What is Leadership? – Look to the Artist


Today, CrossChurchSchool.com welcomes guest writer, Mary Richardson. Mary is a Resident Minister in the Cross Church School of Ministry serving in the Missions Ministry, Springdale Campus. She is from Rock Hill, South Carolina and graduated from North Greenfield University.

As a current student in the School of Ministry, a recent college graduate, a pastor’s daughter, a former homeschooler, and a follower of Christ, my understanding of leadership has had many influences. I have seen many models and examples, some positive and some negative. When I think of the definition of leadership, the main determiner of which I am aware is that of context.

Context determines the substance of leadership. Many times, the presence, or absence, of a title determines the expectations that must be met and the processes at your disposal. The demographics and goals of followers change the type of leader and leadership they will accept. A leader who thrives in a certain context may find themselves completely lost in another context, sometimes with only a slight difference. Leadership is an amoeba of relationships, ideas, and goals that must be synthesized and guided intentionally and effectively in light of the context of both the leader and the followers.

Look to the artist. In order to produce a finished work of art, there are many factors that must be managed. The main aspect, the lead issue, is usually the medium that the artist will employ. In order to determine which medium he will use – oil paint, clay, recycled metal, etc. – the artist must consider his circumstances, his context. First, what is he attempting to convey or capture? This determines his end goal. Also, what tools are at his disposal and which methods can he use? Finally, what atmosphere surrounds this process? Natural light will affect the process differently than electric lights. Unlimited access will have a different result than a timed exposure to the subject of the artwork. These aspects vary from work-to-work and artist-to-artist, but they must all come together to result in a work of art.

Leadership is similar. Situations and needs shift with life, and, therefore, one’s function as a leader shifts and changes. There is no set formula for leadership.

Although leadership in practice can be a difficult concept to solidify, one can understand the fundamentals of leadership and its functions. John C. Maxwell defines leadership as influence- “nothing more, nothing less” (The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leadership, p.17). Conceptually, this proves true. Practically, it seems to me that it lacks foresight. One can influence others in many different ways, but unless a leader has a vision, a relationship with followers that results in responsibility, and personal integrity, leadership is distorted into a self-serving manipulation of that influence.

Vision is necessary to provide a direction in which to lead. A leader without a vision may influence those around her, but she will not be able to accomplish anything of substance. Leadership must be an intentional direction of that influence, otherwise it is empty self-amusement that will harm both the leader and those around her.

A leader must have an understanding of personal responsibility to some extent in the situations over which she exerts her influence. That sense of responsibility is formed through both the presence of a vision and through personal relationships. Those relationships ensure that the leader does not view her followers as faceless gears in a system, but as individuals whose lives and well-being are important. A good leader knows that her decisions will affect not only her life and her vision, but all who have put their confidence in her as leader. Personal relationships also ensure that the leader is aware of the changing context of both her followers and their circumstances. This awareness allows her to adjust her processes and instructions as necessary.

Finally, a leader must have personal integrity. Integrity guards against the temptation to manipulate one’s influence, taint one’s vision, and ignore personal responsibility. Without integrity, a leader cannot be trusted, cannot be consistent, and cannot maintain her followers. Integrity is essential for a strong leader.

These three fundamental aspects of leadership, combined with influence, ensure that the shifting contexts of life do not erode the foundation of one’s leadership. Leadership takes many forms, but a leader must be prepared to maintain focus of the vision while employing personal awareness and responsibility in the assessment and cultivation of leadership.

In my current situation, leading looks a lot like following, assisting, and learning. In my leadership roles, I am supporting and facilitating others to succeed. I am building my skillset and growing my experiences. My vision is one of expectancy. My responsibility is to God who has called me, to my leaders who are teaching me, and to my ministry. My integrity is paramount, as many grey areas lead to a loss of leadership, a loss of ministry, and a loss of opportunity.

If you ask me, “What is leadership?” I will ask what is your context? What is your finished work of art? How will you get there? How are you using your influence? Leadership is found and lost in the context of a leader and the use of her influence. It is the artist, producing the vision and knowing its context.

Leadership is defined by the context.