Which of These 3 Leadership Delusions Have You Embraced?


by Joseph M. Stowell, adapted from his book Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders, now in softcover for the first time.

Delusion 1: Outcomes are the primary measure of success.

The more a person accomplishes, the better the chances are that they will be hailed as a great leader. Leadership books support this delusion by touting the priority of setting goals and objectives with little or no reference to the importance of the character of a leader. It is easy for a leader to follow the advice and generate admirable outcomes . . . with little thought of caring for who they are at the core, of how they have led, or of celebrating the minions in the hold of the ship who are pulling on the oars of the enterprise.

This “externals trumps internals” delusion seemed evident as well when I listened to a discussion on the importance of being authentic. In my mind, authenticity is one of the character qualities of effective leadership, so the topic drew me in. To my surprise, the conversation centered on the thought that authenticity is simply being who you are and expecting that others will accept you that way.

That seemed strange to me. As a follower of Christ, I have always thought that authenticity means living up to who I claim to be in Christ. Which means that I am not satisfied with who I am in the raw. Living up to who I claim to be in Christ requires that I desire to change, to humbly repent, to admit my faults and failures, and to be open to have my life sharpened by others who live more consistently like Jesus than I do.

Delusion 2: Great outcomes affirm God’s approval.

I recall talking with a highly acclaimed leader about an aspect of his life that had come into question. He dismissed my concern by responding that his ministry and preaching had never been more effective. He was under the delusion that God’s positive work through him affirmed that God was pleased with him and his life.

Actually, it’s possible that his success may have had little to do with God’s approval, but rather was a reflection of God’s amazing patience and his unending passion to bless his people in spite of the leader’s behavior.

God is always concerned about how we do what we do. [See the story of Moses striking the rock in anger in Numbers 20:1-12.]

Delusion 3: The size of the enterprise validates the success of the leader.

This past Easter, I attended a small church in rural Michigan. The pastor has served there for the last eighteen years. I watched the pastor relate to the people and marveled at the connectivity, love, and pastoral concern that he demonstrated. According to friends who attend his church, his life and loving leadership of the flock has given him not only a platform of influence with his people but also a place of influence in the community at large. His leadership style makes Jesus and Christianity an attractive reality.

Leaders like this inspire me. I admire them. With little or no recognition, they bloom for Jesus where they are planted. I am confident their outcomes will be some of heaven’s great stories.

I sometimes think about the great “awards assembly” we will have one day in heaven. The Bible tells us that there will come a day when Jesus will publicly recognize those who have served him faithfully (1 Cor. 3:10 – 15). Though I might like to imagine myself sitting in the front row with my name at the top of the program, the truth is that the greatest rewards will likely be for those who have labored in obscurity, men and women you have never heard about. As Francis Schaeffer once wrote: “. . . with God there are no small people and no small places.” Those who faithfully lead with character in the “small” places — the unlikely, unnoticed leaders — may not gain acclaim in this life, but great will be their reward in heaven.

Ultimately, all of us who are called to lead will make a choice about what kind of leader we will be. An outcome-driven leader whose glory is in the organizational outcomes, or a character-driven leader whose approach to leadership is an unlikely, counterintuitive radically different pattern of influence? The choice will determine two radically different styles and two radically different outcomes. Jesus speaks to these styles and outcomes in two poignant passages.

— Joseph M. Stowell, Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders. Read on in Redefining Leadership to see how Jesus defines leadership.

How to Use This Book

What makes a leader great? Find biblical answers in Redefining Leadership.

This is “a revolutionary and life-shaping book,” writes Scot McKnight, “rooted not in outcome-based theories about leadership but in theology — a kingdom-saturated and gospel-based theology where the leader is first a follower whose character is transformed by God’s grace. The revolution of this book is that God’s transformation of us makes us God’s kingdom leaders, and this is just the kind of leadership we need today. Five stars!”

“Joe knows leadership,” adds John Ortberg. “And he knows what the Bible says about leading. He’s a guide worth following.”

Buy the Book to Learn More

Redefining Leadership by Joseph M Stowell

Redefining Leadership
By Joseph M. Stowell

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