Some Fundamental Thoughts on Leadership

Good leadership limits mistakes, creates opportunities, and increases flourishing at every level. This is because leadership, a system of thought and practices, plays the central role for the five other systems necessary of organizational effectiveness.

But how can one improve as a leader and become more effective? One key part of that process is developing and clarifying your own model for thinking about leadership. Gaining a deeper understanding of what leadership is and how it works can, for one benefit, help you decide what to focus on in your development and avoid a haphazard approach to learning. This post briefly describes a few fundamental aspects of leadership, as I understand them.

For much of this post, I share and draw on the work Bob Anderson and Bill Adams, particularly from their book, Mastering Leadership. I also modify their model by both addition and subtraction. For example, I think the model needs a stronger center, which ought to be union with the Triune God. And I think the model suffers from the category of leadership development called, Unitive, so I remove it. I hope to explain my thinking on these important points some time. That said, the rest of their work is very helpful and aligns with the teaching of the Bible.

Simply put, leadership is the skill of helping someone or some group get somewhere. Individuals can lead; groups can lead too. Sometimes an individual does both within the same for the people they lead. For example, in the Form of Government for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, we read that “Ruling elders, individually and jointly with the pastor in the session, are to lead the church in the service of Christ” (FG X.3).

According to research by Anderson and Adams, there are four promises of leadership. They are always expected by those being led, even if they deny it. These promises can be viewed as the essential tasks of any leader.

  1. Set the right direction and create meaningful work
  2. Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance
  3. Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution
  4. Lead effectively and maintain relationships of trust to achieve desired results. 

Read more (blog post): The promise of leadership: clear the high bar of expectation

Sometimes before you install an app on your phone you have to upgrade your operating system first. It’s like that with leadership. Without a fundamental internal maturity, specific and important leadership skills will always lack effectiveness.

Leadership begins with leading oneself—“Leadership is the deployment of self into circumstances”—and extends to leading other individuals and groups of people, even things like animals (shepherd) or plants (arborist).

Because leadership begins internally with respect to our relationship to God and fuctions within emotional systems, self-differentiation matters. Self-differentiation is what allows leaders to stand strong, even when others disagree, while still remaining meaningfully connected to those they lead. Not all leaders, however, are mature in this way. Many lead, not many lead well.

The differences between mature and immature leadership are named and described well by four levels of leadership in Mastering Leadership. Those levles are egocentric, reactive, creative, and integral. Here is how Anderson and Adams describe it:

  1. Egocentric Leadership. My way or the highway. I am my needs and my needs are primary and I’m not capable of noticing this.
  2. Reactive Leadership. I know the rules of my communities and am trying to conform. I am reacting to them. I define myself not from the inside out, but from the outside in, by my relationships (I’m okay if people like me or need me), by my work (I’m okay if I get results), by my intelligence (I’m okay if I’m I can use my smarts to be valuable). I get my worth and security for X, where X is a strength. I do things and try to be things in order to avoid conflict or trouble.
  3. Creative Leadership. I am following my own path and vision with integrity, which may mean contradicting norms, risking failure, and disappointing others. The development of self and others is prized. “The leader now takes responsibility for authoring the vision, enrolling others in the vision, and helping them discover how the vision enables them to fulfill their personal purposes collectively. High engagement.”
  4. Integral Leadership. I am a creative leader with a bigger focus. I can see my work fits into society. I am a microcosm of the system I am trying to lead change, the good and bad.

Reactive minds only react to their surroundings; their movement goes from external to internal. Creative minds act on their surrounding based on what is inside; their movement is internal to external. A reactive mind tries not to lose. It makes its choices based out of fear and removing perceived problems. Once the perceived threat is removed, the work stops. The goal is to maintain a comfort zone, or rather, the zone of tolerable conflict. Where a reactive mind plays not to lose, a creative mind plays to win. It makes its choices out of how to achieve its vision.

Here are some good questions from Mastering Leadership to assess yourself:

  • what do you care enough about to stand for now?
  • What is non-negotiable for you?
  • In any given moment, does the context define how you show up or informing how you show up?
  • If your soul could speak, what would is say about what is important to you and why?
  • How is the system shaping you, and how are you shaping it.

Read more (blog post): Five Levels of Leadership

Of the various leadership dimensions that can be measured, children begin with all of them measuring in the egocentric level. Most people grow beyond this but stop at the reactive level. Good leaders shift many reactive traits to creative. Very good leaders shift most reactive traits to creative. Great leaders shift all to creative and think very broadly. To meausre your own leadership maturity and effectiveness, take the Leadership Circle Profile.

Christopher Chelpka @christopherchelpka