To lead well is to lead on purpose, with intent, not just instinct. In his book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins identifies three critical factors in successful leaders who succeed in the face of factors beyond their control, ones based on extensive research and not the product of mere opinion or guesswork. These are all applied to the service of people in humble and focused efforts that naturally transcend personal ambition.
- Empirical Creativity. Convincing people that a present reality needs to change precedes the casting of a new vision. This needs to be fed with evidence, not just explanation. At the very least, people must believe that there is some reason for change before they will follow a leader (or, in larger organisations, a vision-amplifying leadership group). This is not necessarily driven by a charismatic personality type, but by a relentlessly purposeful inspirer who creates a case for change and thus answers the motivational question for his team before providing clear and workable strategies for implementation.
- Fanatic Discipline. Purposeful leaders manage, but management is too often differentiated from leadership as if to render it inferior. If the inspirational vision-casting of a leader is to become and remain a fruitful reality, then it needs disciplined management. This is not micro-management that interferes with others’ implementation, but a definition and follow-up of parameters and systems within which people should work so as to ensure optimum fruitfulness in alignment to vision. For spiritual leaders, this is by revelation, not just research. However, team members may not have the same convictions! People often need their performance managed (the degree is often dependent on skill), otherwise they may take the line of least resistance or create alternative priorities. This need not presume poor motivation, but people do what a leader will inspect, not what they will expect (as famously stated by former IBM chief, Lou Gerstner). Leaders need to sensitively presume, in the absence of information to the contrary, that people on their teams have honourable intentions, but team members also need to know what is expected of them.
- Productive Paranoia. Successful leaders stay attuned to threats and changes, even when all seems well. Spiritual leaders turn paranoia into insight and move from fear to faith. This comes from preparation, not just presumption. Preparation is the key, whether spiritual or practical. In Matthew 4, the net-mending of James and John was preparation for the next catch. The holes needed to be identified and repaired beforehand. Importantly, this is exactly the thought in the equipping of Christians by ministers in Ephesians 4:12 (the same root word is used). Leaders can be attuned to threats and needs as the Spirit leads, but this involves spiritual discipline for themselves (and ideally for team members) and not just an assumption that God will speak when and where He wills.
These three elements of effective leadership are interconnected. A purpose needs preparation and process for optimum implementation. Preparation enacts purpose with process and anticipates further change. Process honours purpose and preparation and gives a platform for ongoing adaptation and growth. Of course, these ingredients to success all centre on the importance of people who are the reason, not just the resource, for effective vision implementation that journeys from the ‘here’ to ‘there’ of success.