3 Essential Qualities of a Call to Leadership
Every leader has their own journey into leadership. To paraphrase Shakespeare, some people are born leaders, others achieve leadership, and some have leadership thrust upon them. But whatever the steps of the journey, certain qualities will emerge that reveal the call to leadership in your life.
In my case, I was raised in a family of leaders. My mom was the president of every club she belonged to. My stepfather ran for public office. I grew up watching them lead in business and on community projects. My biological father was also a civic leader for many years, serving as mayor, city council member, and county supervisor. His father was Nevada County Sheriff in the 1960s.
With these role models, it was easy for my own natural bent toward leadership to rise to the surface. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be at the front of the pack. I was on the cheer squad in high school, so therefore I wanted to be the head cheerleader. When my kids reached school age, I offered to volunteer at church and started working in the school of ministry. I’ve always been the kind of person who walks into a room and wonders who is in charge. If no one has the job, I am willing to step up and do it. When a staff position came open in the school, I went for it. From there, I continued to take on responsibility and climb the leadership ladder all the way to the church’s senior executive team.
Along that journey, I’ve met, worked with, and trained a wide variety of leaders, and a few things have become clear to me. Just because someone calls him or herself a leader or has a dominant personality does not mean they have the call and gift of leadership. (One of the most excellent leaders and humble humans I know is Pastor Bill Johnson, and he is the opposite of an aggressive personality type.) Rather, three primary things stand out for me when someone has a leadership call.
Do you have more than you in mind when you think about the organization you serve or work for? Do you care for the needs of the people and value them more than tasks? Do you take responsibility for the big picture?
Leading is a load-bearing job, and it can be heavy at times. In one of my previous roles with a large non-profit, I managed a busy calendar of big events. Renting venues and signing contracts were part of my everyday job, but during one busy season, I empowered one of my team members to sign several agreements for me. When one of our events changed, we discovered that she had mistakenly signed a binding contract with a hotel chain, positioning us to lose $40k if we didn’t use a certain number of hotel rooms.
The day we discovered this mistake was hard and emotional. My team member felt terrible and I felt responsible. I ended up spending hours on the phone with this hotel chain trying to get out of the contract. I asked them to spread the contract out between two years. I even went to their corporate office to plead for mercy.
Though the hotel refused to renegotiate, thankfully the Lord took care of us, and at the end of the event we only owed them $4k instead of $40k. After the dust settled, my team member and I went to lunch. She looked at me and asked, “Do you have any feedback for me?”
“Did you learn from this experience?” I asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Then, I’m good.”
Leadership is ownership. If you are called to be a leader, you will strive to take ownership of the vision of the organization and the health of the team. The team’s victories and challenges belong to the team, not just the leader. A wise leader shares the victories and never leaves the side of the team when things get tough.
2. Desire for Impact
Do you dream of being part of something that makes a difference in the world? Do you think about making the organization better and more successful because you’re there? Are you bored with the status quo? Do your dreams scare you just a bit?
When Bethel Church received the opportunity to manage the Redding Civic Auditorium, many people in the community were upset about a church running a city-owned building. I distinctly remember the meeting where the Bethel leadership team discussed who ought to take on the role of managing the Civic. As they brought up the challenges that this person would have to tackle, my heart beat faster and faster. There were so many things I didn’t know about running a concert venue, much less winning the hearts of the community, but I knew I wanted to throw my hat in the ring. I felt a bit like Frodo when he put his hand up and said, “I’ll go.” I was scared in a good way. I was excited to take on a challenge that was way too big for me. I wanted to change the world, and still do.
If solving problems, achieving greatness, and making an impact get your heart racing too, then there’s a good chance that you’re a leader.
3. People Follow You
There’s a famous leadership quote that goes, “If you think you’re leading and no one is following you then you’re just out for a walk.” How do you know you’re not just out for a walk? How do you know people are willingly following your lead?
Leading is serving your people and making them successful. When your team knows that you are putting them and the team’s success first, they will follow suit. The best way I know to do this is to think of building a team like growing a family. What wouldn’t you do for your family?
When I took over managing the Civic, I had a diverse team of employees, some new hires and some inherited from the city. My first priority for us was building connection. I started our weekly staff meetings by going around the group and asking, “How was your weekend? What was something good that happened this last week?” As fast as I could, I wanted to catch them up on each other’s lives and invite them to be a team that cared about each other both at work and outside work. I knew we needed to become invested in each other, because we will protect whatever we are invested in.
It took a while, but they followed me on that road. We became a team who laughed and joked and went to bat for each other. We were unified in working together toward the goal of the company, which was to win the city over with service and excellence.
For me, the theme that runs through each of these qualities—responsibility, desire for impact, and being someone people follow—is love. And this is the number-one leadership tool that helped me to grow as a leader. It wasn’t a technique, formula, or something I learned in a leadership book. It was leaders who modeled loving leadership and who loved me well, it was falling in love with the people I was leading, and it was learning to love myself that motivated and guided me to grow in leadership.
So if you feel called to leadership, above all I encourage you to go after growing in love!
The following self-awareness survey was created by a friend of mine. I’ve used it to help other people progress in their leadership journey. It’s a simple and accessible tool to help you contemplate how you currently see yourself and the areas you need to grow in.
WHAT ARE MY STRENGTHS?
• What are my current strengths or outstanding abilities?
• I could grow these areas of strength if I did what? (e.g., coach someone else, improve my productivity, etc.)
WHAT DO I NEED TO LEARN?
• What knowledge, abilities, or attitudes do I want to strengthen?
• Some things I might do to strengthen my less developed abilities are (e.g., workshops, courses, books, mentors/coaches):
AM I COUNTING THE COST?
• Some of the “costs” to not being more developed in these areas include:
• What is the personal cost to accomplish these things (e.g., go back to school)? Is it worth it?
WHAT STEPS DO I NEED TO TAKE?
• I should try the following new behavior…
• I might try talking to the following people for assistance…
• The one thing I would do to develop and improve my effectiveness is…
• Obstacles/barriers I see that block accomplishing my goals are…
• I can commit to taking the following action for 10 minutes each day at work to further my leadership potential…
• The ten minutes would be best done at this time of day…
• Who can I ask to hold me accountable…