Leadership Essentials – What Makes a Great Leader?

Leadership Essentials – What Makes a Great Leader?

As I begin this new series on Leadership, I want to orient us towards a biblical understanding of leadership.  Most of us have spent a lifetime studying leadership.  We have read all the secular and religious leadership and management books we can get our hands on.  We have attended the conferences and seminars, and some of us have led conferences or seminars on leadership.  Many of us have degrees that include elements of management and/or leadership.  Our ministries are about developing leaders, and we are serious about our coaching and mentoring skills.


With all this information, why is it that there is a dearth of good leaders, much less, great leaders, in the in the world – whether we are looking at government, business, non-profits, or ministry.  Understand, I am not talking about management, I’m talking about leadership.   For many, there is little difference between management and leadership.  Both involve people.  Both are about reaching objectives. But the focus is very different.  Management requires some leadership skills, and leadership certainly requires some management skills.


Management is about the task, getting results, reaching the goals, fulfilling the mission.  I know, it takes good people skills and management skills to make these happen.  But it’s a matter of focus.  In management, the focus is on the task, the results, the mission.  People are a resource in the mix.  For some, a necessary evil.  Many managers look for ways to limit the human equation.  We all know that the weakest link in all management systems is the people.  They have different capacities, different skill sets, different temperaments and personalities.  Some are fun, some are not.  Some work hard, some don’t.  We study ways to get the most out of people, and then wonder why there are always those we can’t seem to engage, or motivate to help us reach our goals, to be successful.


Leadership is about people.  It’s about helping people reach their capacity as individuals and as teams, and even exceeding personal capacity through hard work, desire, and team building.  Leadership is more than good people skills and good management skills.  It is about helping people find what they are good at and then helping them become the best at what they do.  Leadership is about getting people in the right place at the right time, with the right knowledge and skills, and the right attitudes, so that they can succeed.  The byproduct of their success is mission accomplished, and people who will reproduce themselves into others, thus producing more people who will accomplish the mission.


Leadership is about understanding and having a vision, and having the capacity to help others move from not understanding the vision to adopting the vision and becoming an evangelist for the vision; from not knowing how to accomplish the vision to taking the steps necessary to fulfill the vision; from doubting self to confidence in leading others.


Management is about the details and resources required to fulfill the vision.  Don’t misunderstand me.  We need great managers.  But great managers without great leadership rarely succeed because managers don’t draw people to themselves.  Leaders, on the other hand, always draw others into their circles of influence and management.  Managers often have to recruit people.  Leaders select people from those who are coming around them as a result of their leadership lifestyles.


The metrics of management involve the tasks, and the stuff required to accomplish tasks.  Yes, this includes developing leadership in management.  But managerial leadership is not the same as organizational/people leadership.  Good managers are not necessarily good leaders.  They are good at bringing resources, including people, to bear on a task or problem, and achieving a positive outcome, however the organization defines “positive”.  The metrics of management measure use of resources against the tasks accomplished. Successful management is the minimum use of resources to accomplish the tasks – the margin between expenditure of resources and the gain from accomplishing the task is often the measure of good management.  In other words, management produces a product that is counted as positive outcome for the organization.  For a business this is money.  For a school this is successful graduates.  For a ministry this is people served.  For a politician or political party this is gaining and keeping office.  For a club this is getting others to adopt the values of the club and promote them to others.


The metrics for leadership are very different.  Leadership is about people, developing people to exceed their natural capacity, and producing leaders who will cause this in others.  In other words, leaders produce leaders. 


It is easy to spot great managers.  They produce, and the results are visible in the bottom line.  That bottom line may be widgets produced, people served, profit, or organizational growth.


It is more difficult to spot great leaders.  Often, great managers are mistaken as great leaders.  So, how do we recognize a great leader?  Look for other leaders who used to work for or with the great leader.  Look for people who have been mentored by the great leader, and who are now mentoring others.  Look for people who spot other people who are diamonds in the rough, and through tough love, hard work, and encouragement produce polished leaders who are recognized for their leadership and management skills. 


Leadership is not about making clones of ourselves.  It’s about spotting people with capacity and helping them reach their capacity, and even exceed their capacity.  Often, great leaders produce other leaders who will be even greater than themselves.  Look for this.  It will help you find the person you want to be your mentor.  And by the way, great leaders are always looking for others to mentor them in new areas of development.  A person who has stopped learning is probably not a great leader.


Great leaders bring together teams of potential leaders who will compliment and sharpen one another.  One of the metrics for leadership is the ability to bring together teams who will accomplish more together than any of them could produce individually.  In the process each member of the team learns and develops because of the exposure to others and because of an environment that encourages learners to develop into leaders.


Great leaders never focus on the mistakes that are made.  They focus on what can be learned from the mistakes so that they will not be made again, because leaders have developed through a learning process that minimizes the repetition of mistakes.


Great leaders recognize the need for management, but resist the temptation to manipulate.  Manipulation is getting people to do what you want them to do regardless of what they want to do.  Leadership is about creating the desire and understanding in people so that they want to do what you want to do.  Your vision becomes their vision.  By the way,, how the vision is accomplished is not very important, as long as it does not violate personal, organizational, and biblical ethics.  Managers often insist that things have to be done a certain way.  Great leaders are always open to new ways, and encourage creative thinking and problem solving.  Managers are always concerned with procedures.  Leaders are concerned with process.


For great leaders, glory is in others who succeed, not in being recognized personally.  Great leaders don’t have to be the “boss” in order to accomplish the mission.  They can work through influence, and usually can lead “up” (lead those who have managerial responsibility for them as a resource to the organization).


Great leaders are learners who have the ability to help others want to learn.  Notice, I did not say they are great teachers.  They are great at motivating others to become learners.  The difference between a learner and a student is that learners are active and go after information and skills to fill their capacity. Students are passive and wait for situations or others to force them to learn.  Students rarely reach capacity.  Learners often find ways to increase their capacity.


I hope this series on leadership will be helpful to you.  If you have any topics you would like for me to discuss or address, please feel free to send them to me through the comment section or contact section of this blog.  I look forward to your interaction.




David Watson

From 32,000 feet above the Hover Dam going West

7 Replies to “Leadership Essentials – What Makes a Great Leader?”

  1. Thanks for this message David. As I read through your blog entry this early morning, I was impressed with the thought that one essential element for leaders seems to be personal integrity. For managers this can be a plus, but not necessarily essential.

    1. Hi, Stephen. Personal integrity is an essential element in the life of every Believer, regardless of what role we have. The greater one’s responsibility, the more personal intergrity, or the lack of, will become evident. All of us need to remember that everything we do, think, or fail to do is seen by the Lord. For me, personal intergrity is striving to think and do everything for the Lord. His grace is found in the fact that He loves and accepts me even though I often fail and do things for me instead of Him, and think things for me instead of Him. This is an area I will write more on in this series.


      David Watson
      From San Jose, CA

  2. Yes, dear brother David Watson, so thankful for this article. This is really true, the world is need for true leaders. Thank you for making a clear distinction between manager and leader.

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