I know enough about leadership to know that I don’t know that much about leadership. I have led groups, worked through various projects, taught large numbers of staff, and done my best to motivate volunteers. But leadership begins much before all of this.
One aspect I’ve been dwelling on for years now has little to do with the day-to-day aspects of leadership. It is more about the foundation of leadership. It is the reason for the name of this website.
Leaders influence followers far more by the context out of which they live—body language, personal values, social relationships, dress, consumer choices, chosen companions—than the text they articulate.
Leadership is not primarily a skill, although it employs skills. Leadership is a way of living that suffuses everything we do and are. Leadership is a way of being in the family and marriage, a way of being among friends, a way of going to work, a way of climbing mountains; most basically, a way of following Jesus.
And so in a culture in which there is an enormous attention to leadership, it is essential that we take a long hard look at what is previous and foundational to leadership, namely, “followership”— following Jesus (Mark 1:17).
Followership gets us moving obediently in a way of life that is visible and audible in Jesus, a way of speaking, thinking, imagining, and praying that is congruent with immediate realities of “kingdom” living.
Following enters into a way of life that is given its character and shape by the leader. Following involves picking up rhythms and ways of doing things that are mostly unsaid. Following means that you can’t separate what the leader is doing and the way she or he is doing it.
For those of us who are in positions of leadership—as parents, teachers, pastors, employers, physicians, lawyers, homemakers, students, farmers, writers— our following skills take priority over our leadership skills.
Leadership that is not well grounded in followership—following Jesus—is dangerous to both the church and the world.