A contemporary theory of leadership states that there are three basic ways that people become leaders. The first two explain the leadership development for a small number of people, the third explains how most leaders find their way into leadership positions. These theories are:
- The Trait Theory suggests that some personality traits may lead people naturally into leadership roles.
- The Great Events Theory suggests that a crisis or important event may cause a person to rise to the occasion of leadership. Such great events bring out extraordinary leadership qualities in an ordinary person. This is a subset of the Trait Theory.
- The Transformational Leadership Theory teaches that people can choose to become leaders. People can learn leadership skills. This is the most widely accepted theory today.
Christians add a variant to the Transformation Leadership Theory that understands that successful leaders are called into positions of leadership, that the transformation required is a work of the Holy Spirit in the life and character of a person.
When a person decides whether to respect you as a leader, he observes what you say and do in order to know who you really are. That is to say that the fundamental leadership characteristic is integrity.¹ Integrity is a matter of doing what you say you will do. It is the conformity of thought and action, or belief and behavior. Your integrity reveals whether you are honorable and can be trusted or are a self-serving person who misuses authority and position to look good and get promoted.
Self-serving leaders are lucky when their employees obey them. But even when they do, they get only minimal obedience. They do not inspire followers who are committed to the well-being of their leader. Self-serving leaders can succeed in many areas, but only because they make themselves look good to their superiors at the expense of others. They win through intimidation and deceit (by presenting a false front).
The basis of leadership with integrity, on the other hand, is a commitment to truth and honesty that results in the genuine concern for the well-being of others (which produces the long term well-being of businesses and organizations, as well). In an employees’ eyes, leadership is everything leaders do that effect the organization’s objectives and the well-being of others. Respected leaders concentrate on what they are (on their values, beliefs and character), what they know (such as job, tasks, and human nature), and what they do (such as implementing, motivating, and providing direction).
What makes a person want to follow a leader?
People follow those they respect, those who have a clear sense of direction, and who have a genuine concern for the well-being of others. Many leadership skills can be taught, some leadership characteristics can be nurtured and grown. But the passion for truth and integrity as the personal value that guides everything that a person does is a life calling that can only be answered by a willing heart.
1Integrity: 1. Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code, 2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness, 3. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.