Core Concepts of Leadership

I have found there is no such thing as hard and fast rules when it comes to leadership. Leadership is an art form as much as it is science. Every organization, circumstance, and leadership opportunity may call for a distinctive course of action. Some would describe this as situational leadership.

What are the core concepts of leadership? My current thinking is listed below. I have even attempted to place them in an order of importance.

1. Emotional Health. Emotional health is concerned with such things as: naming, recognizing, and managing our own feelings; identifying with and having active compassion for others; initiating and maintaining close and meaningful relationships; breaking free from self-destructive patterns; being aware of how our past impacts our present; developing the capacity to express our thoughts and feelings clearly, both verbally and nonverbally; respecting and loving others without having to change them; asking for what we need, want, or prefer clearly, directly, and respectfully; accurately self-assessing our strengths, limits, and weaknesses and freely sharing them with others; learning the capacity to resolve inevitable conflict maturely, and negotiate solutions that consider the perspectives of others; distinguishing and appropriately expressing our sexuality and sensuality; and grieving well. Effective leaders, first and foremost, model the capacities listed above and then they develop a learning system within their organization to assist members in measuring and growing in emotional health. (In a Christian organization, this would be an essential component of the discipleship process. In my opinion this critical piece of discipleship has been severely over-looked in the Church.)

2. Life-Long Learning. With the meteoric advance of technology there is an accompanying realization that formal learning, typically concentrated in the earlier stages of life, can no longer sustain an individual or organization throughout their lifecycle. Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, describes this concept as developing a learning community. Senge defines a learning community as one that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future. Other definitions include:

  • An organization that achieves its goals by providing an environment conducive to the continuous learning and development of individuals, teams, and the organization.
  • An organization in which people at all levels individually and collectively are continually increasing their capacity to produce the results they really care about.
  • An organization that when a mistake is made notices the mistake, fixes it, figures out what caused the problem and corrects the root cause.

3. Developmental Empowerment. This concept is related, or we might say, the outcome of the previous two concepts. Developmental empowerment encourages and supports the importance of human responsibility in both the development and the interactive nature of growth. Developmental empowerment encourages growth in stages, looks for and quantifies evidences that accompany transformations from stage to stage, and understands the process as being lifelong, with milestones representing fundamental change. Committed to holism, developmental empowerment sees all aspects of life influencing and interacting with each other. This is a distinct shift for most organizations (including the church).

4. Calculated Delegation. Delegation is both a word and a skill that we have all heard of, yet few understand well. Effective delegation can be a dynamic tool for motivating and training team members to realize their full potential. Artful delegation underpins a style of management that allows staff members to use and develop their gifts, callings, and passion to full potential. Delegation is primarily about entrusting our authority to others, granting authority equal to responsibility.

5. Strategic Mapping. Members of an organization are more able to adapt to changes if there is a generated map of intent laid out (a map is generally more flexible than a plan). Mapping is crucial in effective leadership because it provides the organization with a direction and quantitative means to achieve its goals. Effective leaders initiate the mapping process and exert effort in communicating those plans as clearly (and redundantly) as possible.

These five principles: emotional health, life-long leadership, developmental empowerment, calculated delegation, and strategic mapping are all important in improving leadership skills. But these are not enough. The success of leadership will ultimately depend on the way we recognize our organization’s needs and how we can adapt our leadership style to those needs. In the same way that we would evaluate our team’s performance, also regularly evaluate and reflect on our own. Only you can tell what appropriate leadership is for your situation.

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