On Having the Right Stuff for Leadership

Leadership development emerged as a major theme, if not an industry after my seminary days in the early ‘60’s.   Back then nearly all we heard about was the SNL – the ‘strong natural leader.’   Leaders, we were led to believe, were born, not made.

Like many others of my so-called ‘silent generation’ (between the WWII ‘greatest generation’ and the Boomers) I began my career feeling inadequate compared to the larger-than-life iconic leaders we were tempted to emulate.

That’s a tough feeling to shake – never sure you were born with the right stuff.

Leadership development advocates turned that around.   Leaders are made, not born, claimed Warren Bennis in his book, “On Becoming A Leader.” Leadership, he taught, is a skill to be mastered.   Some have gone so far as to claim that everyone is or can become a leader.

The problem is that the dominant leadership image or model was, and remains to a large extent, an authoritative, self-centered CEO.

It was not until the early ‘70’ that we began to hear about another leadership model.   In “The Servant as Leader,” Robert Greenleaf, a former AT&T executive wrote about the need for a more humane, if not effective corporate leader—a servant leader rather than the ubiquitous command and control CEO leaders among us.

At first, leadership development studies were resisted in the faith community since some clergy leaders were inclined to behave like self-serving, autocratic CEOs rather than the servant example in their own traditions.

Which brings me to a February 27, report from the Catholic News Service, in which Pope Francis is quoted as saying that “bishops should act not like ambitious corporate executives, but humble evangelists and men of prayer, willing to sacrifice everything for their flocks.”

He went on to say, “We don’t need a manager, the CEO of a business, nor someone who shares our pettiness or low aspirations.”

His complaint is that the stereotypical self-serving CEO model of leadership is not working for clergy leaders.

In fact, that kind of leadership is not working anywhere – in business, the military, government, politics, or the public sector.

That’s what Robert Greenleaf was saying.

And that’s what Barbara Kellerman wrote about in her 2012 book, “The End of Leadership.”  Unfortunately, most CEO’s, she wrote, are “neither effective nor ethical.”

Servant leaders are needed as much in the corporate world as in faith communities.

I’m not sure that everyone can be or should even aspire to be a positional leader.

However, to the degree that anyone can serve, then perhaps anyone can lead.

4 Responses to “On Having the Right Stuff for Leadership”

  1. Bob Sloan Says:

    Good point Tom:

    In my experience I have seen dedicated nurses, selfless, committed, mission minded individuals who exhibit the servant attitude become leaders that have organizational wide influence. I have seen any number of individuals who lead by example no matter what their status in the organization might be. There can also be CEO’s who have a servant mentality that are effective leaders. Is it possible to have a top down organizational structure that provides clarity for communication and structure while at the same time having leaders at all levels of the organization? I think so and I think you can identify these leaders no matter the type of organization. Where trouble may develop is when you have an authoritarian leader who does not recognize and leadership style or person other than his or her own.

    Bob Sloan

  2. Tim Evans Says:

    Good words, Tom. I guess every leader probably inspires someone to be like them, regardless of the kind of leader that they are. The servant leader not only inspires people to be like them but they encourage, mentor, and invest themselves in the leaders they are inspiring.

  3. Gary Morsch Says:

    Excellent insights, Tom! Like Bob, I work in the healthcare environment, staffing emergency departments in hospitals across the Midwest. Through the process of hiring and managing hundred of physicians, I’ve come to realize that the best doctors are not necessarily the ones with the best credentials or the best training, or even the most technically skilled. The best doctors are those who approach patients and health care staff in the spirit of servanthood.

    Tom, you’ve given me some good material to use when I give the commencement address for the OU College of Medicine in May! Thanks for the help!

    Member, B.O.B.

  4. Jim Diehl Says:

    Concerning the discussion on “leaders are born, not made” or the opposite, “leaders are made, not born that way” I find myself believing it is some of each. The true leader must be born with some leadership capabilities. (You can see it even in children). But one also can LEARN TO BE A LEADER. It’s like two sides of the coin…..both “born & and made” are needed.

    The best part of your article is the emmphasis on ‘SERVANT LEADERSHIP”. I agree 100%. Like St. Peter wrote, “To the elders who are among you I exhort…….Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” Isn’t it interesting the scripture didn’t say, “…when the Chief CEO appears…….”. We’re called to be shepherd leaders, not CEO leaders. And true shepherds are servants!”