Successful Leadership

This week the tables turned, and I was the guest on the St. Louis Leadership Podcast with Bryan Buesking rather than the podcast host. Bryan sent over several questions around leadership last week that he wanted to cover. This was such a good exercise for me as it forced me to pause and really consider how I would answer these questions, rather than parrot how other leadership experts might reply.

There are two questions that I want to dig into here but let me lay the groundwork first. I subscribe to the definition of leadership as stated by leadership expert, John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” If you hold to this definition, that means you can be a leader of an organization, a department, a community, a school, or a family. No matter who you are – you can be a leader. But it also means that not all leaders are good.  What are we influencing others toward and how are we doing it? I think these are the bigger issues.

The first question is this – “What defines successful leadership to you?” This is certainly a loaded question. Obviously healthy revenue numbers, profit margins, meeting KPI’s, casting vision, building the right teams and aligning them toward a common goal are all important when you talk about the effectiveness of a leader in an organization. I interviewed someone recently on the SE podcast that was the CEO of a global giant with over 160K employees and nearly $80B in revenue. This was a very successful and effective leader who led his organization to record heights. But the way he led was even more important. He led with authenticity, compassion, courage, passion, an innovative mindset and an eye toward diversity and inclusion.  The people he led were better off with him as their leader.

What about the mom of little toddlers who is influencing her children to love Jesus, be a person of good character, truthful, loving, kind and joyful? This is also successful leadership. What about the student in school who stands up for those who do not have a voice? This one hits home with me personally, because our youngest daughter, Ally, was one of these children.  There were many throughout her growing up years that took a stand and influenced others to see her value and make sure she was included. That, too, is successful leadership.

The common thread in all three of these examples is that these leaders all used their influence to make a positive difference in the lives of others. This is how I define successful leadership.  Are the people you are leading better off because you used your influence to improve their lives?

The second question dovetails into the prior. Bryan asked me, “Who is your favorite leader and why?” There have been many great leaders throughout history – Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham and so many others. However, if I am picking my favorite leader of all time – it has to be Jesus.

Jesus, I believe, is the most successful leader who ever walked the earth and here is why:

  • He loved people.  Greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for his brother. He gave up everything for those He loved.
  • Leaders are problem solvers. Jesus was the ultimate problem solver. After a whole day of teaching to the masses in the middle of nowhere, it was getting late and the crowds were hungry with no fast food in sight. Jesus took the meager lunch of a little boy, multiplied it, and fed over 5000.
  • He spent time with his followers – teaching them the values and principles that would help them turn the world upside down after He was no longer physically with them. He gave them the tools they needed to get the job done.
  • His communication skills were stellar. He taught through stories and parables that His followers could completely relate to and would later pen so that the generations after them could know God and also know how to live.
  • Jesus was always “people first”. He saw every person as an individual – He never was so caught up in His own agenda that He didn’t take the time to “see” people. He was the perfect example of a compassionate leader.
  • He spent time preparing Himself. He spent time alone with His Father in communion and prayer. This is how He stayed spiritually nourished, grounded, and surrendered to His Father’s will. You cannot pour out what you do not have. 
  • Jesus never sought glory for Himself. He never considered equality with God something to be grasped but made Himself obedient even to death on the cross. He was incredibly humble.
  •  He came to serve – not to be served. He was a servant leader.

Successful leaders get results.  Consider the results of Jesus’ leadership: 

  • He started the largest sacred movement in history, and it is still going strong 2,000 years later.
  • After Jesus was gone, His disciples were still so faithfully loyal to Him that they were even willing to die for Him. That’s devotion!
  • His teaching is so memorable, that even people who don’t follow Him still know some lessons in Scripture, like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
  • Jesus died in His early thirties – only three years after His ministry started – yet look at all He accomplished in just three years.
  • Jesus’ influence has transformed millions of lives and continues to do so today.

So, as I stated in the beginning, I define successful leadership by the answer to the following question:  Are the people you are leading better off because you used your influence to improve their lives? Jesus does more than just improve lives – He completely transforms them. Therein lies the reason that I genuinely believe Jesus is the most successful leader of all time.

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