Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

May 1999
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Leaders Model the Way – Part 1

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

According to “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, leaders:

  1. Challenge the process.
  2. Inspire a shared vision.
  3. Enable others to act.
  4. Model the way.
  5. Encourage the heart.

4. Leaders model the way.

It is not enough to deliver rousing speeches; leaders must actually participate in the doing of what they ask others to do. Leading by example is how leaders provide evidence that they are deeply and personally committed to the vision they champion. Credible leaders practice what they preach. They do what they say they will do, and thus set the example for others to follow.

Leaders set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with their organization’s shared values. They accomplish this by:

a. Clarifying their own personal values. People expect their leaders to stand for something, and to have the courage of their convictions. Leaders who lack core values are likely to change their position with every fad, and will be judged eventually as inconsistent and “political” in their behavior. Values are the standards that help us determine what we will and will not do. They influence every aspect of our lives: our moral judgments, our responses to others, our commitments to personal and organizational goals. A Christian leader’s values must be based directly upon the eternal Scriptures and not the latest opinion poll.

b. Building a consensus of shared values based upon the Scriptures. Leaders represent groups. For the people to be mobilized in unity, they must all share the same values. Thus the leaders, through the clear teaching of Scripture, must gain consensus on a common cause and a common set of principles, thereby building a community of shared values that will form the solid bedrock of an organization’s vitality and effectiveness. This takes time since the people must truly own the values; unity is forged, not forced. Biblical values are not negotiable but it still takes time for the people to understand and personally own them.

c. Auditing their actions. People pay more attention to the values their leaders actually use than to those the leaders say they believe in. Effective leaders must set good examples, establish high standards for themselves, and personally practice what they preach. A profitable exercise in this regard is to list the values you preach and then systematically compare them with those values actually reflected by your calendar and checkbook for the last month. To be consistent, how you spend your time and money should line up with your espoused priorities.

d. Seizing opportunities to teach. Critical incidents present opportunities for leaders to teach important lessons about appropriate norms of behavior. Leaders will watch for these opportunities, and use them to illuminate and reinforce the organization’s values.

e. Following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus and His leaders. The call to imitate godly leaders as they walk in righteousness, and not only talk it, is found throughout the New Testament: e.g., 1 Cor. 4:16; 2 Thess. 3:7-9; Heb. 6:12; 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:21-23.

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