IT STARTS early in life. This quality called leadership. Do you remember as a youngster on the playground, someone would say, "Let's play a game"? Then another would say, "Yeah, let's do. Tommy and Johnny will be captains and choose sides." What was there about the Tommys and Johnnys that made the other children look to them as leaders? It seems they were always captains and got to choose the teams. Most children do not stop to think about it, they just accept that in any group of youngsters a few always seem to take the lead. During adolescent years, leadership takes a more definitive form. A coach notes the outstanding athletic skill of a boy or girl on a team and appoints him or her captain. The band director rewards talent and long hours of practice and music skills by naming a leader of the group as drum major. Another student who has personality and stage presence is given the lead role in a school play. The students themselves usually select class officers based on the apparent leadership skills of a few in the group. After the educational years are over, leaders emerge in business, education and politics. But still, only a few rise to top positions. The majority stay buried in the pack — carrying out the policies and decisions of their leaders. Among our readers are thousands of potential leaders. You who are parents can help direct your children to understand the most important qualities of leadership — so they may be among those who set the standards, not just those who stand there and watch the world pass by.
No Easy Way
It would be. nice if there were 10 easy steps to develop leadership. We could just write them down, point by point, and everyone could read them and become a leader. But that is not the way life works. As in the case with Tommy and Johnny on the playground, some people just seem to have natural leadership qualities from birth. But not always do those young leaders grow up to benefit mankind. Or for that matter they may not grow up to be leaders at all. Occasionally a rather quiet and shy youngster develops later in life those qualities of leadership and goes on to become a corporate president or political leader. Leadership ability, though, can be developed. But it must be channeled in the proper direction. As one teacher I know told a set of parents about their 10-year-old daughter: "This young lady is a natural leader. You must be certain to guide her in the right direction. When she grows up she could either become President of the United States or the leader of a guerrilla gang." Perhaps that story illustrates how important it is to understand not only what leadership is, but also the responsibilities entailed in becoming a leader. There have been many great leaders in history who plunged the world into tragedy. In most recent memory no one can deny the leadership ability of Adolf Hitler whose leadership brought about one of the greatest catastrophes in the human experience. To understand leadership and the awesome responsibility it entails is essential to the whole destiny of mankind. Today's leaders are creating tomorrow's world. And tomorrow's leaders are now in training. To one degree or another each of us has a responsibility to lead today and to train tomorrow's leaders.
The Quality of Greatest Importance
Of all the qualities of leadership there are none more important to develop than wisdom and understanding. Men and women of dynamic personality, great education and charisma are not necessarily qualified to assume leadership roles. Yet when we think of leadership we most often think of personal appearance, great voice, a fine mind, dynamic personality. In ancient Israel the people demanded a king to rule them (I Samuel 8:5). They wanted to be like the other nations. So God let them have Saul — a tall, handsome man of charisma. The results were traumatic. Saul lacked the most important quality of leadership — confidence in God. Saul was afraid of what people would say. So he departed from the ways of God that would have preserved tranquility and the nation greatly suffered. Then God selected David, a man after his own heart (Acts 13:22), to be king. After the death of David, his son Solomon became king. There is no better example to illustrate these important qualities of wisdom and understanding than the example of King Solomon. The responsibility of kingship should have been and was regarded by Solomon as awesome. At the beginning of his reign, God appeared to him in a vision and asked, "What shall I give you?" Most human beings given this opportunity would ask for wealth, power, long life, good health. Solomon asked for none of these. His request was: "Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil" (I Kings 3:5-9, Revised Authorized Version throughout). That must be one of the most unusual requests in history. God was so pleased with it that he gave Solomon the asked — for wisdom and understanding. In fact, he was wiser than anyone of his day (I Kings 4:31). In all probability, apart from Jesus Christ, there has never lived a wiser person than Solomon. Then God added, in addition to wisdom and understanding, prosperity and good health. The key to his successful leadership, though, was understanding. A great leader has to be able to understand people. And the best source of understanding is the Word of God. Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs so we might "know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom" (Prov. 1:2-3). Of special note he said, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (verse 7). There is no permanence in any other system of values.
Courage to Be a Leader
After understanding, another quality a leader must possess is courage. Leaders are not actors on a stage. An actor puts on, plays, a role. A leader is. After the play, the actor goes home to his real everyday world. The leader is at all times living real situations. Those who lead will always make some mistakes. With mistakes comes a spate of criticism. It takes courage to put up with the critics. But a real leader has to have the ability to put aside the mistakes, learn lessons and press forward. I read a statement many years ago that has given me a great deal of hope through life's frequent trials — "He is a success who does the right thing 51 percent of the time." Or as someone else said, "The only ones who never fail are the ones who never try." Those of you who are parents might well reflect on teaching your children that admirable quality of courage. To be able to step out and do — and to take the correction that comes from making a mistake. Then get up and try again. Perhaps the lessons of history will best bear this out. We have been living in civilized societies for nearly 6,000 years. In the course of human events, countless mistakes have been made. Thus, the study of the past, to learn lessons from history, is imperative for any leader. It has often been said those who do not learn from mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Those who do learn those lessons can in confidence step out with courage, stand for right principle and lead humanity to greater heights. With this quality there is hope for leadership in the years to come.
