What is it about great leaders that inspire you? Is it the confidence? Determination? The can-do attitude? To be sure, all of those characteristics have a part to play in the relational discourse between leaders and those that follow them. As I think about what inspires me to come alongside a leader in a support role, a few key traits come to mind.
Most leaders have some degree of confidence. But are they competent? Competence is critically important to me. The lack of competence is a deal-breaker. Sorry, I am not going to spend time following people who do not know what they are doing as they lead their organizations off a cliff. Been there, done that. More than once. I am over it.
This does not mean I expect the leader to have specialized skills for every required task in the organization. It does mean I expect that person to lead with wisdom so that the varied skillsets of employees help to ensure the organization’s success. Arrogant leaders barely tolerate highly skilled subordinates because of the perceived threat to their power. Competent leaders embrace, affirm, and reward skilled specialists, understanding their unique contributions to the company’s business goals.
Much is said about vision, mission, and the corresponding statements companies typically write to define their identities. Unfortunately, those statements usually are worthless because they are written in board rooms, shielded from the sweat equity of the labor force which must execute the plan. Also, they are written in bland predictable language which the average reader skips over to look for content exuding some sign of authenticity and life.
It goes back to the relational discourse to which I referred above. If the labor force participates at some level in crafting their specialized contributions to the overall vision, there will be greater buy-in. The leader must set the direction. And as he casts that vision, the labor force should then be encouraged to add their specialized contributions.
Unfortunately, this does not work very well in centralized control systems where there is a CEO, senior management, middle-management, and a host of hirelings. It also does not work very well in most churches, especially in those ecclesial settings where there is a senior leader, a governing board, a pastoral/director staff, and volunteer leaders and support workers. Some examples of where it does work well include Google, Facebook and other similar businesses which deploy decentralized systems using teams, cross-pollenization of work groups, and so on. There are no strict silos like those found in many churches. To be fair, there are congregations, particularly some of the large evangelical churches which are intentionally breaking out of the silo model, and also some grassroots start-ups which intentionally are inserting a decentralized ethos into their DNA.
The bottom line is that an inspiring leader will find ways to cast vision which grab the hearts of the people and encourage them to work together with the leadership toward shared passionate goals.
Encouragement is the foundational currency any visionary and competent leader must utilize in order to inspire his colleagues. From simple but sincere phrases like “thank you” and “good job” to more tangible expressions of encouragement, the leader who intends to sustain a long-term workforce is wise to invest in the encouragement of her staff. If it is done in the context of consistent respect, kindness, and high expectations for excellence, the leader can be assured that her staff will perceive the real value of the encouragement, whatever the form it may take.
Competence, vision, and encouragement are three foundational components to inspiring leadership. There are other observations which could be added to nuance these three broad skillsets. Likewise, there are additional core skills to be considered. However, I maintain that with this foundation, leaders will be optimally postured to lead their teams with excellence.