Leadership is a Relationship Not a Position; a Covenant Not a Contract

Lots of Information But Little Leadership

At most bookstores, it’s fairly easy to find attractively packaged books on leadership. In one store alone, I counted twenty different titles with the word “Leadership” in them and dozens more on related subjects.

With so much literature available, one might assume  we have a pretty good grasp of leadership.  But, even a cursory view of the nightly news demonstrates quite the opposite.  Almost daily we hear stories of entrusted “leaders,” who violate that trust with breaches of integrity.

  • A business fails from illegal activity
  • A CEO is charged
  • A coach cheats
  • A pastor leaves for moral problems

These are all haunting reminders of people who were entrusted as leaders but failed.   Why do we see record numbers of books about leadership at the same time we also see record numbers of leaders failing?

Leadership Crisis

I actually believe we’re in the midst of a leadership crisis, and it’s not limited to business or politics.  It’s evident in our homes, colleges, communities and even our places of worship.  Simply stated, people are deeply interested in leadership because they long for it.  And, when they do experience leadership, it inspires them to follow.

Yet, if leadership is really that rare, what do we call the many organizational heads normally called leaders?  James MacGregor Burns called them power wielders. Peter Drucker even said they were misleaders.  The point is, there’s a big difference between being the head of an organization and being a leader.

Leadership Equals Relationships

Ultimately, leaders are known not only by what they accomplish but also by how they accomplish it. As nonprofit strategic planning consultants, we counsel that the process always involves people. In fact, leadership is far more about relationships and influence than it is about achievement.  Certainly, achievement is important, but if you want to capture the essence of leadership it goes well beyond achievement.

The capacity to lead simply cannot be found in church growth trends or the capacity to generate revenue. Rather, it resides in the dynamics of relationships between leaders and followers, and it goes well beyond contractual obligations. Letter of the law relationships (contracts) cannot motivate church members or inspire followers, nor can they facilitate their growth. Those are the responsibilities of a leader, responsibilities that extend well beyond the basic requirements of a contract.

Making the Connection

Consider that the best teachers forge strong relationships with students; the best singers and actors connect with their audiences; the best coaches bond with their players; and the best leaders identify with and engage their followers.

More than one expert has pointed out that during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, John F. Kennedy actually lost the debates on substance.  Yet, he was an overwhelming success and actually won the election because he connected with Americans.  This President certainly was not without flaws, but as a leader, he identified with his followers. They also identified with him, and they willingly followed him.

Leadership is a Covenant

Effective leaders connect with and engage followers in relationships that pursue common purposes and achieve common goals. In so doing, leaders provide meaning and hope for followers.

At its core then, leadership is a relationship in which leaders and followers are connected and emotionally engaged in pursuit of common purposes.  It is much more complex than a simple contract.  Instead, leadership is a covenant, binding leaders and followers together in a common quest and enabling them to achieve far more than they ever would on their own.