8 Essentials of Leadership—It Starts With You

“Who you are becoming as a leader is more important than what you are doing.”

Any leader working with the next generation can attest to the fact this generation is different than all others before it. They speak in a language we don’t always understand, run circles around us with new technology, and think differently when it comes to faith and social issues. But I believe they are the hope for our churches, our communities, our nation and our world. Not tomorrow or way into the future, but today. Right now.

I recently partnered with the Barna Group to survey Christian adults ages 18 and older about their views on leadership. We discovered 82 percent agree “the nation is facing a crisis of leadership because there are not enough good leaders now.” This is a brutal reality check. We have a leadership crisis in our country. We trust our leaders less today than we have in the past. Way less.

Some have written off our country, believing we are spiraling into a dark chasm, but not the younger generation. They are more hopeful than ever.

Essentials for Leaders

I’m passionate about raising up great leaders, and I’ve devoted much of my life to convening and equipping leaders of all ages and stages in life who want to grow in their leadership abilities. Recently, I’ve noticed that many young leaders desire to lead right now, but they don’t know how to lead well. They want to change the world, they’re ready for action and passionate about making a difference, but they’re not yet equipped for the task. They need the tools, roadmap and guide for leading well.

I believe there are several shared common traits and characteristics among leaders who lead well, what I’m calling the eight essentials. Notice I call these essentials, not strengths. These are the characteristics I have found are needed to create change-makers, and ultimately a true catalyst leader—someone who leverages his or her influence for the betterment of the world, the collective good of others and the greater glory of God.

1 Called: Discover God’s Unique Calling on Your Life

Here’s a working definition of calling: God’s personal invitation for me to work on his agenda, using the talents I’ve been given in ways that are eternally significant. In essence, calling is where your greatest talents and deepest passions intersect. Our vocation should flow from that crossroads. It’s imperative that you discover God’s unique calling on you life. Without understanding your calling, you’ll end up bogged down in the mud of life.

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Calling should give us life, and provide us direction. Our vocation should flow out of who we’ve been uniquely designed by God to be. Think back to your childhood. Identify the things you were good at and energized you. Do they still? What did you naturally look forward to? What barriers are preventing you from pursuing the stuff you love to work on? God desires for a sense of mission to burn within us, driving us forward in the perilous journey of life. I believe God has a unique purpose that he desires to carry out in every single person he creates. He’s carved a specific and significant path for us all. A catalyst leader is called. Find your uniqueness.

Leaders who make the biggest impact also have the strongest sense of calling. They know the direction God has marked out for them, and they’re chasing after it.

2 Authentic: Embrace Your True Identity and Share it With Others

Being an authentic leader is of ultimate importance. Over the years, I’ve realized a great lesson about leadership: I’m at my best when I’m simply being me. Every leader I know faces the temptation to project a persona other than their true selves. They think that in order to maintain the confidence of their team or followers, they must appear faultless, flawless and ever wise. Yet I believe that what everyone around you wants is an authentic leader, not a perfect one. A leader willing to admit their mistakes. That can only happen if I embrace who I truly am rather than trying to be someone else.

Make authenticity and honesty the standard for your organizational culture. Millenials are cynical at their core, and don’t trust someone just because they are in charge. It’s imperative to build a real atmosphere of trust. We live in a world where it feels like we’re constantly being ranked, measured, considered and judged. No one wants to have their flaws and shortcomings exposed, but being honest about struggles might be exactly what it takes to influence the next generation of leaders. The journey begins with learning to be comfortable in your own skin. Looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I’m okay with who I am. God made me this way for a reason.”

The church should be the most authentic place in the world. We should be the most approachable, human and honest of anyone. This should be our calling card. Yet too often we are seen as the hypocrites. This ought not be. We find Jesus calling us to authenticity in scripture. Jesus reserved his harshest words for the inauthentic, those he called “whitewashed tombs” and “hypocrites”—from a Greek word that literally means “actor” (see Matt. 23:27). When young leaders crave transparent and honest leaders, they’re echoing the heart of Jesus.

Before you can release your true self you have to recognize your true self. Know who you are. If you try to be all things to everyone, then you’ll end up being nothing to everyone. Constantly practice self-awareness.

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3 Passionate: Develop an Insatiable Hunger for a Vibrant Relationship With God.

As I’ve observed promising young Christian influencers across America, I’ve found that they are equally fervent about con¬necting their work with their spirituality. Passion is paramount. This next generation has a deep passion for God. They may not be into organized religion, but they love following Jesus.

They are bringing it to bear in almost every field imaginable. Whether they work in business or the arts, education or the social sector, they are tying their love for Jesus to the work they do. They want their faith to be central to their lives, not an afterthought. This generation of leaders has a passion for Jesus and a heart to serve him, to be fully and holis¬tically connected to everything they do and everything they are.

Being a change-maker means realizing that commitment to God and passion for following Jesus cannot be compart¬mentalized. It cannot be restricted to Sundays and sacred spaces. For the catalyst leader, Mondays through Fridays are holy days. Boardrooms are sacred spaces, and so are Hollywood studio lots, high-rise offices, and neighborhood coffee shops.

No matter where you work, your job can be an act of wor¬ship and service to God. We all have a divine purpose for our lives. Every day is an oppor¬tunity to display one’s passion for Christ. The way we live out our personal callings says a lot about how we see ourselves. It reveals whether we view ourselves as worshippers or ones who desire to be worshipped.

Passion for God makes us generous, active, and bold. It’s contagious. If you’re struggling to become a better leader, petition God to light a fire for his glory inside of you. Develop your heart for God and trust that he will help you lead well.