Finding Your Leadership Style

Ten different ways to lead God's people

Christianity Today
By Bill Hybels

A few years ago, I began to notice major differences in the ways gifted leaders led their teams. They all had the spiritual gift of leadership referred to in Romans 12:8, but they approached the challenges of leadership differently.

About the time I was making this observation, the management team at Willow Creek gave me a leadership book for my birthday. (The year before, they had hired an Elvis impersonator, who burst into my office during a meeting to serenade me. Elvis discovered my leadership style in a hurry. He barely made it out of my office with his blue suede shoes.)

This year they gave me a more appropriate gift—Certain Trumpets, by Garry Wills. Wills describes the enormous impact of great leaders whose particular leadership style meshed perfectly with a certain need in society.

For example, when people are being oppressed and want to break free from that yoke, the situation calls for a radical, transforming leader.

In a complex, pluralistic democracy, with thousands of constituencies that must be drawn together to form a government, a political or electoral leader is necessary.

In war time, a military style of leadership works best.

During an ideologically intense social struggle, an intellectual leader might fit the bill.

Wills effectively argues that there are many different styles of leadership, and certain styles fit certain leadership needs better than others.

Over the last few years, I've identified at least ten manifestations of the leadership gift as it plays out in the church. It's been helpful to our staff to identify our leadership styles and build leadership teams accordingly.

1. Visionary Leader

These leaders have a crystal-clear picture in their minds of what they want to happen. They cast visions powerfully and possess indefatigable enthusiasm to pursue the mission.

Visionaries shamelessly appeal to anyone and everyone to get on board with the vision. They talk about it, write about it, burn white-hot for it. They are future-oriented, usually idealistic, and full of faith to believe the vision can and will be actualized if the dream is talked about and cast often enough.

Visionary leaders are not easily discouraged or deterred. In fact, if people tell them their dream is impossible, that just adds fuel to the fire in their spirit.

Visionary leaders may or may not be able to form teams, align talents, set goals, or manage progress toward the achievement of the vision. But this one thing is sure: They carry the vision. They cast the vision. They draw people into the vision, and they'll die trying to see it fulfilled.

I was at a conference with John Maxwell some time back. John was teaching on vision, and he started his talk on one side of the sanctuary to symbolize the beginning of the vision.

"You have no money, you have no people, you have no faith, but you have the vision. So you put one foot in front of the other, and you walk, by the light of the vision . ..." He began to walk across the stage.

"Then, along the way, as you share that vision, God gives you the faith, the power, the people, the resources . ..." Everyone's eyes were riveted on John as he made this vision walk. But there was a planter between where he was and where he was headed. Inside, I'm screaming, Watch out for the planter! John never saw it. He ran into it and stumbled—but the vision was so powerful that he never stopped speaking, never lost his train of thought. I was looking around the crowd, and no one else even seemed to notice!

You know a person is a visionary leader when he trips on the stage and no one even acknowledges it! It was a picture of the leader who cannot help but pour out the vision, despite any obstacle.

2. Directional Leader

This style doesn't get much press, but it is exceedingly important. The directional leader has the uncanny, God-given ability to choose the right path at those critical intersections where an organization starts asking hard questions: "Is it time for a wholesale change or should we stay the course? Do we focus on growth or consolidation? Should we start new ministries or deepen and improve existing ones? Should we add facilities or relocate? Is it time for some fresh staff, or do we dance with those who brought us here?"

These are directional issues, and they are capable of immobilizing an organization. But a leader with a directional style is able to sort the options. He or she can carefully assess the values, mission, strengths, weaknesses, resources, personnel, and openness to change of an organization—then, with remarkable wisdom, point that organization in the right direction.

Wrong calls at these key intersections can wreck organizations. Shortly after Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam became king. His first critical intersection came almost immediately: a representative group of the people asked for their workloads to be reduced. Solomon had worked people to the point of despair. Rehoboam had to make a directional call. The older counselors said, "You'd better ease up on them." The younger counselors said, "Just load them up." He made the wrong call at that intersection, and it wrecked the kingdom.

When Willow Creek is at such a crossroads, I will not move in the direction I believe God is calling us without the green light from two board members who are strong in directional leadership. Whenever we've followed their lead, we've made good decisions. Whenever we've ignored their advice, we've paid a high price.

