Leadership is not easy! There are many tensions to be managed and battles (often internal) to fight. We have to deal with the present as well as the future and never really ‘switch off’ from our responsibilities (neither should we).
One of the biggest tensions I battle with is the concept of embracing our authority ‘from above’ (God, those in leadership over us) versus the recognition that authority is also given to us from ‘below’ (those we lead). The reality is that both are true. We walk in the authority handed down to us in much the same way that a policeman or traffic warden has the confidence to carry out their duties, knowing that they have the power of the law behind them (of course, there are examples of this authority being watered down, such as football referees).
We also lead, knowing (hopefully) that the way in which we lead will either produce a strong sense of following or a lukewarm one. Yes, followership (the art of following) is also an attitude that just needs to be taken from those following a leader but we are responsible to bring clarity and confidence to that process.
What are the results of over emphasising one over the other?
A over B – In this scenario, a leader can fall into the trap of ‘I am your leader, just do what I say!’ I would suggest that if I keep having to remind people I’m in charge, I am not really in charge (even though I may have a badge). If I have to keep telling my children what to do ‘just because I’m their Father’, then something is not right. If I’m not prepared to engage in discussion with people, perhaps I’m either not confident enough in my convictions (to have them questioned) or I’m blindly confident – both are dangerous approaches.
B over A – at the end of the day, leaders have to lead! I cannot wait for everyone to ‘be on board’ in order to press ahead with something. Leaders are not always liked because we often have to make decisions that may cause someone ‘pain’ (removing them from a role, challenging them on an issue). If you’re a sanguine personality like me, you love to be loved and hate to think that people have something against you – for me, I need to be aware of my natural leanings and learn to press through when it is necessary.
Jesus the example (as always) – John 6:60-66 paints a perfect picture. At this point in his ministry, many would leave him as his teaching was tough (this comforts me that I’m not the only one who loses people!). He then turns to his closest followers and asks (quite vulnerably) ‘are you going to leave me too?’. Notice, he doesn’t get defensive, or ask them to just follow him – he openly (and relationally) gives them permission to leave. He does not take this moment to reassert his authority – they actually do that for him!! Peter answers, ‘where else can we go? you have the words of eternal life’. In other words, Jesus had proved himself over and over and in the darkest moment of confusion and turmoil, his ‘influence’ over them caused them to give him even more authority over them that he had ever had before.
As we lead and influence others, let’s remember to be confident and vulnerable, commanding and relational, full of conviction and openness.