What Is Leadership? (Part One In A Leadership Series)

A few weeks ago I was watching The Last Dance.  This is the ten part documentary on the Chicago Bulls and the final of their six NBA Championship season.  But really it’s more a documentary on Michael Jordan.  And man is it good.  I grew up on Magic, Bird and then Jordan and the Bulls.

It was interesting to learn more about the inner workings of the team and Jordan.  A lot of the stories I’ve heard about but it’s different to hear it from them.  Jordan was simply the greatest of all time.  The thing that separates him to me was his drive.  The guy hated losing.  Absolutely hated it.

Jordan was singularly focused on the goal.  And he brought others along with him.  Jordan was a leader.  But he wasn’t a “nice” guy.  We’ve talked a lot about not being the nice guy here at the blog over the years.  I’m not going to dive back into that today.  Just go to the front page and search “nice”.  What I want to talk about today is leadership.

Leadership is one of the most overused, over complicated, least understood words in our culture.  We’ve spend way too much time over defining it and making it softer so everyone can be one.  More than that, and especially in Christian circles, we constantly are over defining what is a “good” leader.

I saw on a middle school sign a couple of years ago, “Every Kid A Leader”.  But not everyone is a leader.  Or at least not everyone is a leader of very many people.

Here is my simple definition of leadership.  You are a leader if people are following you where you are going.  That’s it.

Good and bad people can be effective leaders.  Good and bad people follow leaders.  It has almost nothing to do with titles and authority, although those can give you a leg up on leadership if you actually lead the people under you.  But as William Wallace says to Robert the Bruce in Braveheart, “People follow courage not titles.”

Part of being an effective leader in my mind is that you lead people in a direction that actually accomplishes something.  If you said to me, “A lot of people follow me”, I’d immediately want to know two things:  1. Where are you taking them? and 2. Are you accomplishing anything in that direction?

Tom Landry once said, “Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.”  That’s not a bad definition.  It’s a start.

In Christian circles, as well as lot of management books, we talk a lot about servant leadership.  I wrote about that somewhat in depth a while back.  But in brief I think this is sort of misunderstood as well.  The idea often is that Jesus was a servant and that’s what made Him a good leader.  I completely disagree with that.  I think Jesus was a leader to begin with.  He then served His followers.  You can’t wash your followers’ feet if you don’t have any followers.

Peter and company didn’t leave their lives to follow Jesus because He “served” them.  They followed Him because they believed in Him.  Not only that, but a lot of people followed Jesus for a little while.  But when he did or taught certain things, people left.  Remember in John 6.  At the end everyone leaves except for the 12.

Now a better argument would be that leadership itself is service.  Jesus was in a way serving them when he taught them.  He served them when He called them out.  He served them when He showed them how hard it was to go where He was going.

I found it strangely moving at the end of episode 7 when Jordan was being asked about his leadership.  He was asked if he thought that because of his focus, intensity, and brutal leadership style that he was seen as not a nice guy.  He said essentially that winning has a price.  Leadership has a price.  He wanted to win.  But he wanted them to win too.  He wanted them to experience what it took to win.  He said that is how he plays.  He said if you don’t want to play that way then don’t play that way.  And he teared up, and for some reason so did I.

There is a cost to leadership.  One of those costs is that not everyone will follow you.  Another is that you will be opposed.  Both of those can hurt.

By the way, I’m in no way comparing Jordan to Jesus.  What I am saying is that we might need to recalibrate what we view as real leadership.

It leads to all sorts of intriguing questions.  What does it take to be a leader?  Perhaps better asked, why do people follow someone?  What does character have to do with leadership?  Can anyone be a leader?  Can you be a leader and a “nice” guy?  What should Christian leadership look like? I’ll say more about these things in three or four posts over the next couple of weeks.

3 thoughts on “What Is Leadership? (Part One In A Leadership Series)

  1. It took a ton of hard work. Not really a basketball fan, but I admired Jordon when he said offhand once in the early 1990’s “Hey, I’ve missed more layups than I have made!”

    Real talk there.

    Jordon was a polite guy. He knew how to handle the press, had the right words to say and was encouraging. Being “bad” and “mean” and “not a nice guy” would have made him much less plausible off the court, and maybe not even a household name. People remember *Jordon*, not Dennis Rodman.

    Leadership is making the unpopular choices and sticking through to the goal and watching when your team or co-workers come around on their own and trust you with you decisions. Too many today like being “the leader” because they get to be “the boss” so to speak, but when a crisi hits……yeah, it’s “never their fault”

    I am fifty years old. I have only met two people in my entire working career who I would call a leader. Neither of them were Christian mind you. One is when I was at IBM. The other was when I was in high school at my first job (Gap). When I have seen leadership in the church, in the work, in civic groups….all it is really is “who slept with the boss / kissed butt / or was cuthroat”

    Leadership is trust, and there really is none when it comes to 99% of leaders today. ALso, leadership is deemed important by people who claim to be one. As for following someone….most of us don’t have a choice Justin. Work or strave, despite bad or poor “leadership”

  2. Pingback: Moral Leadership and Effective Leadership Are Not The Same (Part 2 In A Leadership Series) | More Than Don't Have Sex

  3. Pingback: What Does Christian Leadership Look Like (Leadership Series Part 5) | More Than Don't Have Sex

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