Why Study Leadership?

Discover why we need leadership and the sort of leaders we need to be.

by Dr Tim Hawkes

[4 minute read]


Why study leadership? Duh! Because we need leaders. And we need leaders who can do it better.

At the macro level, our leaders have not exactly covered themselves with glory. Think self-serving governments, state-sanctioned murder, Royal Commissions and the moral failure found in a number of our multinational companies.

Just as we warm to describing leadership failings at the macro level, we need to remind ourselves of leadership failings at the micro level. Delinquent parenting, domestic abuse, bullying and harassment, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, intolerance, untruthful tax returns, and a host of other moral infractions, show that we can also fail in leadership.

Most lead for various reasons. Some want to lead for personal gain. This can happen in congregations based on the cult of personality, rather than on the worship of God. This is hardly a new problem. Luke 9: 46-56 details a rather ugly spat between the disciples as to which of them was the greatest. This required Jesus to place a child in their midst. Later, in Luke 9:46- 56, Jesus gave His disciples another visual sermon of true leadership by engaging in “maundy” – the ritual washing of feet.

If the disciples were tempted to define leadership as status, it can hardly be surprising when we do. This is why we need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. We, as Christians, need to think of leadership differently. We need to lead ourselves, our families and our society so that all are brought into an understanding of God, a relationship with Christ and an infilling by the Holy Spirit. If we look at leadership in this way, it ceases to become narcissistic. It becomes a thrilling journey of service.

However, it’s not just heavenly dictates that call us to engage in authentic leadership. There are worthy human dictates too.  We need leaders to give direction, achieve goals and enable us to cope with threat, seize opportunities, build on strengths and eliminate weakness. In a fast-paced and bewildering world, we also need leaders to help us cope with change, complexity and diversity. In short, we need leadership – authentic leadership - in all spheres of our life, the spiritual and the secular.

In the secular, there’s been a realisation that administration didn’t tick our box, so we tried management. Then we found management didn’t stop the ice-cream melting, so we tried leadership. Now, we’re having a crack at authentic leadership.

We need to study leadership to work out our destiny and discover why it is God placed us on this earth. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said:

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.

God would agree. He gives us free will. So – what sort of person are you going to be? What sort of influence? What sort of leader?

Leadership can be great – and even greater if it’s not about ourselves, but about others. If leadership results in us being a ‘thought leader’ and ‘influencer’, then we’re contributing something to society. It stops us from limiting ourselves to the drowsy role of spectator. Too many like to escape the challenges of life and live a cushioned existence where we just watch.

We need the courage to develop a calling, a creed and a cause. There should be something in our lives that takes us away from a preoccupation with self. The egocentricity of the post-modern world needs to be countered, as does the current epidemic of narcissism.

A good remedy to narcissism is sacrificial service and engaging in leadership initiatives that exercise us in the area of empathy, compassion, justice, service and kindness.

In his book, Authentic Happiness, the American psychologist, Martin Seligman, suggests there were three ways to be happy.[1] You can be happy by having a:

  1. pleasant and enjoyable life,
  2. good life where you were able to exercise your ability and become absorbed in your work,
  3. meaningful life that allowed you to contribute positively to society.

This is not a bad definition of leadership.

An even better one is that true leadership is about loving God and our neighbours as ourselves. This revolutionary behaviour WILL make you a leader. Trust me! It cannot go unnoticed. It cannot go without influence. It cannot go without pleasing God.

[1] Seligman, M. (2003) Authentic Happiness, Hodder & Stoughton.