Leadership matters because it is about people. Leadership matters because people aspire. Leadership matters because most of what we aspire for happens within relational networks.
We all have ideas about leadership, even if unwritten. A few years ago, a young woman walked into a lecture hall and sat down in the front row next to an elderly gentleman. Since the program hadn’t started, she introduced herself and then ask the gentleman his name. He said his name was Jimmy Carter. Not recognizing the name, she asked, and what do you do? He said, “I build homes for homeless people.” She said, “What did you do before that?” He said, “I was president of the United States.”
Many people like that story because they associate humility with good leadership.
But regardless of your mental model of a good leader, virtually all of us have experienced poor leadership. I just finished an article in Vanity Fair magazine about the catastrophic role the finance company A.I.G. played in the national financial collapse of 2008, “perhaps the most famous collapse in the history of finance a collapse that, without the intervention of the government, would have led to the bankruptcy of every major American financial institution.” We ask, “How could such smart people have not seen it?” Yet I read that the department of that organization that was responsible for these terrible decisions was ruled by a tyrannical leader who bullied, humiliated, and intimidated employees, generating a threatening environment where healthy questioning and debate was shut down and shut off.
In contrast, read David Von Drehle’s book Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year. In the year 1862, “The American republic was at death’s door. The government appeared overwhelmed, the U.S. Treasury was broke, and the Union’s top general was ill.” Leadership brings testing, but the three C’s of change, crisis, and conflict, if faced by a good leader, can produce good results.
So here at Yellowstone Theological Institute we train people in leadership, basic leadership, entrepreneurial leadership, conflict and leadership because we believe the church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.
A few years ago, I had the challenging opportunity to speak at a TEDx conference. My topic was “How to Help Those You Care About Thrive.” I told the story of my time teaching leaders in Bangladesh. While there, I came into contact with an organization that provided micro loans to women. One woman received a loan of a $100. With it she opened a kiosk on a busy street. Many of the streets of Dacca, the capital of Bangladesh, are lined with little kiosks little larger than a closet from which all manner of products are sold. This woman sold coffee. Eventually she paid back the loan and got another loan and with it she added bread to her kiosk menu. After that loan was paid back, she was able to really save and then made the first major purchase of her life. She bought a bed so her children would never again have to sleep on the floor.
This happened in part, because of good, successful leadership in the organization that provided the loans.
Here are some take-aways. Everybody wins when a leader gets better. Poor leaders hurt and hinder people. And, we all aspire and we all have influence so everyone can learn from wise and useful leadership principles and practices.
Part of the calling of YTI is to provide an environment where those who aspire to be good leaders can be resourced wisely and practically for such a calling.