Becoming an Authentic Leader
Inspire loyalty and growth in your circle of influence
Are you a leader who is worth following? This may seem like a strange question, but there isn’t a more fundamental one for leaders. While leadership can be assigned, appointed or arranged, it must ultimately be earned.
It is one thing to have people follow you because of your title. It’s something entirely different when people follow you because of who you are as a person. Leaders who earn the respect of others often do so through a life that is compelling, inspirational and transformative.
Be a Leader People Find Easy to Follow
Distance is one of the greatest barriers to successful leadership. The greater the distance between a leader and the people he or she seeks to lead, the less compelling and inspirational that leader’s influence will be. Becoming a leader who is easy to follow begins with authentic and real interaction.
In their book, A Leader’s Legacy, James Kouzes and Barry Posner describe the down-to-earth approach of CEO Ron Sugar when onboarding new employees at Northrop Grumman Corporation. Before speaking a word, Sugar would go to a piano and play one of his favorite songs. When he finished, he addressed the new hires:
“Does anyone know why I just introduced myself by playing the piano?” Sugar would explain: “I did this because I want you to follow my leadership in this company. However, I think it’s more important that you know something about me that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m the CEO of this company. Yes, I am the boss around here, but I have other personal interests in my life. Now that you know one of my personal interests, I hope that over the course of time, I will have the privilege of knowing some of your personal interests in life.”
Do the people you lead know anything about your personal interests? You might not be a piano player, but certainly there are a number of things you enjoy doing that reflect the ordinariness of your human life. Rather than leading from a titled position, build a bridge of commonality. A good place to start is by sharing some of the normal things you love to do in life.
Be a Leader People Are Eager to Follow
People are eager to follow leaders who add value to those they lead. People will feel more committed to a leader who demonstrates humanity and builds a leadership culture in the organization that is thoroughly humane.
When leaders stray from their own humanity and begin leading out of ego, they tend to treat followers like tools — as human doers rather than human beings. And when people sense they are being used merely for the bottom line, they begin to wonder whether, in reality, they are subtly being trafficked.
Distance is one of the greatest barriers to successful leadership.
In the context of church leadership, we need to be honest about what we call “mentoring” in the church. Mentoring young leaders only in their skill sets, while neglecting their character and spiritual integrity, is not biblical mentoring.
Mentoring the next generation of church leaders requires more than simply asking occasionally, “How’s your prayer life?” Others are eager to follow leaders who care about all aspects of their lives — not only their talents and skills, but also their finances, spirituality, physical well-being, family relationships, rest and emotional health.
When I mentored pastors on our church staff, every weekly one-on-one meeting began with human stuff. I knew that to draw out the best productivity from their skills and talents, I needed to make it clear that I cared more about them as human beings. Of course, I didn’t let them slide in their productivity.
However, productivity wasn’t usually a problem, in part because they felt valued at a level that went beyond their production. Because I cared just as much about them taking date nights with their spouses as I did about their work time, our pastoral staff stewarded well their personal lives, and, as a result, their productivity in ministry was excellent.
Be a Leader People Are Excited to Follow
Few things are more rewarding than affirming people in their talents, gifts and callings. As spiritual leaders, the Holy Spirit gives us special discernment to see hidden potential in people that others don’t see — and that people often don’t see in themselves. The reason this is such an incredible leadership privilege is because of the excitement followers experience when a leader affirms their potential.
Kouzes and Posner highlight a poignant truth about leadership, specifically related to the importance of the interpersonal relationship between an organization’s leader and its followers. They write:
Longitudinal studies of successful CEOs reveal that the single greatest predictor of (their) career success was in the relationship they had with their very first supervisor. The quality of that relationship proved more influential than where they went to school, what they studied in school, what their grades were, etc. When asked what contributed most to how they functioned at work, the most common reply pointed to “how my (first) supervisor functioned at work.”
If you are in the privileged position of influencing young church leaders, ask yourself, How many of these young leaders are not only experiencing ministerial responsibility for the first time in their lives, but also getting their first taste of ministerial supervision?
Additionally, consider whether their experience under your leadership supervision is setting a positive tone for their future ministerial leadership success. The answer to these questions might depend on how real, how human and how affirming you are as a leader.