Leaders are Teachers
One of the most impactful books I read during seminary was Gary Bredfeldt's Great Leader, Great Teacher. In it, he makes the assertion that those who have the most influence in others are teachers, so if we are going to be good leaders we need to make sure we're good teachers. The idea of Leadership = Influence is nothing new, but for Bredfeldt this concept was the spark to look where influence is greatest: the shaping of the mind, heart, and actions for effective discipleship. That's what Romans 12:1-2 is after when it talks about being transformed by the renewal of our minds, if we want to see our influence in others, we need to make sure we're teaching well. If we want to teach (and then lead) well, we need to remember 6 things.
1. Make sure our life is in line with our teaching - Perhaps the biggest difference between biblical leadership and worldly leadership is that the foundation for biblical leadership is rooted in the character of the leader, rather than the content of the teaching. Anytime we step into a teaching role, in whatever size group, we need to make sure we've checked our heart and are in line with what God wants. James reminds us how important godly living is, because we as teachers will be held to a higher standard.
2. Teach from one Big Main Idea - One of the first times I preached I tried cramming in everything I had gotten from my study and preparation. Instead of wowing people, I had opened a fire hose on them. One guy said it best, "Man I didn't know we'd get a 2-for-1 today." I don't think he meant it as a compliment. When you prep your outline, start with one central, overarching, big idea. If you can't nail down one idea, you've got too much to work with. Andy Stanley in Communicating for a Change lays out a plan for a one-point sermon, and if you have more than one big main idea, then you have a sermon series! I always ask teachers if they can sum up their lesson in one concise sentence. If they can't, they need to revisit their lesson and sharpen it. The BMI should be memorable and drive home where you're going with your lesson/message.
3. Aim for the head, heart, and hands - When we teach and expect influence to happen, we can't just aim for one, we have to aim for all three. We want to aim our teaching towards increasing knowledge of God and the Word towards a biblical worldview (Head), we want an increased devotion and love for God & neighbor (Heart), and we want them to do something with what we've communicated (Hands). If we overemphasize one over the other, we bring the tension out of balance. We don't want eggheads with cold hearts, nor do we want overly-passionate biblical dummies, and we don't want over-eager servants who don't frame what they're doing in the Gospel.
4. Focus on takeoff, landing, and turbulence - I flew cross-country this year for my sister's wedding and the first thing my dad asked was "how was your flight?" I honestly couldn't answer, I spent most of it reading so nothing stood out, and I answered "fine." If we're honest, we want our flights to be boring and routine. But we do typically remember 3 parts in a flight, takeoff, landing, and turbulence. In teaching, takeoff is your introduction (or Hook), landing is your conclusion, and turbulence are the times in your lesson where you poke and prod the mind & heart. You need to carefully construct these in your preparation, even write it out fully to make sure you don't mess it up. I typically will put turbulence points in teaching where I want people to think or respond to what they're hearing. Landings are often the area we struggle with, we're like Indiana Jones "Fly? Yes. Land? No!" But our landings are just as important, so focus on strengthening conclusions that wrap up what you've said and drive home the Big Main Idea.
5. Get honest feedback - In case you're new to ministry, I'll let you in on a secret--unless you really screw it up, you won't get much feedback from people about your teaching. So recruit trusted people who can give you honest, constructive feedback geared towards improving your technique. The book Saving Eutychus is about evaluating preaching and improving it, and the authors have a feedback form to use.
6. Be you - I remember sitting in a teaching/preaching class in seminary and everyone tried to be the next John Piper in how they talked, prayed, and carried themselves, even using his lingo. The problem is, you're not Piper. You're not even a tuxedo t-shirt version of Piper. One of the most important things a teacher can do is figure out who they are (and who they're not), and be comfortable in their own skin. Some people are naturally funny, others aren't--and if you're not, don't try to be. Others are able to think on their feet and work with minimal notes, and some need detailed manuscripts and transition points. Whoever you are and whatever you're like, be you. Part of what makes teaching effective is the accessibility and transparency of the teacher. If you're trying to front or pretend you're someone you're not, it'll come off as hokey, forced, or fabricated.
Sports are a microcosm of life. We can watch what happens in a game and see a number of ways that applies to what we see on a daily basis. I firmly believe each major sport can show us some specific things about leadership. The NFL teaches us how important culture is in an organization for success. MLB teaches us about chemistry within a team and what separates good teams from great ones. The NBA gives us the perspective of personality and its impact on leadership. In no other sport do superstars and individual players carry as much weight and importance as they do in the NBA.
That became obvious this morning when the Houston Rockets dismissed legendary player Kevin McHale as their coach, just 11 games into the season. In the NBA, players have all the weight. That's why superstar players get consulted before the draft, coaches are little more than babysitters (see Kobe vs Shaq feud in LA), and owners almost always side with the player when there is a locker room divided. Entire organizations revolve around the personality of a few people, and that ripple effect has the potential to be incredibly healthy and successful (Tim Duncan & Spurs, Steph Curry & Warriors, or LeBron & Heat/Cavs), or destructive and dysfunctional (Carmelo & Nuggets/Knicks, Kobe & Lakers, or the entire Washington Wizards from 2002-2011).
Personality matters in leadership for 3 reasons.
1. Personality shapes who belongs in the organization - An organization that is centered around a "me-first" personality type will do one of two things: it will discourage and ultimately frustrate "team-first" leaders who will leave to escape the circus, and it will handicap an organization based on the whims of the dominant personality. The team can never move beyond the limitations and challenges because there has been an empowering of a dysfunctional leader. Whether that's a pastor who has to be the center of attention or a small group leader who only allows a certain class of people in, "me-first" mindsets lead to a downward cycle. On the other hand, a "team-first" leader who surrounds themselves with other "team-first" leaders can have a lasting impact because the organization is built by people who care more about collective success than individual glory.
2. Personality is contagious - Last year in the NBA, two players were traded from a team with a "me-first" player (Carmelo) to a team with a "team-first" player (LeBron). Those players when traded away had a transformed season of productivity, which led to a Finals appearance. The difference? The personality of the team was contagious. When a team buys into the personality of the key leader that is focused on the success of others, that attitude spreads like a cold in a preschool--quickly. That's why negative people need to be kept away from key positions of leadership, because the personality and attitude can infect an entire organization.
3. Personality is something you can't coach - I firmly believe a lot about leadership and effectively advancing a ministry or organization can be taught, that it's rooted in the development of some specific skills and qualities (you can read Dream Teams for more about that). But what can't be taught is how a person is wired and how they perceive and discern what is around them. For that, it has to come from within. A leader has to make the commitment at the heart level to be a positive, team-first personality. Ministries that emphasize this in their hiring, evaluation, and deployment processes are ministries that create a climate where the momentum multiplies the attitude of collective success and accomplishment.
What would you add to the idea of personality and leadership? Especially as you see it in ministry contexts?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.