3. Strategic Leader

Some leaders have the God-given ability to break an exciting vision into achievable steps, so an organization can march intentionally toward the actualization of their mission.

Visions are powerful. Visions excite and inspire people. They compel action. But unless people eventually see progress toward the fulfillment of the vision, they conclude the vision caster is just blowing smoke.

A strategic leader forms a game plan everyone can understand and participate in, one that will eventually lead to the achievement of the vision. A strategic leader challenges the organization to work the plan. She says, "Don't get distracted. Do what needs to be done to achieve the next step, then the next, and we'll achieve the vision together." A strategic leader is able to get various departments of an organization synchronized so that the organization is focused toward the prize.

The vision of Willow Creek has been compelling for more than twenty years. But it has been a seven-step strategy, put together by leaders in the early days of our church, that has helped us move toward the achievement of that vision.

4. Managing Leader

There is always discussion in leadership circles about the differences between management and leadership. You've heard, "Managers do things right; leaders do the right things," and other delineations.

Those may be helpful, but I'm convinced certain leaders possess the unique ability to establish mile markers on the road to the destination, then organize and monitor people, processes, systems, and resources for mission achievement. Old Testament examples include Joseph and Nehemiah.

What's most amazing to those who don't have this style is that managing leaders derive enormous satisfaction from doing all this managing!

You'd be surprised how many visionary leaders are inept at managing people, processes, and systems. Many directional and strategic leaders are incapable of actually putting the players, resources, and systems in place for the goals of the organization to be achieved.

I've often said around our church, "Sooner or later someone's going to have to manage all of this stuff." We've always had an abundance of visionary, directional, and strategic leaders, but we've always had a shortage of managing leaders. That has hurt us all along the way.

Managing leaders often aren't as popular as the leader who can give the big vision talk or make the big decision around the board-room table or put the big plan in place. But in the day-to-day world, someone has to manage the process to make sure we get where we want to go.

5. Motivational Leader

These leaders possess insight into who needs a fresh challenge or additional training. They can sense who needs public recognition, an encouraging word, or a day off. They know when a pay increase, office change, title change, or sabbatical is needed.

Unfortunately, some view the motivational style as a lightweight style of leadership. Well, just ask team members how important it is to receive ongoing inspiration!

I will follow a leader who will fire me up, call out the best in me, celebrate my accomplishments, and cheer my progress, even if it means a lower-voltage vision, an occasional bad call at a crossroads, or a periodic lapse of managerial effectiveness.

Motivational leaders know that teammates get tired, lose focus, and experience mission drift. Workers wonder if what they're doing really matters to anyone—or to God. Motivational leaders don't get bitter or vengeful when morale sinks. They see it as an opportunity to inspire and lift the spirits of everyone on the team.

Jesus was a consistent motivator of the disciples. He changed Peter's name. He promised his followers a hundred-fold reward in this life and in the next. Often, Jesus would take the disciples away and say, "Let's not take a hill. Let's sleep at the bottom of one. Let's go fishing, eat, and hang out."

Some of our teammates would love more than anything else a day with their leader around a campfire in an unrushed setting, instead of always being under our command.

Remember the time Jesus said, "I call you friends"? He always promised them, "In my Father's house are many mansions. I can't imagine spending eternity without you people around me. You'll be with me forever."

Don't ever look down on yourself if God has given you the motivational style.

6. Shepherding Leader

This man or woman loves team members so deeply, nurtures them so gently, supports them so consistently, listens to them so patiently, and prays for them so diligently that the mission of the team gets achieved. It happens primarily because of good will in the hearts of those who have been cared for by the shepherd.

I'm on the board of World Vision, an organization that has fed starving children for more than thirty years. They've had several different presidents, and constituents have supported the vision, regardless of who was at the helm.

It's a different dynamic with shepherding leaders and their teams. Team members support their shepherd, and teammates often feel, Whatever cause is important to the leader is fine with me. If it's broadly Christian, if we can accomplish it in community, if we can retain our shepherd, we'll do it.

