Leadership Defined

I wanted to follow up on one brief element of Susan Colantuono’s TED Talk on the Missing Third of Leadership that I posted yesterday.

In particular, while she was identifying the missing third – that is, the strategic, operational and financial acumen and ability to execute mission and achieve goals – I want to tarry a bit with the other two, the two elements she believes we usually focus on.

She defines these two as 1) using the greatness in you to 2) bring out the greatness in others. What strikes me about this formulation is, first, it’s a great shorthand definition of leadership in general and, second, that it may take some practice for those of us in the church to get behind it.

First, in terms of a definition of leadership. What I like about it is that it reminds us that leadership is always about service. We don’t lead for the sake of leading or gaining attention but rather to serve others, to equip and empower them to do great things. If we were to add her “missing third” to the equation, we might say it this way: leadership is using the greatness in you to bring out the greatness in others in order to accomplish great things. Yes, I like that.

Second, in terms of appropriating this in the church. Some of us – maybe a lot of – will be hesitant to embrace the first part of her formulation: using the greatness in us. Why? Because it feels boastful. The families and churches many of us came out of stressed, above almost anything else, that you don’t boast, you don’t think too highly of yourself, and you certainly don’t talk about yourself as if you think too highly of yourself. Bringing out the greatness in others, fine. Naming your own, even admitting you have something great…well, that’s another matter.

But here’s the interesting question. Can you really recognize and bring out greatness in others if you don’t see something great in yourself?

Perhaps more to the point, however, maybe it’s not so much about greatness as it is about giftedness. Years ago I heard a story about an encounter between Joseph Sittler, one of the great Lutheran theologians of the last century, and a seminary intern. Coming out of the worship service at which the intern had just preached, Sittler said, “You’ve got a real gift for preaching.” The flustered intern responded by hemming and hawing and saying the sermon really wasn’t as good as he’d hoped. But Sittler interrupted, saying, “I said it was a gift. This isn’t about you, it’s about God. God gave you that gift and I want you to use it to benefit others.”

Maybe that can help us. Recognizing greatness in yourself isn’t about boasting, it’s about claiming the gifts God has given you in order to use them to bring out the best in others. So perhaps we can tweak our definition once more. Leadership is using the gifts God has given you to bring out the gifts of others in order to accomplish great things in and for the world God loves so much. Yes, I like that even more.