If we’re not careful, we can spend so much time talking about it that we convince ourselves we have actually done something about it! But talking about it and acting upon it are not the same thing. Not even close. Leadership is primarily expressed in behaviours. Leaders function, leaders do, leaders act. Leaders take hold of the reigns and drive change. Leaders don’t just have great ideas, they make ideas happen.
My office is based at the headquarters of the Elim Pentecostal Church, where I have the great privilege of serving as director of youth ministry. Each year all our staff go through an appraisal, where we are asked to consider a hugely revealing question. It’s a question that I encourage everyone to spend a few moments reflecting on today: how has your work brought about actual change in your department in the past twelve months? Not "What great ideas did you have?" Not "What did you spend time talking about?" Not "What did you dream about making happen?" But "What has actually happened in the last twelve months as a result of your leadership?" Brilliant.
Great leaders are disposed towards doing. They are action-orientated. We find this ‘essential’ at the tip of the triangle (see the diagram above) intentionally, because this is the quality that gives leaders their sharp edge. It is what empowers them to cut through the whirlwind of everyday life and enable progress.
If you lead a team, be they volunteers or otherwise, you know first-hand the value of action-orientated people. This is why North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia, has developed a principal it adheres to when hiring new staff: recruit doers, not thinkers. Their lead pastor, Andy Stanley, defends this policy, explaining: "It is much easier to educate a doer than to activate a thinker. You can hire the thinkers on a short-term basis, but you really need the doers in order to start to get the work done … I don’t need people who are going to just think about doing something, I need people who are just going to do it."
Now let me be clear. I am not for a moment suggesting that we don’t take time to talk, to think and to dream. Far from it. But I am saying that leadership doesn’t allow us to only do those things. Leadership lands ideas in action and makes dreams a reality. Dreamers dream about it, talkers talk about it, but leaders do it!
Yet all this comes with a rather large, very important, caveat. While I strongly believe that the bias towards action is an essential for every leader, it can quickly become destructive if it’s not rooted in the private foundations we have looked at in previous issues. When our activism is not rooted in our relationship with God, we begin to define ourselves by our accomplishments. Our achievements become our identity; our work for God starts to become a substitute. for actually knowing God, and doing more for him becomes easier than spending time with him. We mistakenly confuse motion with progress, and misinterpret our busyness as fruitfulness. So, what we are aiming for is the whole triangle together, not individual elements of it. This is what church leader Peter Scazzero describes as a ‘contemplative activism,’ where our doing for God flows out of our being with God.
So, with all that being said, leader, go lead! Don’t put off until tomorrow what God has called you to do today. Don’t allow apathy, or procrastination, or the fear of failure, or the pursuit of perfection to prevent you from taking action today. Jump in. Because dreamers dream about it, talkers talk about it, but leaders do it!
Questions for reflection
- What has happened, started or changed because of my leadership in the last twelve months?
- Do I usually have to be asked to do something or do I have the initiative to notice, and an attitude that compels me to do something about it without being asked?
- Am I slow to complain about what I can’t control and quick to improve upon what I can influence?
- Do I deliver on deadlines (both self-set and assigned) on time, every time?
- Am I content to leave things as they are when I can see a way to make them better?