On the day of the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister of the last 150 years, tributes continue to be been paid from all-sides of the political debate. Love her or loathe her no one denies that, through her leadership, she changed the face of a nation and her influence continues to be felt across the world to this day.
Looking back over her time in office, what made her the leader she was? Here’s a personal take on seven qualities identified by Thatcher and those who knew her that shaped her leadership. Seven qualities that all leaders can learn from starting in this post with 1) conviction and 2) clear vision.
Margaret Thatcher famously said above all I am not a consensus politician but a conviction politician. Her leadership was borne out of a strong moral conviction that what she believed in was what could make Britain great again. And Thatcher was to attribute her success to this unswerving conviction in the rightness of her cause. After nearly ten years in office she still maintained if you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing.
Leadership not borne of strong conviction is leadership that will fail. Even when at her lowest political ebb, in 1981, she argued pragmatism is not enough, nor is the fashionable word consensus. To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.’
Lord Saatchi, in an interview on the BBC the morning after Margaret Thatcher’s death, paid tribute to this quality. He summarised her outlook in the following way:
The aim in that period when she was leader of the opposition was to present an ism, called conservatism, which in her mind was a philosophy and the object of the exercise was to explain that philosophy and see if people would support it and now we have a situation all these years later where you can tap anyone on the shoulder any where in the world and ask them ‘what did Mrs Thatcher believe in?’ and you will get a straight answer in a second.
Applying this principle of leadership to churches we might well ask whether it is obvious what we, as a church, stand for? We also have to ask are our principles matters of conviction,derived from God’s word and God’s purpose for the church in the world, rather than our own ideas? Do we lead from conviction or consensus?
2. Clarity of vision
Thatcher had not only strong convictions which guided her actions but a clear vision of where she wanted to take the nation. Henry Kissinger comments on why he thought Thatcher was a breathe of fresh air as a leader in her generation: The appearance of a leader that confidently asserted a vision of the future and, was wiling to tackle the economic problems of the day based on an alternative theory, had both a practical impact and also a psychological and moral impact on the period in which she lived.
He concludes her view was that leaders should define themselves by clearly articulating for their public their vision of their future.
What can we learn? It couldn’t harm if we as Christian leaders were to ask ourselves just how clearly are we articulating a vision for our particular churches? Are we able to assert not just guiding values that under-pin our ministries but a compelling vision as to where such principles might take us? For example, it is surely a good thing for a church to affirm the spread of the gospel as a necessary core value, it is another thing to set out a vision for how the church will seek to see the gospel go out over the next, say, 5 to 10 years.
In our next post we consider what it meant for Thatcher to be a leader defined by courage, clear communication and commitment to her cause.
Al Mohler’s new book on leadership has recently dropped through my letterbox. The conviction to lead: 25 principles for leaership matters is everything that you might expect; wise, clear, biblical and focused! Above all else what guides Mohler’s principles for leadership however, is conviction. He writes I want to fundamentally change the way leadership is understood and practiced.
It won’t do to ignore best practice in leadership as some evangelicals are prone to do. We cannot hide in our studies, write a few sermons and pay our pastoral visits and believe we are doing all we are called to do as church ministers. Leading a church requires much more than that. But neither can we reduce our role to that of ‘leaders’ who mimic the world, seeking to take a church forward through motivation, vision, strategy and models of leadership. Mohler seeks to bring these, too often separate, worlds together. His purpose in the book? My goal is to redefine Christian leadership so that it is inseparable from passionately held beliefs [convictions], and to motivate those who are deeply committed to truth to be ready for leadership. Let a book like this shape your ministry and that of others in your church. Be clearer on your convictions and put those convictions to work as you learn to lead through them.
Here is Mohler on The Leader and Death
A legacy is what is left in the wake of a great leader. The leader is gone from the scene, but his influence remains essential to the direction and culture of the work he led. Once again, conviction is central. The idiosyncrasies of the leader will not (or should not) remain. The plans and visions of the leader will be outdated soon after his burial. The style of the leader is a personal signature. Your tastes will not be the tastes of the future. Yet none of this really matters. What matters is that the convictions survive.
Remember that leadership is conviction transformed into united action. If the convictions are right, the right actions will follow. The wise leader does not try to perpetuate matters of style and taste, or even plans and programs. The leader who aims at a legacy aims to perpetuate conviction. If the conviction is truly perpetuated, all the rest will follow. If the convictions are not perpetuated, none of the rest really matters. The leader who truly leads by conviction drives those convictions deep into the foundation of the movement. A legacy is built on that foundation as convictions frame reality.
