Some people are in a leadership role, but are not really leaders. Others don’t think they are leaders, but actually are.

Here are five things to look for to determine if you, or someone else, is really a leader!

1) People Are Following You Because They Want To, Not Because They Have To 

People follow a leader for at least two reasons. They respect who you are and they are excited about where you are going. It is undoubtedly true that people buy into who you are before they want to join you in where you’re going.

In the military, and in most businesses, people have to follow because of their leader’s position. That is the lowest type of leadership. It is so much better if people are following you because they want to, based on your character rather than on your position.

In his excellent book “Organic Leadership,” Neil Cole mentions five types of authority that we most often encounter:

Positional – Expertise – Relational – Moral – Spiritual 

Neil says this about positional authority:

“It is derived from the rank or place one occupies in a system or organization. It is tied directly to the chain of command. With positional authority, the amount of respect a person has is based on the position alone. Many times those who show respect to a person in positional authority do not actually respect the person as much as they fear the position.”

2) You Possess A Vision Of A Better Future That Stretches And Challenges You And Others 

John Maxwell, the leadership guru, has said for years that everything rises and falls on leadership and I totally agree with him. Allow me to add that things rise faster when that leadership has a vision and falls further when it doesn’t. Everything starts with vision. A real leader is one who leads people from where they are to where they could be or should be and that someplace is future oriented. Andy Stanley in his excellent book “Deep and Wide” says: “The catalyst for introducing and facilitating change in the local church is a God-honoring, mouthwatering, unambiguously clear vision.” Gotta love it! Growing disciples long for a “mouthwatering” vision. I believe people who follow us want to be stretched and challenged to something bigger than themselves and bigger than current reality; something that will honor Jesus and His kingdom.

People respond to vision, morale is built on vision, organizations grow and are sustained when a vision is present. I love Exodus 32:34: “But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you.” (ESV)

God speaks and shows his leaders a vision of a preferred future. The leader then, with His help, leads the people toward that future which is a win for the followers, the church or organization and for the kingdom.

3) You Are Delegating And Trusting Others With Decision-Making Responsibilities-Not Just Giving Them Tasks To Do 

Delegate or suffocate. Big leaders trust others to help them. Little leaders try to do it all by themselves sending themselves further down the road to burnout. Life-giving and empowering delegation happens when a leader trusts others in making decisions, which is far different than merely giving tasks to others but making all the important decisions yourself. Exodus 18:22 (ESV) mentions this: “And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you” (Underlining mine). A growing and developing leader is learning how to train others in making decisions and is not becoming the bottle-neck in the decision-making process.

4) You Are Building A Culture Of Trust, Honesty, And Safety 

Too many churches and organizations are built on a culture of fear: fear of an overbearing leader, fear of failure, fear of not making your numbers, fear of not doing everything perfectly, fear of offending someone, fear of losing your job by speaking your mind. Everyone does better when a culture of trust, love, kindness, patience, honesty and safety characterize any group, church or organization. We could use a good dose of the “fruit of the Spirit” in our church leadership.

5. You Take Responsibility For Your Sins And Mistakes Without Blaming Others 

Watergate was a turning point in American politics. This was the first “-gate” but not the last that opened up a window for us to see how some leaders lead by lying and distorting the truth (for personal gain and votes) rather than telling the truth. If history is any guide, we will face other “-gates” that we will need to look into.

It is the strong, not the weak, leader who is quick to confess, repent, take responsibility and not dodge the bullet thereby allowing someone else to become the fall guy. The next generation of leaders is looking for honesty and integrity in their leaders. They want leaders who are transparent, vulnerable and honest about their sins, shortcomings and mistakes.  Author and pastor, Mark Batterson, says “Authenticity is the new authority in leadership.” What most followers are looking for in their leaders is authenticity, not perfection.

So how are you doing? 

  1. Are you leading through character or relying on your position?
  2. Are you leading with a compelling vision?
  3. Are you leading by delegating or doing it all by yourself?
  4. Are you leading out of a culture of fear or a culture characterized by trust, honesty and safety?
  5. Are you leading by taking personal responsibility for your actions or are you quick to place the blame elsewhere?

Please take a few minutes and evaluate your leadership. Where would Jesus want you to experience change? “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (ESV)