Leadership 101: Call, character and competence (3)


Over the past few weeks, the blog has been reflecting on a leader’s call and character. A third important factor in good leadership is competence. While calling gives a leader a sense of conviction about his or her leadership, character helps provide integrity and build trust. But leadership also calls for some skills.

What about a leader’s competence? Here’s a list of eight things that need to function well for leadership to be effective.

  1. Determining the mission
  2. Establishing vision
  3. Maintaining values and culture
  4. Strategic and operational planning
  5. Managing change
  6. Communication
  7. Problem solving
  8. Team building

There is a lot that could be said about each of these eight skill areas. I’m going to take four this week and leave the others till next week.

Determining the mission

If you’re a leader, you need to know why your organisation, your church, or your team exists. Church leaders are hopefully going to see the mission of their particular church as one part of the biblical mission of Christ’s Church, even though they need to figure out the specifics of being a particular church, in a particular place, at a particular time. One way to sharpen your thinking is to ask what would happen if your church went out of business!

In their book on ‘mission drift’ Greer and Horst underline the importance of clarity and intentionality in defining mission. Their concern is primarily for Christian organisations that drift from the moorings of their original intention: a clear understanding of mission allows an organisation to stay focussed and helps guard against drift.

As Walter Wright suggests, a mission statement clarifies ‘who we are’ and provides a goal by which the organisation’s effectiveness can be measured.

Establishing vision

Closely connected with mission is vision: in fact, it’s easy to get the two ideas mixed up. Perhaps we can think of mission as what we do while vision is where we hope to arrive: it’s a picture of a desired future.

While we’re talking about it, can I share one of my pet nitpicks about vision?

How many times have you heard someone quote Proverbs 29:18 – ‘where there is no vision the people perish’ – in an attempt to persuade you of the biblical case for having a mission statement? Sorry, but I don’t think the verse is using the word in the way it gets bandied about by leader- types: the point is that when there is no prophetic vision (no one is hearing from God), there will be problems.

None of that should say that a sense of vision is not important. Some leaders are blessed with an ability to picture a better future for a church or an organisation, and that picture helps move the organisation along in its mission.

Bill Hybels is an example of a strong visionary leader. He’s about to hand over the reigns at Willow Creek Church, but not having overseen the church’s birth and its growth – not least in its influence around the world. For Hybels it started when a Bible College professor painted a picture of the early church in Acts.

Hybels describes vision as ‘the leader’s most potent weapon’. The leader’s task is to see the vision, to personify it and to communicate it.

For all that may be said about the value of an inspiring vision, it’s’ worth noting Derek Tidball’s caution in his new book on Joshua the leader: ‘Passion and visions may well be God-given, but they may equally … be misguided.’

Maintaining values and culture

Perhaps you’ve come across the saying that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. I may not have put it like that, but I think it’s a valid claim. We’ll get to strategy in a moment, but we need to recognise that strategy is going to be hamstrung if our organisation or our church lacks the right kind of culture.

Culture is the amalgam of beliefs and assumptions, ‘the way we do things here’ that shape how things are. It’s linked with values, but here’s where it gets tricky. You can have plaques on the wall listing the most wonderful-sounding values, but if those values are not really owned by the members of the organisation, that remain no more than noble aspirations.

Walter Wright suggests that ‘every organization has a hidden culture that has developed over the years that controls what is actually done regardless of the values we espouse’. How many churches say that prayer is one of their key values, but struggle to get people to turn up at a prayer gathering? Might there be a disconnect there?

This all means that the leader’s task is to reinforce the desired values of the organisation, thereby shaping the culture and thereby enabling the strategy to take shape.

Strategic and operational planning

It’s not enough to have a vision or even a clear sense of mission if you don’t have a clue about how to get from A to B. Mission without implementation is fairly futile.

Walter Wright (yes, him again – check out his book Relational Leadership) outlines a 10 step process towards implementing a vision. Each step consists in exploring a question. The first four relate to strategic planning, the next four to operational planning, and the other two are the review process.

  1. Who are we?
  2. What is important to us?
  3. Where in the world are we?
  4. Where do we want to be?
  5. How should we do it?
  6. How should we do it?
  7. When will we do it?
  8. Who will do it?
  9. How are we doing?
  10. Was God pleased?

(By the way, how many committee/team meetings would be a lot more efficient if each agenda item included questions 4-8?)

That’s enough for now – we’ll leave the other four competencies for next week. Though meantime it’s worth pondering whether every leader will necessarily have each of these abilities, whether they have them in equal measure, or whether one implication of this is a recognition of the importance of team.

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