Every leader needs to know the reality that we will die one day and that others will take our place. Hopefully, these new leaders will bring talents and abilities and vision greater than our own. Our greatest concern, however, is that they come with a wealth of conviction. Otherwise, all that we build can be turned against the very truths we have championed.
In an earlier post I looked at what the Bible has to say about men and leadership.
The key to leadership is letting your definition of leadership be set by the one man who can truly teach us what it means to lead. For Jesus, leadership was three things 1) God-dependent, 2) servant-hearted, 3) leadership of others.
To learn to lead you must therefore first be willing to be led by Jesus. So below are the final three points from my City Church men’s breakfast talk;
Where in your leadership are you seeking to lead others? As we lead our Christian family and other Christians for whom we have responsibility, the need is to show them Jesus and lead them to him.
CJ Mahaney in his book Humility asks ‘What are your ambitions for your children?’
Are any of your ambitions for your child more important to you than their cultivation of humility and servanthood –the basis for true greatness as biblically defined? Are you more interested in temporal recognition for your child than you are in his eternal reward? Ultimately, that’s what parenting is mostly about – it’s about preparing our children for the final day.
If you are ambitious for your child’s godliness, what will that mean for you as a leader?
As we lead others at work we seek to lead in a way that commends the gospel. Servant leadership is quite a contrast with lordship-leadership, which seeks to use others for selfish reasons. Servant-leaders are able to get the best from employees or colleagues under their lead by taking a genuine interest and serving their needs. As we lead in this way, so we commend Christ to all around us.
Q. Is your priority for others their eternal salvation?
6. To be a leader you have to know whom God has called you to lead
Godly leadership involves making right priorities. God calls on us to lead those we are called to lead. There is a God-given hierarchy to our responsibilities.
That means that to lead in the wrong way is a failure to lead. Jesus knew this for himself when tempted by others, including his own disciples, to pursue a healing ministry. In Mark 1:32-39, Jesus goes to a place to be with his Father and on return renews his commitment to move on from a town where he was wanted and needed, to preach the gospel elsewhere because he understood that God had commissioned him to preach – a ministry that in time would lead to his rejection.
We are to lead our wives and children ahead of our work colleagues, for example.
Q. How might leadership in one part of your life be an excuse for failing to lead in a more important part?
7. To be a leader is to lead through your God-given personality & God-given gifts
There is diversity in the body of Christ. God has not given you the same gifts as others in the church and he has given you a unique personality. We lead through our God-given strengths and have to work on our weaknesses.
Some of us are initiative-takers, others more passive. Some fear confrontation, others are too confrontational, etc. There is no one type that you have to aspire to. Introverts can lead and often do lead better than extroverts. The key is a better knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses so that you are better equipped to lead well.
Q. What has God made you good at and how does that help you lead, what weaknesses do others see that you need to work on?
What does it mean to be man?
Model 1. Bear Grylls the super-man – strength, self-sufficiency and invincibility
On one website the all-action hero was described this way: The writer and television presenter is known for his amazing feats and has paraglided over the Himalayas, escaped from quicksand and snacked on a still wriggling snake.Bear has also run Class V rapids in the lower Zambezi (without a raft), plunged beneath the ice of a frozen lake in Siberia while naked, and even avoided alligators on his way through the Everglades.
Model 2. Homer Simpson the useless man – immaturity, incompetence and irresponsibility
HOMER: Okay, brain. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you, but let’s get through this thing and then I can continue killing you with beer.
HOMER’s Brain: It’s a deal!
Model 3. Jesus the perfect man – the God-dependent, servant-hearted, leader of other
The perfect man is Jesus and we need to look to him to learn to be a man. Jesus shows us that to be a man involves three things: It is a God-dependent, servant-hearted, leader of others.
Learning to lead – 7 ways to lead like Jesus
1. To be a leader you have to be willing to be led
Leading is not an synonym for autonomous, self-sufficient existance. It’s not an excuse to no longer listen or learn. If you are to be a godly leader you will know your need to let Christ lead you. The Apostle Paul writes Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ – 1 Cor.11:1.
As you follow Jesus you learn how to lead. He was THE God-dependent, servant-hearted, leader.
Q. Are you looking to Jesus to lead you? What does that mean?
2. To be a leader you have to first lead yourself
You are the most difficult person you will ever lead. – Bill Hybels. Unless you can begin to lead yourself you will not be ready to lead others.
Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus – Philippians 3:13-14 (c.f. 2 Tim 4:7, 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Q. Are you making progress in leading yourself? Where might you be failing to take responsibility for your life? Your character, your sin, your time, etc..
3. To be a leader you must see leadership as living out the gospel
It’s not just a question of whether you are leading but why.