Second Samuel 23 records David's leadership in the early days. He drew together the lonely and disaffected, then shepherded them deeply and lovingly. One night, he happened to mention that he was thirsty, but his troops were surrounded by the enemy. Three members of his team risked their lives to sneak behind enemy lines to bring David a jar of water. When they gave him the water, he was so moved by their expression of love that he poured it out as a worship offering.

While there are many cause-driven people waiting to be drawn into a mission by a visionary leader, there are surprising numbers of community-driven people who want to be shepherded and loved. When they are, they will joyfully pursue almost any kingdom purpose. If you can shepherd a group of people, you're a leader, and you can really make a difference.

7. Team-building Leader

Team-building leaders have supernatural insight into people. They find or develop leaders with the right abilities, character, and chemistry with other team members. They place people in the right positions for the right reasons who will then produce the right results.

When the team-building leader gets everyone in place, he or she then says to the team, "You know what we're trying to do. You know what part of the mission you're responsible for. You know what part of the vision the rest of us are responsible for. So head out. Work hard. Achieve your objectives. Communicate with your co-laborers, but lead."

The team-building leader might not nurture or manage people well. He or she reasons that shouldn't be necessary. If the right people are in the right slots doing the right things for the right reasons, they'll get the work done without the leader looking over their shoulder. Few things are as exciting to me as drawing together the right people, putting them in the right positions, then letting that team play hard and have fun.

8. Entrepreneurial Leader

These leaders possess vision, boundless energy, and a risk-taking spirit. Their distinguishing characteristic is they function best in a start-up operation. They love being told it cannot be done.

But once the effort requires steady, ongoing leadership—once things get complex and there are endless discussions about policies, systems, controls, and databases—the entrepreneurial leader loses energy and may even lose focus and confidence. He or she starts to peek over the fence and wonder if there's another start-up project out there.

Entrepreneurs often feel guilty at the thought of leaving something they gave birth to. But if they think, I can't give birth to something every few years, something inside them starts to die. That's their style. It's important in the kingdom.

The apostle Paul was an entrepreneurial leader. He wanted to build churches where Christ had not been named. He wanted to pioneer them, then let someone else run them so he could move on. He made no apologies for his leadership style.

9. Re-engineering Leader

Some leaders thrive in a situation that has lost vision or focus, or one that has been staffed inappropriately. This kind of leader says, "Oh boy, I get to re-engineer this whole situation." They find out what the mission was and what it needs to be now. They decide how progress and success will be measured. They love to tune up, heal, and revitalize hurting organizations.

But when the group is running on eight cylinders, re-engineering leaders may not want to lead over the long haul. Often, rather than manage what they've re-engineered, they look for another project to overhaul. When they find one, they salivate. "Would you look at that train wreck? I'd love to get my hands on all that twisted metal and human carnage. I could really sort that out and make something great out of that."

10. Bridge-building Leader

This leader brings a wide variety of constituencies together under a single umbrella of leadership so that a complex organization can achieve its mission.

This feat requires enormous flexibility in a leader—the ability to compromise and negotiate, to listen, understand, and think outside of the box. It requires not only the ability to be diplomatic; it requires also the gift of being able to relate to diverse people.

In a start-up venture, a leader is surrounded by those who share his or her vision. Contrast that with a church or parachurch organization made up of scores of well-defined constituencies, many of whom care little about the overall vision of the ministry anymore. They just want to make sure their interests are served.

I talked to a pastor who said, "I'm dying. The choir wants new designer robes. The youth want a new gymnasium. The missions department wants to give more money away. The Sunday school department wants more classrooms. The production people want more equipment. The seniors want large-print hymnals, and the Gen Xers want to turn the board room into a cappuccino bar."

The variety and velocity of those requests had him imagining each of those subministries as the enemy. But that situation fires up a bridge-building leader. A bridge builder becomes the best friend and advocate of all the constituent groups. He or she seeks to unite them and focus their efforts.

Beyond envy

It concerns me that there is a certain amount of "gift envy" among church leaders these days. God gave each of us our gift mix for a reason. When leaders adopt someone else's style, they miss the unique opportunities God has given them.

I celebrate when I look around the world and see flourishing churches of all kinds, with many different types of leaders, because it's going to take a variety of churches led by a variety of leaders to reach our world with the love of Christ.