Vision for the Future
Another of the important qualities a leader must possess is vision. One who leads must see beyond the mundane problems of here and now and be able to envision what tomorrow can be. There will always be plenty of problems for today. The future may at times indeed look bleak. But vision of what ought to be, coupled with knowledge of how to bring it about, separates great leaders from common people. With nearly every change of leadership comes hope. This is especially true in what are called democratic societies where aspiring leaders promise, if elected, to bring about a much better world for the rest of us. It is not at all uncommon to hear election rhetoric promising "a new brand of leadership." Many a persuasive politician has been elected to office based on promises of change. But far too frequently, once elected, the hoped — for changes don't seem to appear. The promise to reduce the federal or national debt, to boost the economy, to relieve the public from burdensome taxes, to restore the pride of the nation abroad, all seem to fade so quickly. So in the next election year, nations go through it all again. The incumbents tell us if we just give them another term, the policies they have implemented will work. The opposition parties point out the failures of the present leadership and promise their "new leadership" will bring the desired results. The true leader with vision knows the way is difficult — that the road to success is indeed narrow and rutty. The leader with vision is one who not only can "hang in there" when the going is rough, but can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The truly great leader can stand fast, maintain his poise and leadership with confidence when no one else can see the possibility there even is an end to the dark tunnel, much less light at the end of it. Such leaders of vision are indeed few and far between.
Consistency and Dependability
There are few things more disconcerting than a fickle leader. If those who follow cannot depend on consistency, there is confusion. Yet how many times have individuals risen to high positions and then wavered like reeds in the breeze on major issues. Leaders need not only principles and values, but the character to stand by those principles. Thomas Jefferson once said, "In matters of principle, stand like a rock." In today's complex world it is not easy to maintain strong principles. Should one be for or against abortion, gay rights, unions, big bonuses, taxation, capitalism, communism? Most of you readers probably have strong opinions on these subjects. Yet many political leaders must be extremely careful not to offend any group or segment of society. To do so well might be political suicide. So in some democratic countries a bland society has developed. In times of stress it is extremely important to have consistent and dependable leaders — ones who have stated their concepts and who can be depended upon to stand fast, in spite of whatever may come. If necessary a great leader even has to be willing to give his life for what he stands for. To me, one of the most inspiring examples of leadership was a second-century Christian named Polycarp.
The Price of Dependability
After the death of the apostle John about A.D. 100, leadership of the churches in Asia Minor was in the hands of Polycarp. That was not an easy time in history. The Roman government had begun to persecute the Christian Church in the days of. Nero. Other emperors followed suit over the next several centuries. In the A.D. 150s the Romans severely persecuted Christians in Asia Minor. Polycarp, then an old man well past 80, still provided the spiritual leadership for the oppressed Christians. The Roman senate had declared it atheism not to believe in the Roman gods. To be a declared follower of Jesus Christ, whom Pontius Pilate had crucified in A.D. 31, was forbidden. Christians were sometimes called before magistrates and told to renounce their beliefs. Those who didn't were often tortured or cast into the arenas to fight wild beasts. Such was the scene in A.D. 156 in the city of Smyrna where Polycarp resided. A recent plague and an earthquake had convinced the superstitious townspeople that Christians were to blame for the disasters. "The Roman gods must be displeased," they reasoned. In the middle of one cold night in February, Roman soldiers placed Polycarp under arrest. The next day as the Roman games were coming to a conclusion, he was brought before the magistrates and ordered to renounce Jesus. Polycarp's answer was, as quoted by the early church historian Eusebius: "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King that has saved me?...Hear my free confession. I am a Christian." The crowd demanded the lions be let loose. But the time for wild beast sports was over. In a rage they heaped broken pieces of wood together and bound Polycarp to a pole to be burned at the stake. A great wind blew the flames away from Polycarp, and an executioner thrust a sword into him — ending the life of one of the great leaders of Christianity. It is this kind of courage and dedication that truly makes a great leader. We live in an age that cries out for strong leaders of principle. In the family, on the job, in business and government, in one way or another each of us is a leader. Those of us who are parents are training tomorrow's leaders. You can ask God for wisdom and understanding as Solomon did. You can grow in courage, learning from each of your mistakes along the way. You can look into the future with vision for a better world. You certainly can become consistent and dependable. To choose the path of leadership is not the easy way. It never has been. It never will be. But the world needs it now. And is waiting on strong men and women of principle who will stand like a rock.