If you were to come up with a list of the three most important characteristics a leader should possess, what would those three be? A degree? Business experience? Excellent managerial skills?
When looking back at the lives and legacies of the apostles, the fifth-century archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (who was nicknamed "The Golden Tongue" for his excellent speaking abilities), stated:
"What need could they have of my tongue? Their own struggles surpass our moral nature. The prizes they won go beyond our powers and understanding. They laughed at life lived on earth; they trampled underfoot the punishment of the rack; they scorned death and took wing to heaven; they escaped with them no gold or silver or expensive garments; they carried along no treasure which could be plundered, but the riches of patience, courage, and love."
Did you catch that? The three fundamental leadership attributes that Chrysostom saw when looking back at the apostles were patience, courage and love. These were the three characteristics that the apostles possessed that helped launch a worldwide movement. This isn't to deny or downplay the role of the Holy Spirit. However, it would seem that the years that Jesus spent mentoring his disciples were spent teaching them these three things.
So over the next few blog posts I want to spend some time unpacking each attribute and seeing how we can grow in these three essential skills. I am utterly convinced that if a leader possesses these traits, they will be well on their way to being truly great leaders.
By the way, you should check out Brian Shelton's great book on the apostles Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing Their Lives and Legacy. His book is what got me thinking about the leadership qualities of the apostles. We have a podcast coming out in a few weeks that will further unpack these ideas.
How about you? What leadership traits do you have in your top 3? Comment below!
In the final two chapters of Reading for Preaching, Cornelius Plantinga deals more concretely with how reading gives us wisdom on different aspects of life and sin and grace. He quotes Joseph Epstein who writes,
“From the study of literature we learn that life is sad, comic, heroic, vicious, dignified, ridiculous, and endlessly amusing sometimes by turns, sometimes all at once, but never more grotesquely amusing than when a supposedly great thinker comes along to insist that he has discovered and nattily formulated the single key to its understanding.”
Literature gives us life in all of its varied beauty. As leaders, we should read good literature so that we can learn how to deal with the complexity of life. Life cannot be understood or “formulated”—we are complex creatures living complicated lives.
I have noticed that this is where many younger leaders struggle—everything seems black and white. What is worse, many of our leadership works suggest that there is simply ONE paradigm to understanding business, life, spirituality etc. We suggest that if you do “these five things” you “too can experience success.”
I would also suggest that sometimes our “Gospel-centered” preaching or teaching can often times become unvaried and not take into account the complexities of life. This is unintentional since the Gospel is broad enough to handle any variedness in life. Our preaching, teaching and leading must take into account that life is difficult and sometimes there are no good or easy answers. The Gospel is alive—but just as God incarnated into our brokenness so also our Gospel preaching, teaching and leading must “take on flesh” within the lives of our hearers.
But this takes a substantial amount of work on our part. It is far easier for us to use low-hanging fruit in our illustrations and application. I do this—it is easier to use personal illustrations or family illustrations in my teaching. That is easier than me mining literature, articles or film for better, more tangible, grittier examples.
And here Plantinga offers us the hack—read literature. This requires discipline of course. If you aren’t a reader or are extremely busy, it may not seem worth it. But I think it is. If nothing else, Plantinga’s book has given us a glimpse of what reading can do. Perhaps the most important thing reading does is help us grow as leaders by forcing us to consider different perspective and develop empathy. Good literature creates a Gospel-awareness that tune our hearts and minds to our culture.
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed about the prospect of developing good reading habits and don’t know where to even begin. I can help. You can take a look on how I read books and how I manage my time to read more. Second, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter. If you sign up now, I’ll send you a free “Reading for Leading” genre schedule. It lists a specific genre to read each month so that you can grow as a reader and as a leader.
Also, consider buying Reading for Preaching because I really just skimmed the surface of what this great book has to offer.
It should come as no surprise that I advocate the reading of theology and theologians for Christian leaders, whether you are leading a church or a business or running your home. I think we have often neglected looking at Christian theologians as mature thinkers about leadership. Part of the reason for this is because they themselves did not often write about "leadership." You will not find in their writings "8 Ways to Be a Better Leader" nor do they talk about "Creating a winning culture." Nevertheless, I think they offer reflections on these issues that are more mature, Gospel-centered and robust then many leadership books today.
This isn't to say that you cannot learn from modern works of leadership. I personally have benefitted greatly from many (and you can take a look at some of those works here). But I think we do ourselves a disservice when we only focus on those works to the neglect of time-tested works by leaders of yesterday. This is what Theologian of the Boss is all about--connecting you to voices you may have not heard before as a leader. Today I want to offer a few reasons you should consider reading more widely as a reader.
*Note: You should DEFINITELY check out the fantastic book Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in conversation with storytellers, biographers, poets, and journalists by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Much of what I will be talking about the next few days is drawn from this wonderful book. While he specifically is talking to preachers, I think his advice is good for anyone in a position of leadership--teachers, homemakers, CEOs, bloggers, podcasters...you get the point.*
Buy the book here!
1. Reading Widely Helps You Bridge Contexts
Empathy is such an important tool to possess as a leader. No one wants to be completely disconnected from the experiences of their team. The reality is, however, that you cannot possibly experience everything that an individual on your team experiences. Cornelius Plantinga quotes Adrian Piper saying,
"if you say as a man that you cannot imagine what it would be like for a woman to be raped or that as a white person in a majority white culture you cannot imagine what it's like to be racially taunted, then maybe you are humble and realistic."
He goes on to say,
"On the other hand, maybe your ignorance is due only to a cool lack of interest. Maybe you do not care to read literature, view paintings, listen to requiems, or partake in any other 'literary and artistic products designed precisely to instruct us' about the exigencies of lives other than our own. Ignorance of the literary and fine arts is thus a serious sin of omission."
As a leader you have the responsibility to read so that you can bridge the contexts of those on your team.
2. Reading Widely Helps Draw People In
It is very easy for me to isolate people when I speak in abstract terms about anything. I can wax poetic all day long about virtue and ethics, but unless I provide some concrete examples of how to navigate the complexities of the modern world, my words will often fall on deaf ears. Part of this has to do with how we learn. Simply put, we tend to think in pictures and visual imagery sticks with us longer. Reading widely can help you with that. For instance, reading poetry can enlarge your vocabulary or give you different word pictures to draw upon. Reading biography allows you to use others as moral examples or illustrations that highlight a particular virtue (or vice). Some of the best theologians were experts in using illustrations to highlight their points. One of my favorite theologians who had the propensity of taking dense theology and making it come alive with great illustrations was the puritan Thomas Watson. He is a great example of someone who read widely and used his illustrations to draw people in.
3. Reading Widely Helps Stoke the Parts of Your Heart Gone Cold
The more you read in just one area, the more you adopt the thoughts and observations of that particular field. For instance, if you are used to reading leadership books written from the past two years, you will pick up the ways of talking, thinking and analyzing reality from the past two years. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think that developing as a writer, speaker or thinker requires us to try on the shoes of those we respect and practice sounding like them. In other words, imitating truly great writers helps us grow as leaders.
However, by reading in just one field we allow other parts of our heart grow colder. If we read analytical leadership books, we can lose sight of the poetic nature of leading itself. If we are constantly immersing ourselves in books on entrepreneurship, we may see our ability to imagine begin to wane. We can combat this by reading widely in poetry, literature and excellent essays. You may be surprised to see that you view and approach problems differently as a result.
And if you are interested in getting book recommendations don't forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter. As someone destined to be a bibliophile, I try to read as widely as possible and hope to pass on to you some of the great books I've discovered. You can sign up here.
This post may contain affiliate links.
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.