Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

July 2003
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How Followers Influence Their Leaders — Part 2

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

All leaders can improve in their leadership. In our previous Letter, we saw that we can help our leaders improve by overcoming the barrier between leaders and followers, by being realistic in our expectations of them, and by striving to understand them. The following are three more ways that we can influence our leaders, helping them to grow:

4. Build a relationship. Based upon trust and open, honest communication, healthy followers will build strong and genuine relationships with their leaders. This two-way relationship will be characterized more by mutual respect than by formal authority and hierarchy.

He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend. (Prov. 22:11; see also Eccl. 4:9-12)

Leaders need friends. Christian leaders never grow to the point where they no longer need vital relationships with others around them. Effective Christian leaders lead in a context of community – not as tough “ministry islands” off by themselves. In the body of Christ, no members are independent (1 Cor. 12).

Jesus had friends (Matt. 26:36-38); how much more do we need friends!

Paul, the great apostle, also had friends:

I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition. (1 Cor. 16:17-18)

These men traveled a long distance to minister to Paul. Notably, Stephanas was Paul’s own convert (v. 15)! However, he did not allow any distance to come between him and his dear friend Paul but took the initiative to seek him out in his time of need (cf. 2 Tim. 1:16-18).

A close reading of Romans 16:1-16 show the depth of friendship that Paul enjoyed with a number of saints. The passage mentions several of Paul’s “beloved” friends and even a “spiritual mother” in verse 16!

Like Jesus and Paul, leaders need friends.

5. Be a resource. Effective followers align themselves with the purposes of the organization. They understand their potential impact on the organization’s success or failure. They ask the leader about the vision and goals so they can help achieve them. They invite the leader to share about his experiences – both good and bad – in the organization’s history. They openly discuss their own personal goals and resources that they can contribute to the organization. They are candid about their weaknesses and constraints. In these ways, followers become sources of strength for their leaders.

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men. (Prov. 22:29)

6. Help the leader improve. Followers can help their leaders become better leaders in a number of ways:
The follower who asks the leader for advice will help the leader to give it. If a leader senses that his input is well-regarded and desired, he will be more likely to give effective counsel rather than unsympathetic criticism.
The follower who tells the leader what he needs in order to succeed will help the leader know what to give him.
The follower who compliments and thanks the leader for treating him well will reinforce such behavior.
The follower who is honest when the leader is counterproductive will help him recognize the need for change.

If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest. (Eccl. 10:4)

In these days, God is building new spiritual communities in churches and Christian organizations. The traditional formal barriers between leader (“clergy”) and follower (“laity”) are being broken down. Ministry teams are being formed based upon mutual respect and shared leadership. The people are being mobilized and empowered.

Nevertheless, we still have leaders – and we will always have them. This is the way God has made mankind. But our leaders are changing as our understanding of their role changes first.

For the church of Jesus Christ to accomplish His purposes these radical changes must continue. Our leaders must be honest and transparent – true servants of God and His people. The people must be passionate and whole-hearted in their ministries as we all work together to fulfill the shared vision of His glory.

Everything does not rise or fall merely on leadership; the whole body must function and it must function in a healthy manner.

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:16)

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