A More Common Kind of Leader

What comes to mind when you hear the word “leader”? [Go ahead, speak up and write up your response. Add to the list in the Comments if you think it helpful for us.]

I suspect what doesn’t come to mind is “Myrtle,” and now I’m being sneaky because Myrtle isn’t a name you know about leadership. But perhaps you need to. I’m reading Brian Harris’ really fine book called The Tortoise Usually Wins: Biblical Reflections on Quiet Leadership for Reluctant Leaders. I know Brian, and he’s personally quiet but if you take time to listen you will rise up can call me and Brian blessed. That I promise you.

When I think of “leader” I think of “up front” and “in charge” and “energy” and “in the middle of things.”

What do you think of “quiet leadership”?

“Some people,” Brian says, “are born to lead.” I agree with him. They’re very obvious. “This book is not written for them.” Now that’s a leadership book we need because my experience with pastors around the globe leads me to think that there are as many reluctant quiet leaders as there are born leaders. And Brian’s got a book for the reluctant leader we can all benefit from. [And I'm blogging about a book on leadership after claiming I'd never do another one because I'm tired of leadership books about leadership that is not theological...on to the book.]

Quiet leaders are steady plodders. They are not looking to lead and they are not convinced they are the best leader and they don’t dream huge vision and sell everyone one it and beat the size of the church down the street or that you served last … instead: “the best journeys aren’t undertaken to defeat someone else, but because they are the journey we want to undertake” (3). That is, this is where I’m headed and I think you might be going with me, care to join? That’s quiet leadership.

So what is it? “Quiet leadership is a theory of leadership that sidesteps questions of charisma, and when looking at the characteristics of a leader focuses on leadership virtues and values, rather than innate abilities” (4). We live in the age of the cult of personality. And this is one of the best lines in the whole book: traditional models of leadership “focus on leaders rather than on leadership” (5).

Lots of leaders are like this but some folks only want the hero leader.

Brian sketches four kinds of leaders:

1. Heroic: focuses on the characteristics of a leader.

2. Position: focuses on the position of authority or leadership a person has — school principal.

3. Influence: focuses on looking behind to see how influential a person is.

4. Outcomes: focuses on looking behind to see how many are following or what’s happening.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Kandace

    My husband and I fit both types of leadership. Both have flaws, both have blessings and WHEN both are submitted to King Jesus in humility, both are delightful. I personally need both types in my own journey. There’s a tendency to paint quiet leadership as the more “humble” leaders and while it does appear that way, quiet leaders manifest their pride in passive aggressive ways. Loud leaders typically need to work on toning it down but be thankful to use their strengths for the glory of God. Quiet leaders need to work on speaking up, being honest and using their strengths for the glory of God as well.
    Quiet leaders are better at “hiding” their weaknesses.
    Maybe a compare/contrast between Peter and John would be a good study!

  • http://differentcloth.blogspot.com/ jeff stewart

    What a quandary. You won’t likely hear from the reluctant leaders on this.

  • revdrdre

    I think of myself as a quiet leader, but not a reluctant one. Even so, this post resonates with me. I agree with Kandace that all leaders (all humans) have pride issues, but i’m convinced that our society does not value what quiet leaders have to offer. this post points, as have others, to the helpful book by Susan Cain, “Quiet,” which makes extremely valuable points about introverted leadership–what seems to be related to the discussion at hand.

  • scotmcknight

    That is exactly what I’ve been thinking…. OK, introverted quiet leaders, it’s OK to say something.

  • scotmcknight

    We need to get Brian to the USA and making some lectures around the seminaries. He’s got so much to say… fantastic leader. When I was in Perth… he is the President at Vose and he started a church that is flourishing and he started a school that is flourishing … and he always had time for us.

  • Kandace

    I see the struggle my husband has and is overcoming in a predominantly extroverted, loud leadership culture. His (And my) training ground has been our own home. What once use to frustrate me to no ends is now what draws me to his quiet strength and wisdom. We were both initially attracted to the traits that over time proved to be irritants and through growth have evolved into gifts we cherish in one another. I’m guessing the same would be true in any church or organization where people stay long enough to mature in that particular community.
    Side note-we have given each other permission to gracefully nudge one another when our leadership weaknesses are shining through, typically loud and clear on both sides.

  • Adam

    Maybe saying something is the problem? The quiet ones aren’t interested in competing in the shouting match and therefore walk ahead. Perhaps the followers aren’t really interested in following but instead want to be pushed.

  • Kandace

    Respectfully Adam, communication is never the problem or the lack thereof. It’s the mode of operation in communicating. Both talking and silence serve powerful leadership influence. The loud leader can never use the excuse that “Somebody needs to speak up,” nor can the quiet leader say “Looks like they’ve got it covered.” Both are default modes. It takes humility and Holy Spirit wisdom for a loud leader to shut up and a quiet leader to speak up IN life-giving, mature ways.

  • Adam

    But this has the assumption that a leader is an instigator or a motivator or an initiator and doesn’t address the idea of the leader as an inviter.

    Scot’s comment from the post “That is, this is where I’m headed and I think you might be going with me, care to join? That’s quiet leadership.”

    All the typical characteristics of leadership, or all the characteristics that exist in people that most call leaders, are not about invitation but direction. Invitation can and will leave you alone because people are free to reject the invitation. When we see a person working alone, we then assume they are not leading. I will tell you they are leading. The are engaging the world in ways no one else is and it is the supposed followers who are failing to notice and actually follow. It’s not leadership to push you from behind, it’s leadership to invite you into new spaces.

  • Kandace

    Thanks for taking me back to that point. I see what you are saying. I do love invitations. They are good and needed. I also need direction at times, a good push. But I open myself up to that and invite that into my life. :-)

    The truth my husband has taught me is, introverts/quiet leaders do not need to be fixed. (Nor do extroverted leaders) Though we all need to grow and mature no matter what “type” we are, the point is learning from and receiving from one another. When that happens, wholeness is more achievable. And I believe Jesus was the perfect example of both.

  • AmyK

    Thank you so much for drawing our attention to this book. I’m excited to read it. I am both quiet and reluctant, and not at all sure if I could be a leader. I’m interested to see a new way of thinking about what leading could mean.


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