In the heat of our cultural moment have we forgotten how to know and identify leadership?
Finding leadership has never been easy. But now it seems that not only are we struggling to find leadership, we may have also forgotten just what it was we were looking for in the first place. Our cultural moment seems to have fogged our lenses.
But what is our cultural moment? A large part of our current cultural climate is impacted by a still-stagnant economy, an increasingly polarized populace, and more recently a movement of our political bases away from a Democrat/Republican spectrum to a Socialist/Populist spectrum. Also, adding to the tension is the overwhelming sense that the future of our world is quite possibly at stake: if the wrong side takes power, there may be no turning back.
So if this is our cultural moment, who can we trust to lead our country? This is the question Americans have been grappling with for the better part of a year. And as November inches closer, I would like to humbly suggest a way of knowing and identifying leadership.
(Full disclosure: I am a theologically-conservative Presbyterian minister. I know many will find my perspective too diluted by religion, but perhaps there is some ancient wisdom yet.)
The best definition I’ve ever encountered for Leadership is the ability to combine character traits and learned skills in order to guide a group of people toward a common goal.
Leadership, then, can be broken down into three distinct concepts:
1. Leadership requires character
2. Leadership requires skills
3. Leadership requires compelling vision
To know and identify true leadership, each of these three areas must be observed.
The first requirement—having character—means that leaders must possess within themselves a high level of integrity. They must do what they say they will do, when they will do it, how they will do it. In a sense, their core (or in Bible language, their heart) must be dedicated to justice. As Proverbs 11:3 puts it,
“The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”
A second feature of high character is a marked concern for the poor. Notice how Proverbs connects the righteous heart of a person to their concern for justice for the poor:
“A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.” (Proverbs 29:7)
Thus, to simplify, having high character means being committed to integrity and compassion.
2.) LEARNED SKILLS
The second requirement for leadership is possessing the skill-set necessary for leading in a given capacity. These skills include such things as the ability to determine the right goals, to calculate resources, to evaluate the proper metrics, etc.
The quintessential leader in the Bible is undoubtably Jesus, who chose only 12 disciples to personally mentor. Jesus’ goal was a global reconciliation between God and humanity (the Kingdom of God), and he rightly calculated that he only needed to personally disciple 12 apostles to proclaim this message to the world:
“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles…” (Luke 6:12-13)
Thus, having the right skill-set means possessing the necessary leadership skills to organize and lead a large group of people toward action.
3.) COMPELLING VISION
The final requirement for leadership is one’s ability to article a vision of the future that compels people to action, dedication, and sacrifice. A leader must see a positive vision of the future that allows innumerable men and women to become active participants and devotees.
A great example of compelling vision is found in the man Nehemiah. Nehemiah believed that if Israel would repent, God would allow them to return to the Promised Land. Nehemiah clung to God’s promise to revive the nation of Israel, and Nehemiah made God’s promise his rallying cry:
“but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’” (Nehemiah 1:9)
Thus, having compelling vision means that a leader must be able to envision and articulate a future that people want to be a part of.
Thus, these three criteria act as a sort of lens through which we can view potential leaders. We can start by asking questions like these:
– Does this person possess the character necessary to defend justice (for rich and poor)?
– Does this person possess the right skill-set to lead a large group of people?
– Do I want to live in this person’s vision for our country?
I’m sure you could add more character traits, leadership skills, and vision if we were talking in person. So really, these questions and thoughts only mark the beginning of discernment, not the end. May God be gracious to us.
*Rev. Dustin Jernigan pastors a small, neighborhood presbyterian church in DeBary, FL. He holds an undergraduate degree in political science from Ole Miss, a master of divinity degree from RTS, and studied business administration in the graduate school of UAHuntsville. He is currently working on a doctorate.