Leadership Priorities

 by David M. Church Ph.D.

         It was a leadership wake-up call!  I had been appointed to serve as supervisor of employees who were older, more skilled, and “seasoned” than I.  I had been given the responsibility and resources to accomplish the mission, but I had not been given any formal authority.  In fact, neither the union nor the company “recognized” me as the official supervisor. The role was a temporary one with expectations that I should perform at least as well as the leaders who possessed formal authority.  I was informed in emphatic terms that” informal authority was more powerful than formal authority” and that I would either be “part of the problem or part of the solution.”

            Interestingly, over the course of that temporary assignment and in every leadership role since, I have found both of the above principles to be true.  I had thought that there was no way to lead without having “authority over” the personnel assigned to me.  The environment I perceived to be necessary was one based on questionable research saying that leaders must “cast the vision and have all the answers.”  If not, why would anyone follow?  This autocratic style of leadership may be appropriate in times of extreme crisis but is not the most effective means of growing people and organizations.  The recent research (“The Bass Handbook of Leadership.”  Bass, B. M., & Bass, R., 4th ed., 2008; and “Transformational Leadership.” Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E., 2nd ed., 2006) in profit and non-profit enterprises supports leadership theories in the participatory genre rather than the autocratic style.

 For my understanding and use, I have classified the beneficial leadership behaviors tha my original research (“Leadership Style and Organizational Growth: A Correlational Study.”

 Dissertation. University of Colorado. Church, 2012) and others  (“The Relationship of Transformational Leadership and Level of Education Among Nurse Administrators.”

 Dissertation. Walden University. Drake, 2010) found to enable individual and organizational growth.  The classification process resulted in three practices that may help the leader nurture and enable individuals to realize their God-given potential.  For the purposes of explanation, I will discuss the behaviors in order from most important to least important.

First Priority: Establish the Appropriate Environment

Leadership resides in relationship, and relationships exist in an environment.  If leadership is to be transformative and authentic, then the environment needs to be intentionally constructed in such a way that the expected individual and organizational growth is possible.  The leader sets this environment and knowingly or unknowingly determines what the boundaries will be.  In fact, he or she determines what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  This happens irrespective of the authority a leader utilizes to accomplish the organization’s mission.  This critical condition or prerequisite is often overlooked in leadership development and training.

Second Priority: Utilize the Appropriate Enquiry

The questions a leader asks expand or contract the perspectives of the individuals in the organization.  If the leader asks questions that invoke doubt in individual capability and credibility, then the organization is destined to a myopic perspective.  By contrast, if the leader verbalizes questions that foster trust and incite creative thinking, then the individual and organization will perceive that growth is possible and expected.  The art of asking the appropriate question at the opportune time should be practiced and refined by all leaders.

Third Priority: Set the Appropriate Example

Much has been written concerning the importance of the leader setting the example.  Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “Action expresses priorities.”  So, in setting the example the leader sets both the priority and expectations.  His or her example in the area of authenticity, lifelong learning, commitment to the mission, and love for Christ is the basis for the leadership relationship.  This may best be expressed by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 as he says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV).  One may manage an organization and resources but to truly lead individuals and influence environments one must “walk the talk” in all perceivable behaviors.

If a leader will intentionally exercise these three practices, he or she will, in effect, be setting the priorities that transform and grow the individuals and organizations that he or she has been entrusted to lead.  What I did not understand in my first leadership role, and what recent research has determined, is that leadership is not about formal authority. Rather, it is concerned with nurturing relationships in such a manner that individuals grow in skill, intellect, and spirit. This type of leadership allows one to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

David M. Church, Ph.D.

Leadership, Research, and Policy

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