Moral Leadership and Effective Leadership Are Not The Same (Part 2 In A Leadership Series)

I’m blessed to have a lot of different types of friends from different walks of life.  Lately I’ve been asking some of them on social media questions about their opinions of leadership.  It’s been really good to hear different perspectives on who people see as a great leader, who they think is an effective leader and what they think constitutes good measurements of effective leadership.

As I shared last time, I think we often seem to lump a lot of different things into the idea of leadership and because of that sort of overthink it.  It’s not that any of these ideas are bad.  I’m just not sure they are leadership in the purest form of the word.  Also a lot of times they don’t really add up.  We mention things that we think make a great leader but then we mention “great” leaders that frankly don’t exhibit many of those things.  This is especially true when we list great world leaders.

Most of the people we list as great leaders we see as moral leaders.  Today I want to think about that a little.  I think that we need to separate out moral leadership from effective leadership.  I’ll get to why in a minute.

Morality does not in and of itself make one an effective leader.  Now if you are a leader with followers who accomplishes things, then you being moral will be better for everyone to be sure.  And morality might help you be seen as a leader in the long run.  People tend to trust and therefore follow people that have good morals.  But morality is not the only way to get followers.

Lots of immoral people have been very effective leaders.

Let’s break down what I might call effective leadership.  Let’s call it a working definition.  An effective leader is someone who has followers and gets them, through his/her leadership, to accomplish something.  The more followers they have and/or the greater the accomplishment; the more effective the leader.  It’s not a perfect measurement but I think that’s pretty fair.

Now, it’s important here to separate effective from moral or good.  I can be a good immoral leader so to speak.  This is similar to how we’ve talked about being a good guy vs. being an attractive guy here on the blog.  You can be good and unattractive or vice versa.

Here’s another example.  What does it mean to be successful.  It means to be good at something right?  To “succeed”.   But I could be a successful bank robber.  Or a successful serial killer.  I could be a successful drug dealer.  You get the idea.  None of that makes me a good person, it just makes me good at what I do.

Of course the problem here is that no one except Jesus is good.  I get that.  There are no perfect people and therefore no perfectly moral leaders.  Leaders, even moral ones, make mistakes.  Sometimes really big ones.  But here’s my point.  Here are some of the most effective leaders of the 20th century:  Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zendong.  They transformed their countries and the world.  Yet they are responsible for untold suffering and at least 50 million deaths (not counting the battlefield).  Most won’t list them as moral leaders.  But they were for sure effective.  I don’t see how you can argue that.

If we came up with a list of effective leaders, based on the definition above, we could come up with people all over the moral spectrum.  Some who were very moral and led in that direction.  Some who were moral but made mistakes in where they led people.  Some who had big blind spots.  Some who were completely immoral personally but overall led people in a moral direction.  They’d be all over the map.

This matters if you want to be a leader.

First of all it’s important to realize that it’s more important to be moral than to be an effective leader by our definition’s standard.  As a Christian it’s important to follow Jesus and to exhibit Christian leadership to the best of our ability (more on this coming soon).

Next we need to realize that being moral doesn’t make you an effective leader.  There are great people that just aren’t very effective leaders.  That’s ok. We should note that you may be called to be an effective leader of a small group of people.  For example as a parent you need to lead your kids.  But even here, to be moral is not necessarily to be effective, although it would be a good start for parenting.

We also need to get this distinction because we need to stand up to immoral effective leaders.  Just because someone has a big following and is accomplishing big things doesn’t mean it is someone we as believers should follow.  I think an important question to ask continually is, who am I following?  And where are they really going?  Because if we don’t stop and ask those questions things can get really bad, and in a hurry.

The bottom line for today is that we need to quit equating good leadership with good people.  Instead we need to consider both effective leadership and moral leadership.  Someone who is both is fantastic.  And that would be a good goal for us to have – to be both.

In the next couple of posts as we continue to demystify the term leadership we’ll look at a few more leadership questions:

Is one leadership style more effective than another?  What impacts that?  How does someone become an effective leader?  Are there certain characteristics that these leaders have?  Teaser – there are parts of that we can control and there are other parts that we just can’t.

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