Thursday, October 8, 2015

Considering the Impact of a Leader

Leaders like Booker T. Washington, Sojourner Truth and Harriet
Beecher Stowe were instrumental in bringing slavery to an end
and raising the status of African-Americans in society.

As the jockeying for position in the 2016 Presidential races continues to intensify, with some would-be candidates already bowing out, a lot of important questions are being asked. Everyone is claiming to possess the qualities needed for the top leadership role in the country, but would it be wise for us to consider the impact of a leader, either for good or bad?

Years ago I read Jim Collins’s excellent book, Good To Great, in which he discusses results of a comprehensive study about what made some companies great, compared to others that were merely good. Initially, Collins said he resolved to disregard the impact of top leadership, reasoning it’s too easy to assign praise to the CEO when an enterprise excels. However, he and his research team discovered that wasn’t possible. Leadership was a central factor in corporate greatness. Here’s what Collins wrote:

“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.”

History shows leaders like Benjamin Franklin
and Mark Twain, depicted at Walt Disney
World's EPCOT, have had great influence
in their respective fields of endeavor.
There were important factors other than what Collins termed “Level 5 Leadership,” but over the course of his work it became undeniable that the quality and character of top leaders became a major factor in a company’s success or failure. This is particularly interesting because in the Bible’s Old Testament, recounting events from thousand of years ago, this was also true. It’s not a new development.

Examples are too numerous to mention but a few, but Joseph stands out as a man of integrity whom God used in ways far beyond anything he could have imagined. Moses certainly was an unlikely choice for leader of the Israelites. In fact, he kept asking, “Uh, Lord, are you sure you’ve picked the right guy for this job?” But his effectiveness was unquestioned.

In the books of 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles we see a procession of kings whose character greatly influenced the people of Israel and Judah that they led. When good kings ruled, the people enjoyed peace and prosperity. When bad kings arose, the people descended into patterns of evil practice.

King Josiah seems particularly notable. His story is told in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, opening with the statement, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2, 2 Chronicles 34:2).

Even in his earliest years as king, Josiah took decisive measures to purge the land of the false gods and idols the people of Judah had been worshiping. When he discovered how far they had drifted from following Jehovah God, the king tore his robes in a symbolic act of despair and remorse. He declared, “Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:21).

As a result, the Israelites followed Josiah’s example and re-established their sacred observances and thrived during his reign with God’s blessing. Following Josiah’s death, however, another evil king succeeded him and the people lapsed into their prior ungodly practices.

I’ve come to the conclusion that like a football coach who receives too much praise when his team wins and too much blame when it loses, sometimes the President of the United States is given too much credit for positive developments in the nation and the world, and too much criticism when things aren’t going well. There are too many variables at work, especially given the global nature of commerce, finance, and communications, for one person to exert sweeping control over the course of human events.

However, one thing all President can clearly do, given the extremely public and prominent nature of the office, is to affirm and emulate the values, principles and standards they believe that men, women and young people of the land should embrace.

So as we’re evaluating candidates and – hopefully – seeking to come to a well-reasoned, thorough appraisal of the candidates vying for our votes, it’s critical for us to recognize the impact of whomever we will elect. As well as the character of the candidates we consider.

And thinking about Collins’s discovery about what constituted the best, most effective corporate leaders, it might be well to consider this biblical admonition: “All of you, clothes yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

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