Here’s a good conversation starter for you. If you could identify one thing in a prospective leader that would ensure success, what would it be?
Or if you are currently in a place of influence, what’s the one thing you should strive for, today and every day?
Let the suggestions roll in… discussions like these will yield stand-by favorites such as vision, compassion, examples, character, communication, inspiration, encouragement and the like. All good answers.
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know there’s a Bible answer for that. In fact, there are several, if you dig deeply enough. But there’s one place where the Bible – particularly the Apostle Paul – addresses leaders. And there he could have used any word in the language of his day to challenge them. So what one word did he use? See for yourself:
And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness (Romans 12:6-8, NET).
Diligence. There you have it. The one thing that should characterize your leadership is diligence.
Who He’s Talking To
The first thing to note is that Paul is talking to people with various spiritual gifts, among whom are those who are “gifted leaders.” So why in the world do “gifted leaders” need to be encouraged to be diligent? Don’t their gifts set them up to coast through the leadership task? Don’t they just need to say the word and the minions jump to follow?
Your natural or spiritual gifts are no substitute for the mental and spiritual disciplines that are inherent to diligence. You don’t get a pass from attending to the tasks at hand; there is no automatic pilot in leadership – even when your capacity to lead is a gift from God.
Paul is also talking to anybody in a position of influence, authority, or management. The word translated “leadership” literally means “the one who stands in front.” If you are standing in the front of an organization, team, or even an individual, you are a significant part of their horizon. They don’t just hear your words, they see your actions. Which leads to…
Why He’s Calling You Out
Why doesn’t Paul tell the prophets or the teachers to manage their gifts with diligence? Why the leaders? And why diligence? Why not something, I don’t know…, sexier? More charismatic?
For the very reason that you are “in front” of people. And those people hear what you say but they do what you model. That’s why it’s always a little odd to me when a presumed leader wants to know how she or he can “create a culture of [fill-in-the-blank].” There’s more to it than this, but the first answer to that question always starts with your example.
You can say all day that you have certain values or aspirations for your organization. But what that organization actually becomes will be the result of what you have led yourself to be, not what you have commanded someone else to do.
What He’s Calling You To
Like most translated words, this is a rich one, laden with meaning. This word carries with it the idea of “making haste,” “doing your best,” “taking care” or “eager desire.”
Translation: Apathetic clock-punchers need not apply. Lazy place holders? Not so much either.
Unpacking this meaning a little more, a diligent leader:
1. Makes quick work once decisions are made. Diligent leaders have a bias for action and avoid procrastination. While they may understand the value of strategic waiting or timing, they have no use for personal laziness or fear-based hesitation. They operate on the principle that it’s always easier to steer a moving vehicle than one that’s sitting still.
2. Faithfully pursues excellence. Sorry to sound like a Lexus commercial, but they get it, and so should you. Diligent leaders don’t have to be perfectionists or micro-managers. But they should play to a standard that goes beyond just getting a job done.
3. Follows through with care and concern. Knowledge really is power, but that’s not why diligent leaders pursue it. They pursue knowledge because they recognize the value of the proverb, “Know the state of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds” (Proverbs 23:27, NLT). If you’re blind to the people and the results you are charged with shepherding, you will eventually lose your leadership to someone who isn’t.
4. Eagerly pursues the vision or purpose. It. Has. To. Matter. And sooner or later diligence will touch your emotions. You’ll laugh or cry or get appropriately angry or clinched-fist determined to finish what you started or achieve what you envision. You will continue to work, first on yourself, to maintain the passion necessary to fulfill your purpose. That’s what diligent leaders do.
When He’s Calling You To It
So what’s the timeline here? I mean, when do leaders get to graduate from the school of diligence?
I suppose when they don’t want to be leaders anymore.
Every indication I see here is present-tense, continuous action. Are there times of rest? Of course. But never times of abdication. There is never a time when the leader is too important, too endangered, too burdened down, or too smart to skip their responsibilities to grow, to know, to show, and to go.
Followers get to punch time clocks. Leaders get to punch carelessness in the throat.
Know why Rudy Giuliani earned the reputation of being a masterful leader? Because when his city needed him he responded with diligence. I don’t remember the former New York mayor inspiring me with words of eloquence; I remember him reporting the facts. I don’t remember him hiding for the sake of security; I remember him donning the jacket of his beloved Yankees and showing up at the ballpark. I don’t remember him getting lost in a myriad of meetings, though I’m sure he had plenty; I remember him attending, again and again, the funerals of fallen police and fire officers who died on September 11.
There may be other one-word answers, but I can’t think of a more impactful one on your leadership than diligence. You may not be the smartest brain in the room, or the most naturally gifted. But you can be the most diligent. Do that, and sooner or later, you’ll be in somebody else’s horizon.
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