If I am distant in my relationship with Him, it will infect my ability to lead. It is by keeping company with Jesus that I can love as He loves and serve as He serves.
Develop your strengths. For decades I looked at other leaders that I admired, and lamented that I was not like them. I wished that I were charismatic and more inspiring, or that it were easy for me to think creatively or dream about the future, or that I were flexible and could adapt comfortably to new situations. I spent a lot of energy on skills that simply did not come naturally. It is important for a leadership team to be well-balanced with a good representation of diverse skills. However, as an individual I can delight in how God wired me, develop my strengths, and offer them as an integral part of the team.
Embrace change. As a creature of comfort and a creature of habit, I have been good friends with the status quo. However, maintaining the status quo will bring death to any organization. Creativity and innovation are vital to combat entropy (the natural state of decline). Some organizations require drastic innovation just to stay on top of the market, but for other organizations, innovation does not need to be sudden or radical. It can be as simple as finding ways to improve existing systems or to more relevantly connect with followers.
Coach more, teach less. I gravitate toward teaching and mentoring, presenting important information and walking with others to impart my experiences. Unfortunately, these approaches do not usually facilitate follower buy-in. How often have I invested time providing usefully advice and tools that are not adopted by the hearers? While teaching is necessary when there are knowledge gaps, the coach approach has revolutionized my leadership style. It unlocks self-discovery and assists the person being coached to be solution-oriented and action-oriented, committed to implementing action steps to move him forward. Coaching works, because the person being coached is highly invested in his own development.
What are some important lessons you have learned on your leadership journey?