Follow my leader

We have had a major, and vigorous, discussion on under the title of “Was Peter the right choice?” It induces me to write this week on the nature of leadership.

I start by distinguishing between leadership and management. They are not only not the same, they run in different channels altogether. The manager is concerned with the efficient working of established processes; he thinks about the now: the leader is concerned with the future; he thinks about the direction of travel. From this bare contrast one rightly infers that the manager works at a detailed level, and the leader is by nature a visionary. In many instances the leadership and management are found under the same hat, and they are uneasy companions. In large organisations they will usually be different people, and the leader may well be paid 10 times the manager’s salary. And, golly, he or she is worth it – because a leader is a rara avis and makes or breaks an enterprise. Whereas managers are, if not two a penny, certainly of a lower currency.

Leadership comes in different guises, so I cannot write confidently of a typical leader, but a quick view of Bernard Montgomery may help. This was a man who had vision, and no one in the Eighth Army had any doubts about it. And the vision was concrete: developed through a study of military tactics, backed by meticulous intelligence – right down to hanging a portrait of Rommel in his tent – and planned for the detailed disposition of men and matériel.

He had a ruthlessness which infuriated his superiors and inspired his men. He demanded from High Command the resources without which he would not go to war, and he infected his soldiers with his determination and confidence. He loved them – after all, a private soldier had given his life to tend his wounds in the Great War. He trusted his troops and they trusted him. It is interesting that the account of Julius Caesar given by Suetonius shows important characteristics in common.

A leader needs a good practical intelligence. It need not be an academic one; indeed, academics are often distracted by seeing too many sides to a question, while the leader needs to focus on the essential points. But, almost by definition, leadership intelligence requires the originality to grasp possibilities that more conventional minds might miss. He has what is often called “helicopter” vision; this enables him to review a wide range of information and a capacity to spot future trends and circumstances.

He must of course be prepared to take risks and he will do so when the probability and rewards of success look right. While being aware in the back of his mind that he is far from infallible he must be a confident optimist if his people are to be inspired by him. And, more often than not, he must be right. An unsuccessful leader has a limited future. Rewards are high but the chasms are deep.

His basic and most important function is to identify the few (and they are often not more than two or three) essential elements for the success of the enterprise. He does not have to blazon these in great mission statements, but he does have to live them out. For example, if he has identified customer satisfaction as a key factor he will communicate this not so much by empty statements as by visibly testing decisions and recommendations against this characteristic. His followers will cotton on very quickly.

In fact, much of his leadership is likely to be communicated in informal contact and conversations. Unless circumstances require radical change, he will work by shaping rather than by diktat. But to do this effectively he must have excellent communication skills both to impart his message and to listen to the messages he hears. He knows that his people will accept even unpopular change when they know that their difficulties have been understood. And he will know that people who have contributed, if only in a minor way, to the shaping of a decision will own it, and so make it work.

But he will not become “one of the boys” because he is not one of them, and that is why his salary is 10 times higher. He needs to preserve a definite level of difference if he is to capitalise on our evolved tendency to follow and defer to authority. If you want to know who is the real boss in a group of executives, identify the person that they all look at. Equivalently if you want to identify the alpha male in an animal pack, the one they watch will tell you.

Charisma is an overused word, but there is no doubt that the halo which surrounds a revered leader is significant. An interesting study, published this year, by Norman Levene of the University of Tennessee, suggests that the common qualities of leadership are attributes such as empathy, good listening skills, eye contact, enthusiasm, self-confidence and skilful speaking. And the general belief was that these characteristics were not necessarily native but could be learned. My own view is that it helps to start with good material and then to develop it.

What has this, if anything, to do with the Christian life? Professor Ronald Brech, one of the great management consultants of our time, told me that he would often start his lectures by slapping a New Testament on the table and saying: “All you need to know about leadership is written in that book.”

You might like to look at leadership as taught and exercised by Christ, and see to what extent the principles I have briefly listed match with him. And tell us what you think.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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8 Responses to Follow my leader

  1. John Nolan says:

    Quentin, I wish you had chosen a better example than Bernard Law Montgomery. His talent for self-advertisement exceeded his military talents, and he had the nasty tendency of capitalizing on the achievements of others while simultaneously denigrating them and then claiming all the credit for himself. The Germans summed him up accurately as being ‘over-cautious, habit-ridden and systematic’. He enjoyed the support of Churchill, a notoriously bad judge of character (witness the latter’s adulation of the American Mark Clark, another vainglorious mountebank) and was idolized by the British press, but the Eighth Army was less enthusiastic about him. His one strategic initiative was Arnhem, and we all know how that turned out. British generals in the last war were a pretty uninspiring lot, with the exception of Bill Slim, and cannot hold a candle to their Great War counterparts such as Byng, Plumer or (dare I say it) Douglas Haig.

  2. Quentin says:

    John Nolan, I bow to your knowledge in these matters. There is an inevitably difficulty in giving a live example — which may be the only way to cover a broad canvass with a small wordage. The example must be well known, and the relevant characteristics prominent. The characteristics may mean that the example turns out not to be the sort of eprson with whom you would want to share a cup of tea. But if the use of Montgomery also contains the message that leaders are not always likeable people, then it does no harm

  3. John Nolan says:

    Sorry, Quentin , I take your point but this medium does encouage a tendency to be over-critical, waspish, and opinionated; I have identified these faults and intend to remedy them before Easter.

    When it comes to leadership, it is very difficult to define it; Bonaparte was very profligate with the lives of his men but they would still follow him. Wellington knew that he could not afford to squander his manpower resources, yet in spite of his aloofness his soldiers recognized his qualities, and a successful commander cannot go too far wrong with his subordinates. In 1853 Lord Cardigan was possibly the most reviled man in England, and in modern terms would be regarded as almost a psychopath, but he was popular with his men, who called him “Jim the Bear” and famously after the charge of the Light Brigade when he said “men, it was a mad-brained trick, but no fault of mine” replied: “Never mind, my Lord, we are ready to go again”.

    There is, as you point out, a distinction between man-management and leadership. A proper leader takes full responsibility when things go tits-up even if the blame lies with his subordinates – that’s why you wear the pips, that’s what you’re paid for. I have known otherwise excellent officers come to grief by forgetting this crucial maxim. Sadly this no longer applies in politics or business. Crichel Down was in the 1950s.

    People followed our Lord because he spoke as one having authority. They gave up everything – wives, families, the lot – because this was what he required of them. And in the end they gave up their lives. The best argument I know for the truth of the Ressurection is this: either those who witnessed it were all mad, which is unlikely; or they were all liars who were prepared to die for the same lie, which is even more unlikely.

    • John Thomas says:

      “…all liars …” I think the point is that they would need to have been conspirators to the lie – all agreed to keep it unto … death – and the first one to crack would have blown the whole thing. (I guess John Nolan’s points were made some while ago … er … Who Moved The Stone maybe? – But benefit from – require – repeating often.)

  4. claret says:

    A possible flaw in the post of the two Johns is that the resurrection accounts as recorded in the gospels do vary and there is a strong suggestion, and indeed evidence, that the gospel of Mark was added to at a later century in respect of the resurrection account.

  5. John Candido says:

    We have some excellent examples of teaching on leadership within the gospel. The highest teaching that applies to every subject and person, and not just leadership, and that is the teaching to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. What a very different world we would all inhabit if we did this more fervently and consistently, regardless of whatever religion anyone might have or not have. Of course, we are all human and to expect perfection from anybody is simply out of the question, with the nearest human example of such fervency being our saints. The expanded meaning of what love is, can be found in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13.

    There is the teaching that ‘you must love others as you love yourself’. Loving yourself in healthy non-narcissistic ways, with a good smattering of self-esteem, points to the importance of the capacity to endure stresses and to form healthy relationships with others, regardless of whether or not those relationships are professional, and are a part of leadership, or they inhabit more personal relationships.

    We have the teaching that we must die for one another. In other words, we must try to live for others in ways that ennoble and enable others. This is surely a very important responsibility of leadership and of being a Christian. Enabling, educating, skilling, mentoring, and delegating responsibility to others, are important modes of leadership as teacher.

    The beatitudes within Mathew 5: 1 to 7: 29 alludes to the importance of leaders being peace makers. Conflict and its management, are important parts of leadership. When conflict occurs within any organisation, true leaders will not only want to return it to a peaceful state, but they will have a certain set of skills called conflict resolution, which will assist them to do so.

    The importance of humility for a leader is bolstered by the passage entitled, ‘Who is the greatest?’, and found in Mark 9: 33-37…in verse 35…

    ‘Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.’

    Apart from the obvious correctness of this teaching, it is surely one of the common faults of leadership, especially those new to professional leadership, is the question of egotism. It is quite a trick to be both a superb leader and an egoless person. It is probably nigh impossible at first, but achievable given time and maturity on the job.

    Romans 12: 1-21 with general advice on how to carry yourself through life, is an extraordinarily good summary of the requirements of Christian living, and of use to leaders. Offering yourself to God as a sacrifice that is pleasing to Him; not conforming yourself to the standards of this world, but allowing God to transform you inwardly, are similar to the silent aspirations of all Christians engaged in prayer or meditation.

    It continues with affirming the value of modest thinking and behaviour, as well as expressing the value of hard work for anybody who wants authority in verse 8. In verse 12 we have…

    ‘Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient with your troubles, and pray at all times’.

    In verse 17 we have the exhortation to…

    ‘If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Never take revenge my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it’.

    In Romans 12, verses 20-21…

    ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by doing this you will make him burn with shame. Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good’.

    The world of work always presents opportunities for one person to forgive another. This does not have to be a formal matter, or indeed a spoken one. As forgiveness can occur within the privacy of one’s heart and mind. In other instances, a spoken apology is essential. True leaders are always ready to apologise to others for their failures, as well as taking ultimate responsibility for instances of organisational failure.

    The teaching or warning by Jesus within the gospel of Mathew 18: 6, about harming or deliberately misguiding children, or else we may find ourselves drowned within the sea, is a solemn and non-negotiable principle of our duty to every child, and also by extension to anybody else we come across in our personal and professional lives.
    In conclusion, there are a lot of passages that can apply directly or indirectly to the subject of management within the New Testament.

  6. Benedict Morby says:

    My first time in hospital , certainly in operating queue , my first read of Herald and whilst nothing I could find of new in ” Caesar the role model ” Ive now read it at least 5 times and have put on my office noticeboard. Time spent in hospital allows the obvious to sink in ! As a Company Director its so easy to use the day to day activities to cloud ones real role.
    Now to read the New Testament !

  7. John Candido says:

    There is an excellent book on leadership that is called ‘Leader Effectiveness Training L.E.T.: The Proven People Skills for Today’s Leaders Tomorrow’ (2001), by Dr. Thomas Gordon PhD, and is published by the Berkley Publishing Group. You can view its cover on Amazon UK at as well as purchase a copy at any good bookstore. Anything written by Dr. Thomas Gordon comes with my highest and warmest recommendations.

    Dr. Thomas Gordon PhD is an American Psychologist who has also published two other excellent titles called ‘Parent Effectiveness Training’ (PET) and ‘Teacher Effectiveness Training’ (TET). Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) has had a phenomenal publishing history. It is currently published by Three Rivers Press and it is in its 30th edition. You can read more about PET here… and you can read about who Thomas Gordon is here…

    For the psychologists, social workers, and counsellors out there, who would like to examine any research about PET, I can recommend several links… and as well as a number of others from this page, Happy reading to all!

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