Developing Leaders

Q1: How do you develop leaders?

A1: You don’t. Circumstances, history, temperament, opportunity, volition and various other factors make room for leaders to rise. Leaders do not develop in a vacuum.

Both Churchill and Hitler rose to power and influence because they were the right (or wrong) people at the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time. Both were powerful leaders, willfull men, visionaries and forceful communicators. Apart from their particular moment in history, these two men would not have emerged to global and historical prominence.

Churchill and Hitler were both great* leaders, but the cause of one was noble and the cause of the other evil. The world is filled with leaders able to move and inspire their fellows. They are all around us. Some are obviously leaders and others are latent leaders that will rise if and when the moment presents itself.

Q2: Ok, So what do we do then?

A2: Our preoccupation should not be with developing great leaders. History and human ambition will decide the moments for greatness. Our preoccupation should revolve around developing good women and men who are sensitively following the spirit.

The key to making the world better is to call all women and men, whether leaders in the moment or not, towards a passionate and active involvement in a noble cause. For our purposes, let’s make simple the process of Jesus.

  • Jesus set off on his mission
  • He called a few to join him on his mission
  • He took those who joined him as active observers of the mission
  • He delegated responsibilities to them
  • They debriefed on their experiences while on mission
  • They sloooowly began to understand the mission
  • They rose to take on the mission when the moment presented itself.

This is a large part of the process for developing good women and men. Call them to accomplish something worth doing, teach them while doing it, give them more responsibility while you do it together. Eventually some of them will get it.

I was recently talking with a friend about the state of Theological Education today. I made the comment that we place too much faith on the premise that theological education motivates spiritual activity. This may be the heart of the problem. Jesus’ process reverses this. His process suggests that inspired action permits theological comprehension.

So, you want to develop leaders? Develop doers. Explain things as you go. Trust with more responsibility those who come along. Step out of the way.

There. I’ve said it in three different ways. Take the one you like.

See you in the mystic…

* I do not mean to say that Hitler was a “great” leader in the sense of “morally great.” I mean that he was great in the sense that if leadership is defined as having followers, and he had a great many of them, then he certainly qualifies as great. Both Hitler and his followers were seized by evil and acted immorally. That’s why teaching all men to love good and hate evil is the primal lesson to teach our sons and daughters. We never know when history will call them up to influence many and shape the experience of nations. But, even if history does not call them to lead at this level, the human experience is one of millions and billions of experiences with good and evil at the personal level.

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4 responses to “Developing Leaders”

  1. stinkowoman Avatar

    I completely agree! If character is not a focus, then the best developed leaders end up making the biggest messes when they publically fall. EW.
    I miss you.

  2. Alex Avatar

    Andy, Thanks for the input. Always good to get a perspective from those working in other contexts. I have to preface my next statement by saying that I don’t know Shane nor have I read his book. I also have to say that my comment here is not in any way an attack on him or on the masculinity of any one else who uses the language of love to talk about Jesus. Ok, having said that …personally, i have a distaste for calling Jesus my lover. I know this kind of talk is fashionable right now with everyone trying to be a passionate metro-sexual and all. To me, it sounds too “of the age” for me. Leaders are leaders because of the causes they take on. I don’t think you can separate the two. Jesus called us to himself and to his cause. One cannot have a split focus. Christ and cause go together. About causes…I think we could make a case, for example, that helping the poor is God’s cause. In the end, though, it is people who call others to accomplish things together. There is no other option but for some to call others to join their causes. That’s how the world works. The best case scenario is when the causes of those who call others to follow parallel God’s cause. Thanks for your input, Andy. Always thoughtful and provocative.

  3. Andy Avatar

    You write about doing (practicing/praxis) followed by theological reflection. I agree. I’ve learned more about that in Japan. People here generally don’t like deep conversations, but they learn more by doing practical work together.

    But I’m leery about calling others to follow our causes, especially as a method for developing leaders. I don’t want to follow a leader who is focused on the cause, or movement, but on Christ. For example, I like when Shane Claiborne calls Jesus his Lover. That gives me hope for what’s going on with the folks over there where he’s at.

  4. Andy Avatar

    I don’t use the term “lover” either, probably because of the sexual connotation. (Confession: I squirm several times watching Lord of the Rings at the looks men exchange.) But the word also has a mystical facet to it. It challenges me to something more than I presently understand. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with men loving men, or men loving Jesus, or we’re all just clanging cymbals in the end.

    About the cause thing… I just started to meet with a few Japanese men and women for an ongoing conversation about love and justice. None of them are following Jesus. One is a Nader disciple (went to Berkeley), and a couple others are university students. We all want to DO something, and maybe we’ll take action together. As we do justice, that’s when I think we’ll move toward Jesus — action and life before words and ideas. Only I don’t want to rope them into my cause, mainly because I may limit them all that way. I want to set them loose, be a mutual support for each other, and — if we end up working together on something — celebrate that, too.

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