Recently I was reading an article in which the author noted “few of us are natural-born leaders,” and so she offered five basic tips to help new leaders get on the right track – and stay there.
It struck me that not only were all of her tips sound, but they also affirmed our own perspective that when it comes to leadership, you can’t find a better teacher and role model than Jesus Christ.
Addressing new leaders is timely because we get so many new leaders this time of year. Priests get new assignments to lead parishes, often for the first time. Principals are assigned to lead schools. Teachers are hired to lead students. Many new leadership posts in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors are filled in early summer.
Here are five suggestions for them from business writer Carolyn Knight -- along with our own comments about Jesus’ teaching and example.
1. Learn to influence, rather than force – When you push adults, they generally push back just as hard — or harder. Don’t undermine your opportunity for compelling long-term leadership by pulling rank or pitching rants. Jesus was the son of God. What more authority is possible? Yet, he didn’t use his authority to impose his will. He patiently nurtured, encourage and inspired.
2. Be transparent – If you can’ trust others, they won’t trust you. Be open and honest with your team. Sometimes confidentiality is required, but seldom. Recall that Jesus spoke in parables, but then “privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” (Mk 4:34) Take your staff into your confidence. Remember, too, that your deeds will teach and shape everyone much more than your words.
3. Really listen – When you are given a leadership position, people will come to you with their concerns. If you make an effort to really listen — to their feelings and their concerns — you can build relationships in which you can help them respond effectively and improve their self-esteem. Jesus didn’t always give people what they wanted (Mt 20:20-28), but he listened to them and demonstrated that he cared about them.
4. Provide encouragement – When we’re busy – swamped! – often we take time only to offer criticism to our followers. Big mistake! Even if it’s constructive criticism, if that’s all followers hear from their leaders, they get discouraged, de-energized and reluctant to ever take any initiative. Recall how many times Jesus encouraged others – even the adulterer whose life he saved (Jn 8:3-11). Make time for what Ken Blanchard calls “one minute praisings.” Catch people doing good and honestly tell them how much you appreciate it. It’s amazing how much this will improve performance.
5. Don’t spread yourself too thin – Know and respect your limits even as you try to stretch them a bit. When you’re stressed, your cognitive and your relational skills both suffer. Work on trusting and delegating. Resolve to help people grow so they can help you more. But realize that you can’t do it all, you can’t do it by yourself, and you certainly can’t do everything today even with good help. Recall how despite the press of crowds and the needs of people desperately in need of cures he could provide, Jesus took time to rest and pray. (Lk 5:15-16) Be sure to do the same.
Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute