The Leadership Challenge for Church Leaders, Part 4.

Part 1 of this post series provides the background and context you need to understand my purpose in writing.

Part 2 described some of the research that led Kouzes and Posner to develop their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership:

  • Model the Way
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Challenge the Process
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Encourage the Heart

Part 3 explored the first practice: Model the Way.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s work, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, may be one of the most important and influential works on leadership in the past 30 years. If you lead or want to, it is worth your time.

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The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are those behaviors that the most effective leaders actually do – and they practice them regularly. It’s the second of those practices that may be the most challenging.

I help facilitate an executive-level leadership program at the university where I work. When cohort members are asked to identify the K&P practice at which they feel weakest or least equipped, it is often the second, the one that may be the most difficult to accomplish:

Inspire a Shared Vision

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Leaders are expressive, and they attract followers through their energy, optimism and hope. With strong appeals and quiet persuasion, they develop enthusiastic supporters. (p. 100)

I think often leaders are afraid of that word, “inspire,” as if it means they have to be someone they’re not. Introverts think it means they have to become extraverts. Thinkers think it means they have to be talkers. But when you think of inspiration in terms of energy, optimism, and hope, it seems more doable, no matter your personality.

So, start there.

You can inspire using just the gifts and talents God has given you. In fact, that’s His intent. You don’t have to make something up. And, truly, if you can’t be energetic, optimistic, and hopeful about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, something’s very wrong.

The vision you inspire starts with the passion the Lord has put within you. What is it that really drives you? Leading deeper intimacy with Christ? Reaching the lost? Connecting with the marginalized? Seeing people healed? Fostering a meaningful connection with Scripture? That passion is important because you can’t inspire a vision of the future that isn’t grounded in real hope and enthusiasm – even excitement – found in you, the leader. (For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands… 2 Timothy 1:6 )

Once you have that understanding, the next step is to connect your passion – and the vision of the future it creates in you – with those you are leading – members of your congregation, group or class. Leaders don’t simply inject vision into those they lead, they work to understand the passion within themselves, and then they listen closely for commonality with others. When the two come together, that’s where inspiration is born.

People aren’t going to follow someone who’s only mildly enthusiastic about something. Leaders have to be wildly enthusiastic for constituents to give it their all. (p. 129)

If someone polled those in your congregation, class or group what you’re “wildly enthusiastic” about. What would they say?

Finally, inspiring a shared vision is about converting emotions into words and words into pictures of the best future. This usually happens in terms of narratives, stories, and pictures (mental or otherwise) that help people understand the hopeful destination ahead. “That the rest of our days will be the best of our days…” as my wonderful pastor often says.


Suggested Leadership Books

George Barna/The Power of Vision: Discover and Apply God’s Vision for Your Life & Ministry

Robert Greenleaf/Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness 25th Anniversary Edition

Kouzes & Posner/Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge (J-B Leadership Challenge: Kouzes/Posner)

Ken Blanchard/Leading at a Higher Level, Revised and Expanded Edition: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations

Michael Fullan/Leading in a Culture of Change

Patrick Lencioni/The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable

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