After a short overview of leadership study I will provide some practical applications for men and women in all walks of life and interests.
The study of leadership as we know it today is a rather recent phenomena. For much of human history the dominant perspective on how to learn about leadership revolved around studying great individual leaders. Thus, the mentoring or apprenticeship or disciple approach flourished. Those who were privileged to understudy some great leader were marked by that relationship.
Students of the Bible can immediately think of how Joshua learned from Moses, Elisha from Elijah, the Disciples from Jesus, Paul from Gamaliel, and Timothy and Titus from Paul. This approach is as strong as the leader who is the mentor. Yet, very few people can learn about leading in such a way for such great leaders are both rare and in high demand.
Students of history can obviously benefit greatly from the reading of biographies. To not reflect on the lives of great leaders is to miss a valuable resource for leader development. A goal of reading or listening to at least one biography a year would go a long way to enhance leadership. Two readable compilations of great Christian biographies are: From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth Tucker and More than Conquerors by John Woodbridge.
Around 1960 the study of leadership became an academic focus with ever growing insights through research. Why are some leaders more effective than others? What qualities do the most impactful leaders embody? How are good organizations led? What does it take to motivate followers to give their best? Although many leaders are not motivated to discover the answers to such questions through personal study, all leaders will benefit from the answers. Two readable compilations of insightful articles on leadership are: Leader to Leader by Hesselbein & Cohen and The Leader’s Companion by Wren.
Intrinsic to being a disciple is being a learner. In fact, I question how a follower of Jesus can commit to anything less than life-long learning since the Holy Spirit is committed to life-long transformation. Intrinsic to being a leader is being a teacher. Whether one leads informally in the home, neighborhood, school, workplace or formally through some organizational role, every leader teaches. We teach through our words and our actions, through what we say and do as well as what we don’t say and don’t do. Every leader is being watched.
An illustration might help. A professor at a certain college was known by his students as being an avid studier. The light in his room, which could be seen from outside his campus residence, was on late into the night and early in the morning. One day a few students asked this professor why he continued to study so much when he already knew more than most people would ever know. His response has challenged my life in such a way that I have never recovered. The professor said, “I would rather have my students drink from a fresh flowing stream than from a stagnant pool.”
Learning and teaching are vital components of leading. How fresh is your learning? What have you learned in the last week/month that has gripped you? How fresh is your teaching? What teaching topic have you revised recently to incorporate new insights you have gained?
We can and should study leaders and leadership so we intentionally grow is in our ability to lead. Thankfully some people are inclined to study these topics in greater depth through ongoing research. If you are one of those kind of students, share your insights—we need to learn from you. If you learn more experientially, share your insights as well—we need to see new ways of leading well. Approaches to leadership might be rooted in the past but they must be lived in the present. Show and tell someone what you have newly learned about leading.