The three core foundations of leadership wisdom are leader instinct, leader fruitfulness, and leader multiplication. In order to grow deeper in leadership wisdom, it is necessary to invest a significant amount of energy strengthening each core foundation.
The first core foundation is leader instinct, which is formed when experience is shaped by wisdom, allowing the leader to intuitively grasp key leadership challenges.
In the biological world, instinct is defined as "a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason." In this definition, instinct is viewed as an inborn, unchangeable quality. An additional definition from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary that fits human experience better is "a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity <had an instinct for the right word>." When a person has an "instinct for the right word," it was not hardwired into the person from birth but was developed as he or she learned a new language, read widely, and understood the meaning and function of particular words. We will use the word instinct in this section to refer to unconscious thoughts or actions that are conditioned into a person through repetitive behaviors, habits, or experiences.
The best coaches in sports prize instinct in their top recruits. Instincts are honed in athletes when they practice a particular move so many times that it becomes second nature to them. When they are in a game situation, they just know what to do without having to think or reflect.
Christian leaders likewise become wiser and stronger as they develop sound instincts. Leader instincts are formed when leaders process and reflect on their experiences through the lens of wisdom, to understand what happened and how God was at work in that situation. This accumulation of wisdom will begin to allow the leader to instinctually know what to do and say and how to act in a particular situation. This is why the combination of experience and wisdom is so crucial for Christian leaders. God created your brain so that you can see patterns and then apply wisdom to your response to each situation.
The second core foundation is leader fruitfulness, which describes how a leader helps the church or Christian organization focus on producing fruit that lasts.
We have a large apple tree beside our house, and I am amazed at the number of luscious apples that are waiting to be picked in the next few weeks. I watch in awe the process of development from bud, to flower, to fruitlet, to a mature apple that is bursting with flavor. In Christian leadership, it is the fruit that counts.
Spiritual fruit is produced when human activity is touched by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual fruit is germinated by the actions of faithful Christians who attempt to live out the instructions of Scripture in harmony with the Holy Spirit. While activity has a critical role in initiating the fruit-producing process, human activity alone can never bring about the miracle that is seen in the production of fruit. When God takes the human activities of believers and divinely touches their effort, lasting fruit is produced. Wise leaders learn to pray for, look for, and measure fruitfulness, rather than just focusing on the activity.
In the last few years many Christian leaders have begun to introduce new measurements to determine the productivity and fruitfulness of their organizations or churches. They once only counted the number of members, the amount of money collected, and the attendance at certain events. Today leaders are elevating the value of fruitfulness by measuring with different standards, such as changed lives, sacrificial giving, and dedicated discipleship. A new set of metrics are being utilized to more accurately evaluate how God is producing fruit in the harvest field.
The third core foundation of leadership wisdom, multiplication, occurs when Christian leaders prioritize leading other leaders rather than only leading the crowd. This is done through modeling, mentoring, and mobilizing. Jesus is the model for how we are to develop leaders. His plan was shown in the calling of the twelve disciples. They had an intensive three-year immersion experience by traveling with Jesus, watching him minister, listening to his teaching and preaching, gaining frontline ministry experience, observing the challenges and threats that came with frontline ministry, and engaging in the spiritual practices of Jesus.
Every year, I spend four to five days with a cohort of leader friends on a retreat. All are younger than I am. We share, encourage, challenge, eat, play, explore, and talk from dawn to bedtime. It is the most encouraging, ruthlessly honest, and spiritually enriching time I experience all year long. A few years ago, our cohort met in Encinitas, California. One of the members of the group invited the retired senior pastor of a large church to be our guest one afternoon. We had two hours to ply him with questions and soak up his leadership wisdom. Here was the most important statement he made to us: "I used to think my staff members were the critical people I needed to invest in. The longer I was there, the more I realized that staff would come and go, but lay leaders would stay. I discovered that they were the most important people to the long-term health and growth of our church."
I suggest mentoring three or four leaders each year whom you can invest time in, who will travel with you to appointments and events, and who will gather with you for focused retreats. This will let you observe their current habits and challenges, mobilize them for ministry, and create a team that will encourage each other in what God might do through them.
The Leadership Examen
Spend some time slowly reading though this leadership wisdom examen and answer the questions placed before you.
Today I commit myself to loving and leading like Jesus loved and led, with wisdom and with all of my strength, by growing in the three core foundations of leadership wisdom.
Lord, help me to become a stronger and wiser leader. Help me to watch and follow the example of Jesus, observing how he led with great wisdom. Help me to learn from the Scriptures that talk about the blessedness of wisdom. May this wisdom come from God, become instrumental in developing people, and help to change our world.
Am I growing stronger and wiser in leader instincts?
- Am I consistently evaluating the ministry experiences I have and using wisdom to learn lessons on how to grow as a leader?
- Am I learning from other leaders' experiences and wisdom so that I can incorporate those learnings as my own?
- Am I talking through my leadership experiences with other leaders, asking them what suggestions and advice they might give me to help me become a stronger leader?
Am I growing stronger and wiser in leader fruitfulness?
- Am I measuring God's transformation in the people I lead?
- Am I honestly assessing the real changes brought about in our community and world by our church or organization?
- Am I working with other leaders and coaches to expand our ministry fruit for Christ?
- Is this focus on fruit changing the culture of our church or organization?
Am I growing stronger and wiser in leader multiplication?
- Am I prioritizing leading other leaders rather than just leading the crowd?
- Am I multiplying leaders through modeling the development of other leaders?
- Am I multiplying leaders through personally mentoring a group of leaders?
- Am I multiplying leaders through mobilizing others to invest in leaders?
Thank you, O God. Fill me with the wisdom necessary to lead in a godly manner. Teach me to lead with personal integrity in all areas of my life by treating all people well and by helping the people of God start a revolution that turns this world upside down. Amen.
—Taken from Discovering Your Leadership Style by David T. Olson. Copyright 2014 by David T. Olson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.