Monday, March 27, 2006

Good Leadership is People-Oriented

Good leadership does not see leadership as an end in itself. Instead, it finds its mission, its reason for existence, in people. Far from seeing leadership as an opportunity to wield the heavy instrument of authority, good leaders see it as a chance to better those who they lead. The leader's tool is a shepherd's staff, not a despot's cudgel.

How does this quality manifest itself? There are many ways one could think of. One that stands out to me is that good leaders take time to care for, talk with, and invest in people. They do not run from conversation with folks or avoid being around people who need a friend. They do not act impatiently when people err or behave awkwardly. Good leaders have a heart for all types of people, and see relationships and encounters as soil to harvest. This type of leadership is easy to fake, actually. It's easy to pretend that you like people when you don't. It's easy to pretend you're listening when you're not. You can get away with such behavior for a good long while in many settings. But here's the thing--even if men can't see your heart, the Lord can. He knows all about your impatience, your uncaring heart, and your thirst for power. That, after all, is the reason we seek leadership when we don't really care for people. We do care for prestige. It's an exchange that dishonors God and robs leadership of its joy--and its purpose.

Sadly, I've encountered this type of self-centered leadership even among Christians. I'll never forget what it feels like to be carrying on a conversation with a man who is walking away from you while you're talking to him. It makes you feel smaller than a mouse. As a result of such experiences, I've resolved never to treat people that way. That's a goal I hope to hit, though I should say that the busier I get in life, the more I understand the genesis of such action. When one is pressed on all sides for time, it can be easy to become nervous and fidgety when conversations stretch long. It is imperative that leaders remember that people, not budgets or boardrooms, are the center of their work. Jesus had this perspective. He gave hours upon hours to talk with and serve His disciples. His leadership was people-oriented, focused on the cultivation of those around Him. So too should all Christian leadership be. When we have a heart for people, when we really listen to them, when we truly care for them, we will love them and not see our hearts grow cold toward them. We will keep a firm grip on the shepherd's staff and leave the despot's cudgel behind.