There is an important question implicit in every front page news article covering the upcoming national elections. Who is best qualified to lead our country? And behind that question is another: What qualities must that leader possess?
Based on the behavior and coverage of our presidential candidates, we might infer that voters are looking for leaders who: talk a lot, criticize rivals, blame congress or citizens or Washington or Wall Street, talk some more, are successful in business but not successful enough to be part of the evil 1%, are not insiders yet understanding the insides enough to know how to manipulate them, are smart, preferably holding an Ivy League degree or two, speak passionately about a fuzzy concept of fairness but never stating exactly what it is or how it might be achieved, and make promises that are impossible to keep. I could go on. (Can you tell I am disappointed with our self-absorbed leaders?)
None of that is the behavior of a leader.
Jim Collins, in his 2001 book Good to Great discovered a surprising truth about effective leadership. It’s not what we think it is. He studied companies that had been consistently good and then jumped sharply to great. He wondered what set them apart from other companies that just stayed…good. He writes,
“We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one. Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar” (p. 12-13, italics mine).
Collins described another feature of effective leaders (he calls them Level 5 leaders) that has helped me to evaluate the leadership potential of politicians.
“Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside of themselves when things go well…At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly” (p. 35).
That narrows the field considerably.
That effective leaders serve others in strength and humility should come as no surprise to Christians. God is very clear about his abhorrence of pride and his desire for humility. From Abraham, to Moses, to King David, through Jesus’s twelve disciples, God chose leaders who were mostly weak and humble nobodies. In humility and dependence on the Lord, they became strong leaders.
We need humble leaders. We need wise leaders. We need real leaders.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2