Monday, May 5, 2008

Can Leadership Skills be Learned?

Leadership Skills Can be Learned

We all like magic bullets--the one cure to solve all problems. Unfortunately, in real life as in ministry, there are no magic bullets. I used to think that for the church leaders, the magic bullet is prayer. All I need to do is pray. I do not underestimate the importance of prayer but I do believe after we pray, we still need to engage the world. When Moses was caught between the Red Sea and an advancing Egyptian army, the people were crying out to God and the Lord told Moses: "Quit praying and get the people moving! Forward, march!" (Ex 14:15, TLB). Prayer is necessary to know the will of God and receive His wisdom to act. But after that we still have to act.

Leadership is about getting "the people moving!" That requires great skill. At one point in Moses' leadership story, he was almost burned out by people coming to see him one by one (Exodus 18:13-16). Thankfully, Moses had a wise father-in-law Jethro who intervened and gave him some sound leadership tips: "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied" (Ex 18:17-23, NIV). And, incidentally, Jethro was a pagan, not a believer in Jehovah-God!

Similarly, many pastors and leaders need to understand that prayer is a critical component of leadership, but not the only component. Like preaching, there is no anointing without prayer, but on the other hand, there will be no listeners if we do not obey some commonsensical communication skills in public speaking! Skills are as important as anointing: anointing is the wine, but skills are the wineskins. Both are equally necessary.

So for myself, I realize in my early days as a parish pastor that while I did not lack prayer, I did lack leadership skills which caused me to make some serious mistakes. I still have a lot more to learn. I learn from people around me and from books. Currently, I am reading Warren Bennis, "On Becoming a Leader." I am not sure if he is a Christian, but even if he is not, what he listed as the four essential competencies of leadership apply to Christian leaders too:

(1) Able to engage others by creating shared meaning: In other words, leaders should have a clear vision from the Lord (received in prayer) regarding where they are taking the people and the skills to communicate this vision to the people to get them excited about it.

(2) A distinctive voice: By this he means a cluster of things--a purpose, self-confidence, a sense of self, or in short, authenticity. It is about "being true to yourself," without trying to be somebody else.

(3) Integrity: A key component of this competency is a strong moral compass. No compromise and shady deals. No dichotomy between church life and business life. Straight as an arrow.

(4) Adaptive capacity: Adaptive capacity is the ability to respond quickly and intelligently to relentless change. Of course, some church leaders may want to believe that the church is the place where things hardly change because we follow ancient traditions. While the church may follow ancient traditions, the congregations are not. They are being swept by massive changes occuring in the world of which they are active participants. So, church leaders need to respond to the changes taking place in the weekday world so that they can better lead the congregations.

If you are interested to learn more from Warren Bennis, I suggest you pick out any of his books to read. You won't regret spending time learning from "pagans" (as Moses had discovered!)

Chee Min

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