Everyone seeks to lead for one of two reasons. We are all of us leading for an identity or from an identity. To lead for an identity will mean our leadership is driven by the need to prove ourselves in some way. Maybe that means to make a name for ourselves by proving our worth to others. To lead from an identity means to be so confident of our identity as children of God and so secure in his love that our leadership is wonderfully liberated from being a tool of self-justification and instead becomes a joyful service of others.
- Leading for an identity works itself out in lordship leadership in which your relationship to others is an opportunity to prove yourself.
- Leading from an identity works itself out in servant leadership in which your relationship to others is an opportunity to offer yourself.
So in a marriage Lordship leadership is an opportunity to be a bully.
Learning to lead like Jesus means that a husband’s authority (like the Son’s over us) is never use to please himself but only to serve the interests of his wife – Tim & Kathy Keller
Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. – Romans 15:2-3
Q. Why do you want to lead? For whose benefit?
4. To be a leader you have to lead others by the gospel
A God-dependent leader recognises his weakness and leads from weakness. The apostle Paul was an apostle of weakness – 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (c.f 12:7-10 ‘I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness’). Leaders who lead from the gospel exhibit the following traits;
- Leading in dependence on God
- Leading with the help of others (quick to go to older, wiser Christians)
- Leading by being first to admit fault,
- Leading by being quick to confessing sin,
- Leading by seeking grace
Q. Is it evident to others by your attitudes and actions that you find strength to lead in your weakness?
In a future blog we’ll look at points 5-7.
His notes on Bill Hybel’s talk Leading Yourself are essential reading for all church leaders.
Carl Trueman unearths nuggets of pure gold from Jim Packer.
As leaders we not only look to Christ but we look to Christ to become like him as his Spirit works that transformation in us.
So what is it about Christ that you long to see formed in you and manifested in your leadership? His wisdom, his compassion, his boldness, his gentleness? All necessary character traits of any leader made in the image of Christ. But where I wonder does his humility feature?
Humility holds a church together according to Paul. He urges the Philippians (2:3-4) to ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look out not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of other.’
And where does that mindset come from? Chapter 2:5 ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’
What then does humble leadership look like?
Ron Edmondson has posted really helpfully offering 10 attributes of a humble leader. Work these into your pattern and example of leadership and Christ will not only be seen in you but your church.
Looking to be a leader? Ron Edmonson’s 7 Qualities of a Followable Leader is well worth a read…
Ron Edmondson has highlighted some of the weaknesses, apparent and perceived, in leadership for an introvert. Well worth a read. It’s also a great reminder of how crucial it is to be self-aware in leadership and why although we may want to simply play to strengths we do need to compensate for our weaknesses if we are to lead well.
Dave Kraft in his excellent book Leaders who last says
A leaders greatest assets are the people he influences, one of the real challenges in leadership is to figure out what kinds of people one should be involved with and what amount of time should be invested.
The big mistake Leaders make is to fail to be intentional as to who gets their time. We react to the demands of others rather than pro-actively seeking to develop others.
Kraft argues that there are 5 types of people we interact with in our role as leaders
1. Resourceful people (people who motivate you, inspire you, equip you as a leader)
2. Important people (people who have important roles in the church because they are fellow leaders, occupy positions of responsibility etc. So fellow church officers; Elders, Deacons, Treasurer, ministry area leaders, staff, etc.)
3. Trainable people (men and women who demonstrate potential. Godly, gifted and available people who could lead in the future)
4. Nice people (people who’s company we simply enjoy. They might be encouragers or people with similar personalities with whom we ‘click’.)
5. Draining people (people with needs, often long term, who look to us to help sustain them over a long-term)
I’m not quite sure what the category titles mean (I’ve had a go at filling out the detail next to each title but they are my interpretation rather than his).
The point that Kraft is making is that we need to be deliberate and strategic in who gets our time.
Here are his ‘Seven habits of Highly ineffective Leaders’
1. They spend too much time managing and not enough time leading
2. They spend too much time counseling the hurting people and not enought time developing the people with potential
3. They spend too much time putting out fires and not enough time lighting fires.
4. They spend too much time doing and not enough time planning
5. They spend too much time teaching the crowd and not enough time triaming the core
6. They spend too much time doing it themselves and not enough time doing it through others
7. They make too many decisions based on organisational politics and too few decisions based on biblical principles.
Why is so little time invested in the right kinds of people? The draining and nice people get all the prime time. The resourceful and the trainable get the leftovers.
I strongly suggest that you arrange your life, time, and weekly schedule to be able to invest in trainable people; growing hungry, teachable disciples; and potential leaders.
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