Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
We live in a world that lacks good leadership. What do you do when leadership is lacking?
Few things receive as much professional attention as leadership. There are countless books, seminars, organizations, blogs and conferences that have the goal of making better leaders or helping others to hone their leadership skills.
Despite all of this focus on the topic of leadership, there seems to be a shortage of good, high-quality leaders to look up to and follow. If the campaign ads that preceded the American midterm elections are an indication, our political leadership is great at attacking opponents but short on providing answers to the problems that plague our nation. This is true for both major political parties. We find failure of leadership at all levels of society—including entertainment, athletes and even within the military.
Without strong examples of good leadership in the world around us, where can we look for good, quality leadership today?
Leadership is needed in all institutions today—in our political and military systems, in our schools, friendships, workplaces and families.Traits of a leader
It’s easier to figure out what a good leader today would look like by identifying some of the characteristics of good leaders in history. Though there are many historical leaders we could study, let’s focus on a leader who may not quickly come to mind when you think of leadership. We find him in the Bible: Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was the governor of Judea when its walls were being rebuilt during the time it was ruled by the Persian Empire. You can learn more about Nehemiah’s story here: “Nehemiah.”
A glance through Nehemiah’s life reveals some of the traits that made him an effective leader:
- Courage: There are two areas where a leader has to show courage, and Nehemiah displayed courage in both. The first area is in dealing with antagonists—adversaries who are against your cause. Nehemiah had to deal with individuals who tried to prevent the walls of Jerusalem from being rebuilt (Nehemiah 2:19-20). But Nehemiah courageously overcame this with God’s assistance (4:1-16).
Courage also includes dealing with dissent among the people that you are leading. As Rosalynn Carter said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.” Nehemiah frequently did this, often confronting the most powerful people in Jerusalem to accomplish God’s will (5:6-13; 13:17).
- Character: President Dwight Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.” Nehemiah displayed such character in his leadership. Despite having the ability to abuse his authority as the governor, Nehemiah refused to do so and maintained his integrity as he led the people in doing God’s work (5:14-19).
- Responsibility: It is easy to accept credit when things go well, but it takes a real leader to take responsibility when things go wrong. Modern politicians rarely take responsibility for failures—because it is very convenient (and politically expedient) to blame failures on one’s political opponents. But Nehemiah included himself in those responsible (1:6-7).
- Putting God first: Nehemiah did not rely on his own abilities and wisdom to lead. He had a deep faith and trust in God. When trouble came, Nehemiah would go to God in prayer and seek guidance (1:4-11). This characteristic should be paired with humility, because a true leader must have the humility to submit to the ultimate leadership of God.
Leaders: born or made?
Many of us may find ourselves reading the account of Nehemiah and wishing that we had leaders like that today. Where are these leaders who can inspire and show the way to greatness?
Some think that the great leaders are born that way. Is that the case? Can it really be true that in a world of approximately 7 billion people there are so few leaders being born?
Leadership expert Warren Bennis addressed this concern by saying, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born—that there is a genetic factor to leadership. … That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born” (Managing People Is Like Herding Cats, p. 163). This was also espoused by legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who often stated, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made.”
If leaders are made, then where are they? Where do we go for the leaders who can help us in a world that seems to be in a constant state of crisis?
Instead of passing the buck on to someone else, these questions can (and should) be personalized: Why am I not a true leader? How can I lead in a world continually going downhill?
Leadership is needed in all institutions today—in our political and military systems, in our schools, friendships, workplaces and families.
What the world needs now is good leadership. Are you up for the challenge?
For more on leadership and making yourself a godly leader, read “The Basis for Leadership.”