Whatever your style, recognize it, celebrate it, and step up to the plate and lead.

You may also want to read the following related articles:

* The Gift of Giving by Charles Stanley
* The Gift of Mercy by Charles Stanley

For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members don't have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, if prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or service, let us give ourselves to service; or he who teaches, to his teaching; or he who exhorts, to his exhorting: he who gives, let him do it with liberality; he who rules, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)


On Equality And Inequality

Talk by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett co-authors of "The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger" recorded January 8, 2010 at Hogness Auditorium, University of Washington, Seattle.

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The Inequalities of Equality
All Things Being Equal, Not Everything Can Be Equal
By Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Ignatius Insight
Originally Published: October 12, 2005

"The idea of the equality of man is in substance simply the idea of the importance of man." — G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England


Anyone who has ever thought about the subject of "equality" knows that, however noble sounding, it is an intellectual minefield. Equality is the idea that makes most normal people feel a sense of dizziness when reading a book like Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Of the French triad, "liberty, equality, and fraternity," equality is by far the most slippery and ambiguous. Much of modern political thought has been devoted to producing "equality," usually at the expense of liberty or fraternity, if not sanity. Modern thought has also had to sit by and realize not only that inequality won’t go away, but that the noble efforts to be rid of it often have totalitarian implications.

No reader of Plato can entirely forget these things, which is one of the reasons why we still read him. The most perfect human "equality" imaginable, after all, is contained in the contemporary proposals of massive cloning of human beings so that everyone would presumably have the identical genes and corpus. Equality equals identity. The system would also rid us of the necessity of "begetting," which is seen to be the root of inequality. This very proposal as something good is a form of madness.

All human beings have the same nature that sets them apart from other beings natural and transcendent. No human being is exactly the same in anything beginning with his cells, to the color of his eyes, to his willingness or unwillingness to practice virtue. Even though Hobbes postulated that human beings are approximately of equal strength, the differences among men in terms of talents, energy, vice, health, fingerprints, and endurance are enormous. Some of these differences are measurable; some are not.

Such differences, however, are themselves generally goods, things to be fostered. They represent a richness about our kind, not a defect They are intended to make possible, as Plato also said, a division of labor and a variety of specialized contribution that cause greater things to exist than would result if everyone had to do everything by himself. Everyone is better off because of the variety and difference of talents and capacities among us provided this exists within a spirit and reality of reciprocal exchange, including exchange of the highest things.

Moreover, a whole intellectual industry is devoted to what I call "gapism." Any "gap" in income or talent or material goods between rich and poor, this nation or that, or this person and that, is said to be a sign of injustice, imbalance, or evil. While this view practically ignores the whole history of how wealth came to be produced and distributed in the first place, the thesis is constantly repeated as if it were obvious, which it isn’t. As a result, we inaugurate agonizing crusades to right the imbalances. Massive efforts in unequal taxation and discriminatory policy initiatives are set in motion whereby these "gaps" are to be leveled down so that those who are said to suffer under them can feel more "equal."

Interestingly enough, studies in the history of envy show that often envy, the spiritual vice associated with equality and inequality, is more prevalent when people are more nearly equal than when they are not. This fact suggests that this "gap" analysis is missing something fundamental about human nature. Indeed, chances are that if we took a given population and somehow made them, on a given day, absolutely equal in terms of income and property, after a few years we would return to see that, in the meantime, by normal workings of exchange, talent, energy, and effort, some would have more, others less. The same inequality would return. Some people will be horrified by this result. Others will understand that inequalities are themselves a normal part of the human condition, something that explains why elements of aristocracy, the distinction between virtue and lack of it, have always existed in every society.

The further trouble is that not everyone wants or needs the same things. The philosopher in Greek thought, for instance, not to mention innumerable saints in Christian tradition, affirmed voluntary poverty. Many of the things that everyone else said he needed, the philosopher did not need or want. The philosopher could have been rich if he wanted to be. He knew how to create a monopoly. But he chose not to be rich so that he could be free, yes, imagine, free to do what he could not do if he were burdened with riches. Thus to make him "equal" in terms of material goods would prevent him from being "unequal" in terms of spiritual ones.


