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Five essential leadership skills

Opinions differ regarding leadership skills. In his book, Mind of a Manager-Soul of a Leader, Craig R. Hickman discusses the differences between managers and leaders. Managers pursue the same strategies indefinitely. Leaders formulate new strategies regularly. Managers strive for stability and prefer little change. Leaders thrive in crisis and need change. Managers focus on tangible short-term results and performance. Leaders strive for intangible long-term results (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1992, p. 20). Both managers and leaders are essential. Successful organizations integrate both into their programs.

In his book, The Top Ten Mistakes Leader Make, Hans Finzel said today's leaders have five problems:

  1. They replicate the poor leadership skills of others.
  2. They lack basic skills for leadership.
  3. They lack good mentors.
  4. They lack formal leadership training.
  5. They are unable to distinguish between secular and biblical leadership values (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1994, p. 17).

Whether you are a manager or a leader, five leadership skills are essential.

1. Personal management skills. Leaders must manage their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs. If this is neglected, they endanger themselves, their families, their followers, and the cause of Christ. The apostle Paul told Timothy that leaders should manage their own lives, homes, and affairs before leading others (1 Timothy 3:4,5).

Servant leaders know success is impossible without sacrifice and character. Success without sacrifice produces arrogance and laziness. Success without character is short-lived. God's leaders develop character through managing and disciplining themselves. Mahatma Gandhi identified seven deadly sins:

  1. Wealth without work
  2. Pleasure without conscience
  3. Knowledge without character
  4. Business without ethics
  5. Science without humanity
  6. Religion without sacrifice
  7. Politics without principle (Covey, Stephen R., Principle-Centered Leadership; New York: Summit Books, 1991, p. 87).

Through personal management skills, servant leaders find wisdom, inner strength and God's anointing.

2. Interpersonal relationship skills. "Fifteen percent of the reason you get a job, keep a job, and move ahead in that job is determined by your technical skills and knowledge--regardless of your profession. The other 85 percent has to do with your people skills and people knowledge. These are the skills of understanding themselves and others and how to relate in a positive and influential manner." People like to be treated in five ways:

  1. They want to feel valued. John Dewey, a leader in American educational philosophy, said, "The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important." Antagonistic relationships devalue people. People are not problems or interruptions--they are opportunities. Transformation only comes through meaningful relationships.
  2. They want to be heard. Jard DeVille said, "The key to a successful parish leadership lies with interpersonal relationships. Without a knowledge of how humans are motivated and interact with one another and the flexibility to apply people skills appropriately, no minister or lay-leader can be truly effective" (Pastor's Handbook on Interpersonal Relationships. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986, pp. 14, 15).
  3. They want to be appreciated. William James said, "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving for appreciation." Victor Hugo stated, "Man lives more by affirmation than by bread." Affirmation and praise are powerful forms of appreciation. They create a bond between people. Servant leaders affirm others by speaking words of life (Proverbs 11:9; 18:21).
  4. They want to be encouraged. A 10-year-old boy worked in a factory in Naples. He desired to be a great singer, but his first teacher discouraged him: "You can't sing. You have no voice at all. It sounds like the wind in the shutters." This boy's peasant mother encouraged him to work hard. She went barefoot to save money for his music lessons. Her belief and praise encouraged him to pursue his dream. His name? Enrico Caruso, one of the greatest operatic tenors of all time.
  5. They want to experience empathy. We are to weep and laugh with those who weep and laugh (Romans 12:15). The kingdom of God is a kingdom of right relationships. Jesus helped the woman at the well because He cared about her (John 4). When she sensed His empathy, the message of truth transformed her life. Servant leaders empathize with the people they serve.

3. Motivational skills. Motivational skills help servant leaders influence others through vision, faith, courage, and example. The communicate the vision so it becomes shared.

Leaders must also have a sense of direction. Without this they cannot inspire vision in others. To discover and implement vision, follow these eight steps:

  1. Set aside time with God and His Word.
  2. Define your aspirations.
  3. Evaluate your strengths and limitations.
  4. Discuss your dreams with key leaders.
  5. Develop strategies and schedules.
  6. Solicit support from supervisors and associates.
  7. Act upon the vision.
  8. Renew through confirmation and nurturing.

Father Theodore Hesburgh said, "It's got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet." Servant leaders blow a certain trumpet--people know who they're following and where they're going.

Strategy is also significant. Without strategy you will exhaust your resources. A vision without a strategy is futile. It has been said, "What lies behind and what lies beyond holds little significance when compared to what lies within. It all begins with me."

4. Personnel equipping skills. Building, empowering, and developing people are personnel equipping skills. Research indicates certain job aspects bring more satisfaction. The top six responses were:

  1. Doing something that makes me feel good about myself
  2. Accomplishing something worthwhile
  3. Learning new things
  4. Developing new skills
  5. Freedom to do my job
  6. Doing things I'm good at

Getting paid ranked 12th out of 18.

Servant leaders help others develop their gifts and skills. They mentor people. Common characteristics of good mentors are:

  1. The ability to see potential in a person
  2. Tolerance of mistakes in order to see potential develop
  3. Flexibility in responding to people
  4. Knowing time and experience are needed for development
  5. Seeing the next step people need to take
  6. Exercising their gifts and abilities to encourage others (Stanley, Paul, and Robert Clinton, Connecting, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1992, p. 38)

5. Administrative skills. Administrators establish a ministry philosophy, set goals, plan strategies and organize people and tasks to work effectively together.

Poor administrative skills include:

  1. Confusion about direction
  2. Disagreements about priorities
  3. Duplication of efforts
  4. Wasted resources
  5. Conflicts among departments
  6. Poor morale
  7. Poor productivity
  8. Job insecurity

On a scale of 1 to 7 evaluate your administrative skills using the following statements:

  1. I involve my workers in goal-setting, problem-solving, and ministry improvement activities.
  2. Each worker knows what I expect of him.
  3. I emphasize planning, organizing, motivating, and delegating.
  4. When delegating work, I thoughtfully select the assignee.
  5. I stress desired results, not how to accomplish the task.
  6. When delegating work, I give necessary details for success.
  7. When problems arise, I give necessary details for success.

Servant leader skills require continual development. As we develop our God-given skills, let's allow the Holy Spirit to empower and anoint us. Be the kind of leader people want to follow, and God is pleased to use.


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