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Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Leadership Qualities that Can’t Be Faked

Note from the Editor: This week at Wesleyan Accent, as we scan, with grief, ongoing news from seeker-sensitive Protestant megachurches and Roman Catholic dioceses, we are reaching into our treasure trove of archives to reexamine different aspects of leadership. Our contributors over the years have written thoughtful, challenging reflections on leadership from a variety of perspectives. 


Leadership is a tricky subject.

I had a great college professor who modeled it, taught it, instilled it, and theorized about it (only a rare person can do all of those things). He posed a question: are you born with leadership abilities, or are they learned? (A probable admittedly false dichotomy, to be sure, but a great way to think about how one gains the qualities of leadership.)

Rather late to the party, recently I watched the painfully exquisite Band of Brothers miniseries (2001), a carefully rendered tribute to a deep slice of modern history. Band of Brothers follows American paratroopers who served in Europe in WWII. The men were real, the stories are real, it all really happened – a fact which shakes me. It ought to shake all of us.

I’ve grown up in a generation extraordinarily cynical about leaders, largely because of scandal in every sector and at every level of public life. A President misuses power with a young intern in the Oval Office, Catholic priests are brought up on charges around the world, Congressmen and Governors accidentally Tweet explicit photos or try to sell Senate seats, Bernie Madoff bilks millions, star athletes admit to doping, unarmed black men are strangled and shot in the back by police officers, 40% of North American pastors surveyed admit to using pornography. The development of the internet means we don’t learn of things slowly – we’re bombarded by information almost as soon as something happens.

Whether or not it’s fair, integrity isn’t assumed. Lack of integrity is.

It is assumed there’s a dichotomy in your life between image and reality – an Instagram filter, if you like. Everyone knows you take 20 selfies to get one good one, right? So the Sunday morning you – why would I assume that’s the real “you”?

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the world desperately needs strong leaders. Leaders won’t have to go busking on street corners with their guitars for loose change. Additionally, the good news is that there are still strong leaders in the world.

The bad news is that it costs. Additionally, the bad news is that many strong leaders don’t get much recognition.

Your list may be different from mine. Here are a few thoughts on leadership qualities that can’t be faked. The hard part is answering whether you and I are willing to be the real deal, when a Photoshopped head shot is so much faster and easier.

*You can’t fake sacrifice.

You can fake generosity, though. But real sacrifice – real sacrifice – isn’t faked. Usually only a few people know about it. When someone talks too readily about themselves and their sacrifices, watch out: often, real sacrifice is learned of from and through others.

To take the battlefield imagery alluded to above, you can fake generosity by offering to do something you were already signed up to do. But you can’t fake the sacrifice of offering to go on a patrol so someone else can rest, or sharing the last of your supplies.

If you’re not willing to sacrifice regularly and quietly, don’t be surprised when people follow you when you’re successful but abandon you when the going gets tough.

*You can’t fake humility.

False humility is visible a mile away. False humility still finds a way to put other people down privately and publicly. False humility asks followers to do things the leader isn’t willing to do. False humility gets mean at perceived slights. False humility goes hand in hand with a strong self-protective instinct. It sees humility as a social tool rather than a quality of Jesus Christ.

Real humility is comfortable with confidence – in the right things. Real humility doesn’t take potshots at others in order to masquerade as wisdom. Real humility leads from the front and picks up the cleaning rag first, not last. Real humility means a mild response when someone insults you. Real humility puts self-preservation to death.

*You can’t fake consistency.

This doesn’t mean glossing over temperamental differences and personality traits. It does mean that whether you discipline yourself to become knowledgeable about property insurance or Greek verbs, the latest studies on PTSD or the life of Bonhoeffer, you see discipline and consistency as qualities that allow you to serve others better when the moment arises.

Or as Major Dick Winters put it (portrayed in Band of Brothers, he fought at Normandy, in Holland, and at the Battle of the Bulge), “war exposes the best and worst of those who are called to fight. I know of no man who lacked character in peace and then discovered his character in combat.”

There are very few leadership qualities that can’t be faked. You and I both know that real leadership costs something – and that every newly elected President of the United States who has worked hard to prove him or herself a worthy leader finds out quickly just what it costs to be one of the leaders of the free world.

What leadership qualities are you tempted to skate by on? What leadership qualities are valued by your peers? Do your peers value apparent leadership qualities easier to counterfeit or do they value less-apparent qualities harder to fake?

We want to follow Jesus Christ faithfully – don’t we?

After all – we live in a shell-shocked, battle-weary world.

Are we willing to raise a hand?

“Here am I…

send me.”

Read more from Elizabeth here.


Note: The featured image is “Moses the Leader” by artist Nicholas Roerich, 1926.