These initial remarks are occasioned by my brother having sent me an essay of David Brooks in the New York Times entitled, "An Elite Class Splits the Nation: Higher Education Is Now Causing Most of the Inequality in America." About the only thing worse than "gapism," I sometimes think, is such elite-class analysis, however popular. This rather frantic, but insightful, article informs us that we academics are causing "most of the inequality in America." If true, this is definitely a man-bites-dog sort of situation. Since the very purpose of higher education is, in a sense, to produce inequality, to find out who learns and who does not, who is willing to learn and who is not, it follows (so it is said) that institutions of higher learning are doing something subversive, setting the elite against the non-elite.

This essay on "neo-elitism" reminded me of the old statistics I used to read about the percentage of students who went to college in England, France, Germany, or Italy, in comparison to the much higher percentage who went to college in the United States. It turned out that a far higher percentage of students went to institutions of higher learning in the United States than in any of the European nations. Why? It turns out that the Europeans had a different idea about what higher education was for. They also recognized more frankly that not everyone was made for the academic or intellectual vocation. If we put people in institutions for which their talents did not fit them, what happened was either that we had to lower the standards or to give those students who could not hack the matter a huge inferiority complex.

In the meantime, the Americans did about the same thing that the Europeans did, only they called it something else. We established all sorts of institutions of "higher education" including junior colleges, city colleges, state colleges, technical schools, and huge multi-disciplined universities with a myriad of different kinds of degrees, as well as elite colleges and universities. When it comes to a really elite intellectual vocation, we did not really differ much from the Europeans who also have trade schools and programs for training those not in college, but they do not call these institutions, as we do, colleges.

Brooks argues that more people are coming out of high schools but are not going to college. Most studies I have seen of late indicate that our elite graduate schools–especially in the sciences–are more and more populated, not by Americans, but by foreign students. Our schools are becoming the training grounds for foreign elites. Moreover, our high school performance compared to other nations shows that the quality of secondary education is in constant decline no matter how much money we spend on it. Money is not really the answer to their problems. So perhaps something else is at issue besides the mere statistics about who does or does not go to college.

Brooks’ thesis is that those who are educated tend to pass on talents and wealth to their offspring so that we are creating a new class of those who enter and can survive in college. The universities, in being universities, are presumably at fault for not recruiting and training those who do not come from these well prepared familial backgrounds. Brooks also notes that those who are educated divorce less, vote more frequently, and even exercise more. I believe in earlier eras it was the upper crust who were said to divorce more, eat more, and exercise less, while the poorer classes stayed married, had a religious aversion to drink, and worked hard.

Behind this analysis, we must also consider the massive transfer of technology and service industries outside of the United States. This transfer is to be seen in the light of the radical decline of birth rates of Americans and Europeans. Immigration problems are, at bottom, a function of birth problems. Formerly, as Brooks argues, these industrial and service areas provided employment and opportunities to the non-college types to get ahead. Now, it is argued, the middle is evaporating so that what is left is only the very rich and the very poor, "gapism" run wild. The physical labor force in Europe and the States is becoming Muslim and Latino. It is because of this situation that critics like Pat Buchanan and others seek to restore American industry and jobs through governmental policy.

In one sense, this export of technological knowledge–we still are in the forefront of its invention–is what we have always wanted, namely, that the poorer nations learn more and more skills and acquire the capacity to care for themselves. Most of the current criticism is that our restrictive import laws (often because of union pressure to save high-cost jobs) have prevented industry in the poor countries from growing by normal market processes. Now that growth in the poorer world is happening, we think that it is a threat to our own well being. It may be, but not because of the transfer of technological know-how. More likely, it is because of the ideologies and religions that we see in China, the Islamic world, India, and other points of the globe that determine the use of such economic growth in terms of political power.

One of the ironies of this analysis, I think, is again its Platonic background. Though perhaps not seriously, Plato held in the fifth book of the Republic that inequalities were caused by families and property. The only way to get rid of such inequalities would be to prevent parents from bringing up their own children and thereby giving them unfair advantages. Communize families and property. Plato also suggested a kind of genetic engineering to produce only elites, along with governmental day-care centers and control of education to enforce them. Such things are not wholly unfamiliar to us. Our age is rather more Platonic in this sense than we want to admit.


