Know it When You See it

I like to jump directly into a discussion of faith and our subject matter during the first day of class.  While I could spend the entire time hammering home the finer points of my syllabus, I fear I might put myself to sleep.

So, to get us started in Organizational Leadership this semester, I thought we might consider what good leadership looks like. A lot of people struggle to define leadership and some would even say that though they can’t quite describe it, they know good leadership when they see it. So, I thought it would be interesting to find out how my students would define good leadership.  To do so, I asked them the same question that the Barna Research Group recently asked about the most important characteristics of a leader. Here were the options that respondents in Barna’s research could choose from:

  • Courage
  • Vision
  • Competence
  • Humility
  • Collaboration
  • Passion for God
  • Integrity
  • Authenticity
  • Purpose (which they defined as being made for or “called” to the job)
  • Discipline

I let my students select 4 characteristics that they believed were essential characteristics of a leader.  My students’ responses were similar to those in the Barna survey, but they also differed in a couple of regards:

My students selected “passion for God” most frequently as an essential quality. The article reporting on the Barna research seemed to indicate that the author was a little disappointed in how few Christians selected “passion for God” as essential.  I was frankly surprised that so many of my students chose this characteristic.

Is passion for God necessary for good leadership?

On the one hand, I do prefer working directly for someone who shares my commitment to the Christian faith. Furthermore, I have chosen to teach in a Christian university where we consider the integration of faith essential to exploring the full breadth and depth of knowledge. On the other hand, I’m not sure I would have chosen “passion for God” in my list of essentials for leadership.

As I reflect on my hesitance to put “passion for God” on my list of leadership essentials, I realize that perspective makes a lot of difference.
On a regular basis I interact with leaders in business, politics, medicine, education, social service, and the arts who are not all followers of Christ. When I consider the Barna research question, I have all of those individuals in mind. I don’t expect that I will necessarily have a Christian representative in government on the state or local level.  I don’t expect that my doctor or local law enforcement officers will all be Christians, but I certainly do want them to be leaders in their field. And I would like for my leaders to display integrity and vision regardless of their Christian (or not so Christian) beliefs. So, when I decide who will get my vote or my business, I don’t immediately put “passion for God” on the list of essentials.

If we phrase the question just a bit differently, my perspective changes.  Let’s suppose that instead I was asked, “What characteristics are essential for Christians who lead?” I believe that it is absolutely essential that any leadership that a believer would offer should grow out of our primary role as a followers – followers of Christ.

Even then, I would probably call this a prerequisite to Christian leadership.  It’s the bare-minimum standard that individuals who claim to be Christians would be faithful to living as Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, whether or not they are leading.

And I would likely choose a different term than “passion for God.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being passionate, but when I think about the characteristics of Christian leaders it goes beyond strong feelings and emotions. The Christian leaders whom I most admire and who have been most influential in my life, were also dedicated, committed, surrendered, and faithful to Christ. So though perhaps I would choose those terms instead, if that’s what the researchers and my students intended when they put “passion for God” on the list, then I suppose I can see their perspective.

Next week, I’ll tell you about the other major difference between my students and the Barna research, but until then, what 4 characteristics would make your list?