Finding a Leader

Written by Dr. Rex M. Rogers on . Posted in Local

leader225Choosing a leader who is what you think he or she is, who actually will lead, and who will be able to step up to unknown challenges ahead is a tall order. Finding a leader is sometimes more difficult than following a leader.

American politics is replete with examples of leaders who turned out to be less than advertised. Herbert Hoover was a highly successful businessman; he'd get the country's economy moving. But the Great Depression overwhelmed him. Richard Nixon ran on a "law and order" theme. Need I say more?

Then there are the leaders who turn out to be something other than advertised or presumed. The United States Supreme Court offers a long list of examples. President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren and later called this decision the biggest mistake he'd ever made—main reason: Warren came in conservative but quickly moved to a liberal perspective. Gerald R. Ford had the same experience with Justice John Paul Stevens, and George H. W. Bush with Justice David Souter. There's apparently something about a job for life "during good behavior" that gives you a lot of wiggle room.

So leaders who become less than or other than what they're believed to be is a fairly common occurrence. It's not so common for leaders to turn out to be more than people believed they'd be.

Perhaps the greatest example of a more than leader is Abraham Lincoln. What was it in his pre-presidency credentials or experience that could have possibly predicted the kind and tenor of leader this man would become? Lincoln was born in poverty, his mother died when he was 9 years of age, his fiancée died and he suffered a nervous breakdown, he failed twice at business, and he lost elections 8 times.

By the time Lincoln was elected President he was considered an excellent speaker (think Lincoln-Douglas Debates), but beyond this, there aren't many clues in his run-up to the presidency that suggest he could even lead, let alone achieve greatness. But he did. Abraham Lincoln combined character born of adversity, deep faith, and vision with an incredible resolve and, to an amazing level, compassion.

Listen to his words in the Second Inaugural Address just weeks before his assassination:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

His words resonate yet today and speak of a leader who was oh so much more than anyone thought possible.

So what of Pope Francis? During his papacy will he be the humble man focused upon the poor and marginalized, the man committed to historic Christian beliefs and church traditions people think he will be? Hard to say. And therein lies the challenge for the rest of us—finding a leader that is or will become a great leader in the best sense of the phrase.

There's the issue, too, of finding a leader for a group that's not really a group. In the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. clearly emerged as the voice of the Civil Rights Movement, but did he speak for the entire "Black community"? Some forty-five years after his death, who speaks for the "Black community"? Likely not even the current President of the United States. Who speaks for the "White community" or "Latino community"? And does it make sense to expect one person to speak for, let alone lead, a large, diverse, unstructured body of people? Not usually. But we live in an era of "identity politics," so media persist in looking for such leaders.

We are leading eyes upward.

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This happens re "Evangelicals" or more broadly, the "Christian community." Who speaks for this group? Is this even a group? Rev. Billy Graham is 94; does he speak for the "Christian community"? Does Rick Warren or Tony Evans, Joyce Meyer, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Sarah Palin, Brian McLaren, Roma Downey, Joel Osteen, or for that matter Cardinal Timothy Dolan? And if I omitted your fav, don't be offended, it just points to the impossibility of labeling one person the leader of the American "Christian community."

So back to finding a leader, for what and for whom should we look? Assuming would-be leaders' basic credentials and experience are up to par, here're are a few thoughts:

1.) Does the would-be leader have "Vision"? Can he or she articulate some sense of where to lead—direction, theme, goals? Do he or she possess a defined set of beliefs and values?

2.) Can the would-be leader state this Vision succinctly? Lincoln's public speeches were notable not only for their eloquence but for their brevity. So we remember key phrases. Can you remember anything from the last several laundry-list State of the Union addresses? Presidents usually do better in Inaugural Addresses a la Ronald Reagan's "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem" or JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country"?

3.) Is the would-be leader's character—who he or she really is—discernable? We all know people can be credentialed, competent, and creative, yet woefully lacking in character. When it was all said and done, character may have been Lincoln's greatest leadership asset. The negative examples are so well known they don't need to be listed.

4.) Does the would-be leader have the requisite stamina? Pope Benedict's resignation is getting a lot of press. And people periodically complain about the long presidential primary process, but these many months provide time to watch a candidate under intellectual, emotional, and physical pressure. Leadership can be stressful. Harry Truman said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." He meant political heat, but the heat leaders feel is manifold and not everyone is as heat-resistant as Harry.

5.) Will the would-be leader "act"? Can he or she make hard decisions? Will the would-be leader "do"? It's rather amazing how many leaders don't lead. The Old Testament's Joshua and Nehemiah were action-oriented. So were Ruth and Esther. Lincoln acted and searched for generals who'd do the same. Real leaders lead when others are not yet following.

This isn't an end-all-be-all list because one can't be written. Finding leaders who really lead, who lead with grace and greatness is much more difficult than it might seem. It's one of the things that makes finding, then watching, following, and evaluating, a leader so fascinating.

Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President SAT-7,,,
Author Information
Dr. Rex M. Rogers
Rex M. Rogers (born 1952[1]) serves as President of SAT-7 USA, the American promotion and fundraising arm of SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry by and for the people of the Middle East and North Africa. SAT-7 SAT-7, based in Nicosia, Cyprus, supports quality, indigenous-produced programming on four channels in three languages, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.

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