A part of any understanding of education, especially higher education, has been the recognition that the function of education is to increase the inequalities for the good of the whole. This latter side involves the moral and religious notions of gift, charity, generosity, and sacrifice whereby those who have received education consciously recognize their responsibility to others, especially, in Brooks’ terms, of teaching others. The Christian notion that those in authority are to be there not for their own self-interest but for service to others is, more than we will admit, itself a part of the American tradition.

It is of some interest that when there is any sort of crisis throughout the world, it is our wealth and initiative that are looked to deal with it, be it floods, wars, earthquakes, or terrorism. We take this expectation for granted and seldom wonder where it came from. But it is something rather unique in the world. And a part of this effort is the simple idea that any nation can learn to take care of itself, provided that it recognize the meaning of free enterprise, justice, property, control of corruption, initiative, selection and control of leaders, profits, allowing one’s work to benefit also oneself and families, with a consciousness of generosity to others. And this latter is not solely or primarily a governmental thing, though is it government that can most easily foster or hinder it.

Brooks’ analysis is presented almost exclusively in terms of education and not of virtue or goodness. Aristotle was always the first to point out the limits of knowledge of moral things as opposed to the habits needed to put it to good usage. The real lesson Brooks seems to point to is that if families stay together, if they successfully teach children responsibility, honor, and the value of knowledge, if they learn and understand the consequence of vice of whatever sort, they will prosper.

It is often said, for instance, that if a woman wants to guarantee that she will be poor later in life, the easiest way to do so is to be divorced, not that there isn’t usually an irresponsible man involved. Yet, divorce is considered a "right," as if it has no consequences. The point is that what we need is not just educational institutions, but virtue-making institutions. This is the real danger, I might add, of religion, the classic virtue-encouraging source in our society, preaching "rights" and not virtue.

Let me say, in conclusion, a final word about universities. Universities, as we know them, were originally founded by the Church. They grew within a philosophic environment that understood justice and mercy, but also one that understood intelligence. Aquinas is famous for concerning himself with the problem of how to teach "beginners."

Universities did stand for the principle that everyone ought to be allowed to and encouraged to learn to the limit of his ability or desire (they are not the same). But this is a two-way street. It recognizes that inequalities will come forth since human beings do not have identical talents or desires to bring them forth. The answers that we are looking for must include virtue enhancing ideas and institutions, the understanding that the principal reason for many human problems is not lack of wealth or education, but lack of virtue.

But if we cannot admit that there is such a thing as virtue, then we will seek to solve an essentially spiritual problem with an intellectual problem, namely, more education. And this brings us up against the fact that criminals are also very shrewd and intelligent. The history of dope and its usage, of its relation to crime and the corruption of governments in the contemporary world, is surely not merely a question of the poor and uneducated. But the essential point I want to make is that education is, and should be, an inequality-making institution. How the resultant inequalities, which are as such to be praised, return to the common good of all is not itself primarily a question of education but of virtue.

When Chesterton remarked that "the idea of equality" is simply the "idea of the importance of man," he intended to include, I think, both the things in which men are equal and the things in which they are unequal. Both are necessary, both are, in principle, good; neither will go away. But they are intended to exist in harmony, something that depends on virtue, knowledge, generosity, and yes, sacrifice and probably faith.

The "inequalities of equality" are, paradoxically, what brings us closest to a proper notion of equality. This is one that sees the proportionate and objective differences in talent and education to be arrayed not against the less talented and less educated, but as means to bring all talent, properly developed, into a relation to a larger common good.

Men are equal; it is not birth but virtue that makes the difference." - Voltaire

"Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions - it only guarantees equality of opportunity." -Irving Kristol


Nature-Loving People?

A Startling Contradiction

In my "third world" country we used to destroy these gentle sea creatures for survival. But now we have learned to take care of them because we finally realized that our chances of survival are greatly increased when the survival of these gentle creatures of the sea are also assured.

When one is forced to destroy nature in order to live, it's one thing. It's another thing when one's overwhelming desire forces nature's destruction. The former may be called survival, but the latter is called greed.

It's neccessary insticnt for one to want to survive; it's his foolishness that survives his unneccessary want.