Perhaps no one in all of history provides a better example of great leadership than the Apostle Paul, whose leadership strength is without equal.
Paul is largely credited with being the principle architect of Christianity. It may be impossible to overstate his impact on Western Civilization. Clearly Paul never would have imagined the magnitude of his accomplishments. Perhaps to his even greater amazement would be that he provides 21st-century leaders with a virtual perfect model for modern leadership. The fact is that his leadership was absolutely incredible – perhaps the greatest leadership ever.
Certainly some will question whether we can say anything factual about leadership. They would argue for allowing leadership to be a loosely defined and abstract concept. In reality leadership is a clearly definable and concrete concept.
We’ll get back to Paul, but before we do, let’s make sure we have a clear understanding of the concept called leadership.
Just as workmanship is the quality of a worker’s work, leadership is the quality of a leader’s work.
That’s it! Leadership is a description of work. It’s not the desirable personality traits and social skills commonly associated with leaders.
There are three criteria by which leadership is measured:
• Accomplishment: Quality leadership results in accomplishing great things.
• Cost-effective use of resources: Great leadership uses resources with optimal effectiveness.
• Protection of group values: Values are what is important to a group (e.g., ethics, morals, money). Quality leadership protects the values of groups that are being led.
The Popular View of Leadership
The concept of leadership is a huge topic nowadays. And it should be; for the most part our leaders have made an extraordinary mess of things: the economy, the environment, wars, global healthcare problems, stagnant government, etc. If we are to escape the mess that poor leaders have created, this planet desperately needs great leadership to undo the many failings of past leaders. This, however, cannot occur until we transform our outdated view of leadership.
Historically, we look for and admire leaders with those personality traits, physical characteristics and socials skills that inspire us. To some extent, we often search for the proverbial knight in shining armor to lead us. This is certainly natural and is likely a part of our hardwiring. However, it’s untenable to think that we can effectively measure our leaders based on their personality, physical appearance and social skills. Such measurement schemes typically have a devastating impact on group performance because such criteria are often irrelevant to leadership performance.
Today, there will be many leadership seminars, discussions and training sessions. Virtually all will have one thing in common: the participants will not have a clear, shared and correct understanding of leadership.
It is past time for us to recognize and embrace a modern day view of leadership, what it is and what makes leaders great. And amazingly, despite so many “knights in shining armor” from which we could choose, our greatest model of modern leadership is Paul of Tarsus.
The Leadership of Paul
For us to consider Paul’s leadership great, three things must be true: 1) his accomplishments as a leader were great, 2) he achieved what he did by using resources wisely and 3) he protected the values of those he led. Failure or mediocre performance in even one of these components will never equate to great leadership. Let’s see how Paul does.
Paul saw that his mission was to promote Jesus Christ as the risen son of God and to establish churches based upon this doctrine. Historians agree that when he began his ministry near the middle of the 1st Century, Christianity was a fledging religion with relatively few followers. Today, approximately one of every three people is a Christian. That equates to over two billion people. Certainly there are many factors that led to the growth of Christianity, but Paul’s leadership set the foundation upon which Christianity would grow.
2. Cost-Effective Use of Resources
In terms of the resources he commanded, Paul had next to nothing. Even for shelter and food, he often had to rely on the goodwill of others. This is not to say that assistants such Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, etc. were not valuable resources – they were. But relative to what he accomplished, Paul’s resources were scant. He accomplished so much with so little, which demonstrates his leadership strength.
Paul puts to shame the many leaders who command vast resources and are at best capable of achieving incremental improvements.
3. Protection of Group Values
After his vision on the road to Damascus, Paul was a man of peace. In this regard, he reflected the values of Jesus and Christians. He was whipped, stoned and imprisoned, but remained committed to the Christian values of peace. He spread the word of Christianity with great success and he did so without compromising its values.
Compare this with Pope Urban II, who was largely responsible for launching the first Crusade. “Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city” is a first-hand account of the Christians taking of Jerusalem in 1099.
Perhaps, one could argue that from a Christian perspective, capturing the city and once again allowing pilgrimages to the city was a good achievement. But because the manner in which it was achieved so violates our values, it is viewed as a stain on Christianity; one that has yet to be washed away. Paul, unlike Urban II, protected his followers from such deep and lasting shame.
The Modern Leader
Great leadership requires the expertise to accomplish great things, without wasting resources and always protecting the values of those being led. Certainly Paul was not equipped for 21st Century leadership, but then again far too many business leaders and government officials are even less equipped for the positions of leadership they hold.
Whether it’s in business, government, or the military, when we to envision how great leadership should look, it’s a great idea to look back two millennia to Paul. He understood and practiced real leadership, and is an ideal role model even today.
Author and supervision expert John Roulet has developed a systematic approach to supervision that ensures breakout performance. His new book, The Supervision Solution, demystifies the concept of leadership, and provides business leaders with information they need to achieve optimal and sustainable employee performance.