On Mobilizing People

August 30, 2018, 0 Comments

Leadership involves not just knowledge and understanding. Leadership is about movement, and specifically the movement of people. In looking into the literature about leadership, both the teaching of the principle in theory and the demonstration of the principle through historical accounts are frequent means of showing how leaders mobilize followers. There is much that leaders in the church can learn from an overview of historical and business leadership.

The President
One era frequently written about and that has produced many books on leadership is the American Civil War. Specifically, the presidency of Abraham Lincoln has been chronicled by a number of authors. Donald T. Phillips’ book is a succinct and helpful observation of leadership principles from one of the country’s most beloved presidents. Phillips commented, “The shrewdness and subtlety with which Lincoln guided people has not generally been recognized. Often his action seemed so innocent that contemporaries and subordinates had no inkling that Lincoln’s hand was involved in the circuitous changing of events.” [1]

Whereas the effort to mobilize people could involve a strong hand, Lincoln often moved people to action through his oratorical skills and through strong relationships. The president was so confident in his ability to lead others that it bred a security which allowed him to listen better and trust others more. Therefore, when disputes broke out among his cabinet and members of congress, Lincoln would arrange meetings with the offended parties and simply guide them toward resolutions. “But Lincoln’s chief objective was to allow his subordinates to say, ‘We accomplished this ourselves.'” [2] It is a portion of his legacy that Lincoln has taught other leaders how to move people to the actions they wish to taken anyway. Leaders must learn the skill of mobilizing people without necessarily being heavy-handed.

The Catalyst
The word “catalyst” is used to show how leaders move people toward action in organizations. In their popular book The Starfish and the Spider, Brafman and Beckstrom compare the role of a CEO and that of a catalyst within organizations. The book advocates the development of leaderless organizations and, therefore, they write for the development of catalysts. In their view, the CEO is a person who is immensely concerned with the structure and systems of the organization whereas the catalyst is mission-oriented and allows relationships to accomplish the work. The authors take a careful position to say that the catalyst style of leadership is not ideal in all circumstances. “Catalysts are bound to rock the boat. They are much better at being agents of change than guardians of tradition. Catalysts do well in situations that call for radical change and creative thinking. They bring innovation, but they’re also likely to create a certain amount of chaos and ambiguity.” [3]

In both instances of Lincoln’s leadership and in the leaderless organization, the common theme is to move people to action. Interestingly, as president of the United States, Lincoln seems to have searched for the skills that are described as the catalyst rather than the CEO. But, the point that is maintained is that leaders lead people into some sort of action.

In the research-driven book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman, a contrast is made between effective and ineffective mobilizers in leadership. In her book, a character described as the Know-It-All is presented as a leader who can make projects come to completion but ultimately they remove the motivation from the members of the organization for future work because they are not personally valued. The Know-It-All leader ensures that the organization and work revolves around themselves rather than a greater mission and the maturing of their followers. Conversely, Wiseman describes effective leadership through the role of a Challenger. In this style of leadership, she described the Challenger as:

“…using their smarts to find the right opportunities for their organizations and challenge and stretch their organizations to get there. They aren’t limited by what they themselves know. They push their teams beyond their own knowledge and that of the organization. As a result, they create organization s that deeply understand a challenge and have the focus and energy to confront it.” [4]

The mind of the multiplying leader is to not just accomplish tasks but build up the members of the organization so greater tasks can be accomplished in the future. Again, both styles of leadership can move people but only one will effectively continue to move them for future projects.

The Goal
At the end of the activity of leadership, there should be results. The results can range from the development of a nation to the profitability of a company. But no matter the stated goal, leaders must move people to action. Within the vast literature devoted to leadership principles, I observe that it is both assumed and taught that leaders who allow stagnation of people are not truly leaders but are merely servicing a crumbling organization. The ultimate goal is the personal development of followers. True leaders know how to connect, communicate, and mobilize people toward a goal.

For church leaders, we see that the gospel has as its goal both the glory of God (primary for us) and the transformation of people (of great importance to God). In leading people, we should mobilize them for the benefits of the gospel. We move people forward in activity and development that brings honor to the God who saves us. In doing so, we mobilize them to develop in the faith delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We lead for the sake of God’s reputation, the maturation of believers, and the salvation of the lost. We mobilize for the work of God’s kingdom on the earth.

[1]Donald T. Phillips in Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, 100.
[2]Ibid., 106.
[3]Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom in The Starfish and the Spider, 131.
[4]Liz Wiseman in Multipliers, 102-103.

The article is built from material in my doctoral project “Developing an Understanding and Method of Teaching the Principles of Missional Leadership” (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2011)

Image credit: Photo by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

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