I recently took an online assessment evaluating my leadership styles. The results didn't surprise me. But my initial reaction did.
I've taken leadership tests and evaluations in the past, so I know how they usually work. They shape a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, giving us a boost of encouragement in the areas where we do well, and dispensing a healthy dose of reality in the areas where we lag. But they shouldn't typecast us. Just because I rate strongly as an administrative leader one day doesn't mean I can't be called to become a visionary leader the next. Assessments merely provide guidance; they do not cement our destiny.
Yet I can't help but read into results. It's just my nature, and I suspect it's the same way for a lot of other people. The descriptions and rating criteria for this particular assessment were based on a Leadership journal article written several years ago by Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Community Church's founding and senior pastor. It isn't scientific, nor is it meant to be, but I respect the veteran perspective Hybels brings to any discussion on leadership. I feel reasonably good about the insightfulness of this assessment's results.
Which brings me to my reaction: I scored strongest as an encouraging leader.
While it wasn't a surprise - in a recent Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my personality almost perfectly fits the traits of Hybels's encouraging leader - it was a disappointment. Big time. At first, anyway.
Here's why: In terms of the leadership landscape, my style is a lot less sexy than others. When is the last time you saw - in a secular or Christian setting - a best-selling book focused on the effective practices of the encouraging leader? The irrefutable laws of encouragement leadership? Better yet, try to think of a book written by a well-renowned leader best known for their encouragement savvy?
They're not out there, and if they are, I've missed them. The leadership "industry" of the past 30 years has paid most of its attention to the visionary leaders, the entrepreneurial leaders, the ones who blaze new trails, take new risks, and lead people to successful, unprecedented heights.
Encouragement is always considered an attribute of a leader on the road to that success, but rarely, if ever, is it portrayed as the dominant one. In most of the prevailing writing and discussion, encouragement gets listed as one trait among many, one tool on the toolbelt of the visionary or entrepreneur. We don't see it portrayed the other way around - an encouraging leader who uses the tools of vision or entrepreneurship to guide a team or organization to success.
That's why I initially reacted with a tinge of disgust to my assessment's results. Encouragement? It sounds so passive. The industry says it's visionaries, entrepreneurs, and risk-takers who get the jobs done, and move on to bigger and better things. Not encouragers. They might be on a leadership team, but they stand on the sidelines, cheering on the visionary leader at the helm.
I stewed on this for a while. And then that still, small voice whispered to me. Who cares what the industry says? What am I telling you to do?
As I looked deeper, I was reminded of the powerful role encouragement played to Paul and those around him during his conversion in Acts 9. I thought of Romans 12, the oft-quoted passage about the very important gifts in the body of Christ (including encouragement, in Romans 12:8), and how no one gift ranks higher than another.
These thoughts not only helped settle my mind, but they also reinvigorated my confidence. As I reflect on my leadership traits, I really do thrive as a leader when I know I pour into those I'm leading. I like knowing they are challenged to accomplish our bigger goals. I like giving the occasional loving kick in the pants when something needs to get done. And I often feel a deep, inner satisfaction - a confirmation from the Holy Spirit, I believe - whenever I provide the encouraging word or note that gives them that last little edge to complete the job.
I really value relationships; it means a lot to me to personally thank people when they help my team or me. Why succeed if we steamroll people in the process? It only matters if we accomplish our goals, while seeing to it that those who help with that success find themselves drawn closer to God - or ministered to because they saw God in action by the way we treated them.
I can cast vision; I can take risks; I can manage a project and see things through to completion. But I know my strongest leadership style is to encourage, boosting the team to get the job done while using those other leadership styles as tools on my toolbelt.
So if you're not a visionary or an entrepreneur, or you find yourself lost amidst the seemingly unending parade of leadership books and resources explaining how to lead as a visionary or entrepreneur, then take heart. There are others out there feeling the same way. Pay close attention to why your style fits you. Disregard what you think the industry tells you to be. Embrace the way God designed you as a leader.
Matthew Branaugh is Editor of the Church Law & Tax Team at Christianity Today. He leads an award-winning team of editors and designers with the planning, creation, and publishing of the Church Law & Tax Report and Church Finance Today print newsletters; ChurchLawAndTax.com; ManagingYourChurch.com; five eNewsletters; and numerous print and digital resources. One of his favorite job duties is to interact with church leaders from across the country.
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