A Distinguishing Characteristic of Leadership – The Voluntary Choice of Group Members To Follow
David Cottrell in his booklet titled Leadership…Biblically Speaking refers to a quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower defining leadership as “The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” In a similar manner, Kouzes and Posner quote Vance Packard from his book The Pyramid Climbers to define leadership as “…the art of getting others to want to do something that you are convinced should be done.”(Italics added) These definitions of leadership are simple, yet they succinctly and clearly capture the basic essence of leadership as accomplishing tasks through the combined efforts of others. Because of their simplicity, these definitions of leadership will serve as the basis for the definition of leadership used on this website. Thus, leadership will be defined in this book as the art of involving and getting others to want to accomplish something the leader wants done.
Most definitions of leadership describe the actions of a leader as he motivates or inspires followers into action. A leader has a vision or a task to accomplish. Maybe the task is too large or affects a great number of people. Unable to accomplish the task himself, a leader involves others and influences them to join him in accomplishing the task. An effective leader is so compelling and motivating in the exercise of influence, his followers embrace the vision or task as their own. The followers believe the actions and efforts they put forth in support of the leader’s vision are of their own choosing. Even though the followers are performing the tasks desired by the leader, they believe they are doing so because they choose to. When leadership is this effective, everyone wins. The leader sees his vision or task accomplished, and the followers have the satisfaction of believing they accomplished the task and the idea was theirs all along.
As Kouzes and Posner point out, the words ‘to want’ stand out in the leadership definitions of Eisenhower and Packard. “Without ‘to want’ in the definition, the meaning of leadership is significantly altered. Choice, internal motivation, and inner desire disappear. Leadership then implies force or something less than voluntary involvement.”
Robert Clinton in his book The Making of a Leader transfers these concepts of leadership to a definition of a Christian leader. He says: “For the Christian leader, leadership is a dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacity influences a specific group of God’s people toward His purposes for the group.” As with the Eisenhower and Packard descriptions of leadership, a Christian leader has a vision; but for a Christian leader, the vision comes from God; and rather than inspiring followers to pursue the leader’s vision, a Christian leader instead inspires followers in the pursuit of God’s vision.