In Christian leadership there is never a place where one should say, “I’ve arrived.” Leadership is a continual challenge to grow. If you are a leader, you should find ways to keep growing. If you’re not growing, you won’t be leading for long.
The biblical character Joshua is a great example of an effective leader. Below I give you eight ways to grow as a leader with reflections on this biblical character.
1. Leaders accept that they must be regularly challenged.
At the beginning of a leader’s experience, most of the challenges come from outside of the leader. These new leaders are inexperienced and often uninformed. There is nothing wrong with being uninformed and unskilled. However, if a leader stays this way, that is a problem. We must all begin somewhere so, early in a leader’s life; the challenges are more external. But something happens along the way, as a leader grows, he or she will become knowledgeable and competent in their area of focus. This can be both good and bad. I know from experience. A leader, because of their competence and knowledge has the temptation to rely more on this than on seeking God for guidance. As a novice, they relied on the leading of the Spirit of God, Scripture, and the advice of wise counsel. As they grew, they began to trust more in their own counsel and a shift was made, however subtle, to human-centered wisdom instead of God-sought wisdom.
Joshua as a leader learned the price of this kind of thinking. Perhaps you remember the battle at Ai. It was perhaps the greatest failure of Joshua as a leader, and it came on the heels of his great first victory as a leader. You can find it here in Joshua 8:1-12. He did what seemed like the best course of action to fulfill the mandate from the Lord to conquer the Promised Land. However, he made a shift from seeking the Lord first and went with his own counsel. 36 of his men died that day. 36 families lost fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers. It didn’t have to happen, but it did. Like Joshua, leaders need to be stretched spiritually, mentally, and relationally. Above all, stay humble before the Lord (James 4:10).
2. Leaders model self-leadership
In the hierarchy of leadership, the first level is the level of self-leadership. If you want to know all five levels of leadership, check out Mac Lake’s book “The Multiplication Effect” pages 66-69, Kindle version). Self-leadership is just what it sounds like. The ability to lead yourself. This is the leader who can teach on loving your neighbor because he is loving his neighbor. At this level, he is not perfect, but he knows himself and is working on being a good leader by leading himself well first.
Joshua was this kind of leader. When he called the Israelites to fight, he also went in the battle. When it was time for Moses to seek God’s direction on a matter, Joshua was right there with him. Joshua would spend extended time in the tabernacle even after Moses had left. “As all the people saw the pillar of cloud remaining at the entrance to the tent, they would stand up, then bow in worship, each one at the door of his tent. The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend, then Moses would return to the camp. His assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent.” (Exodus 33:10–11, CSB) Joshua obeyed Moses and the Lord, so his people will be moved to obey him.
3. Leaders must be good communicators
A leader needs to get his message across to his people, but his people also need to give feedback to the leader. Both, the sender and the receiver, need to be sending and receiving to make sure they are understood.
A huge part in good communication is influence. When the 12 spies returned from their reconnaissance mission into the Promised Land, there was a disagreement as to whether Israel should enter. Joshua was one of the voices for going ahead, but other voices revolted against him. At that time, his influence was not great enough to overcome the negative communication coming from the other spies. They didn’t listen to Joshua. Now this failure is not on Joshua, but his influence at that time was not what it became later when he led Israel into the Promised Land.
Good communicators must anticipate the tendencies of their hearers. They must speak to them and show a better way. As Joshua led, his influence grew, but he also became better at speaking to the fears of his people. What are the debilitating fears of your people? How can you best speak to them, so that they will obey the Lord? This is something effective leaders don’t shy away from.
4. Leaders develop others
Moses learned the value of developing leaders early on in his ministry of leading Israel out of Egypt. As you may remember it was Moses’ father-in-law who strongly suggested to him that he appoint leaders to take on some of the work as judge he was doing. Moses also knew that he would not be around forever, and Israel would need another leader after him. Joshua was Moses’ succession plan. More importantly, it was the Lord’s succession plan. This is spelled out in Deuteronomy 31:14.
When it came to Joshua developing other leaders, we just don’t see it. He had leaders, but they seem to be of his generation. But, in his defense, transitioning from conquering the Promised Land to settling it requires a different set of leadership skills. In the book of Judges, we find there is no one leader. The fragmentation into tribes happens and darker days for Israel lie ahead. Perhaps this division into the primacy of tribal leadership was necessary, but there was not intentional process for developing them. Throughout the book we hear of good leaders and poor leaders. We hear of foolish leaders and wise ones as well. Effective leaders develop others prepare the next generation for the challenges ahead.
5. Leaders manage conflict
I don’t like conflict. I will try to avoid conflict if reasonably possible. However, in my time as a pastor and denominational leader, I understand that often a leader must be proactive in addressing conflict. If the leader doesn’t, then it will grow. Conflict is inevitable and continual.
Joshua dealt with conflict in an even-handed way. Certainly, there was conflict in battle. Joshua saw it most of his life. In his task of distributing the land, Joshua had been given directives from Moses. He was able to fall back on this if there was a disagreement over land allotments. When disagreements came that were not in the directives from Moses, Joshua had to handle them with wisdom. He did this with the request of Zelophehad’s daughters (Joshua 17:3-5) and when the people of Joseph asked for more land (Joshua 17:14-18).
6. Leaders learn from others
You’ve probably read this: Leaders are readers. It is true. But leaders are not only readers. Leaders learn from other leaders in a variety of ways. One of the important things to remember in learning from other leaders is that you don’t have to agree with them to learn from them. I listened to the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcasts. I remember in the podcast Mark Driscoll stating that if another pastor didn’t have more people coming to his church than he did, that pastor couldn’t teach him anything. I have news for Driscoll, with that attitude, nobody could teach him anything. There is always something we can learn from another person. It may not always be a leadership skill, it may be more personal, like kindness and humility or recognizing each person as a special creation of God, not someone you can just get to follow you. Therefore leaders being in an accountable community is important. Joshua became the man he had a teachable spirit about him. He was able to learn from others.
7. Leaders utilize a leadership coach
A leadership coach is someone who knows and understands basic leadership principles, is on your side, asks the right questions, helps you to think through issues and challenges, lets you make all your own decisions, and helps you identify the steps you believe you need to take for a better tomorrow. A leadership coach will also help you to review how it is going and ask if there are any adjustments that need to be made. A leadership coach is confidential. How does all that sound?
Scripture says that Joshua went out and found a leadership coach. No, it doesn’t say that. I believe he had some coaches in Moses and Caleb, they just weren’t called that. Moses had a great leadership coach in his father-in-law, Jethro. A leadership coach is someone who comes from the outside and brings a different perspective. That fit Jethro to a "T". Maybe your next step is to find a leadership coach and meet for a few sessions, just to see if its a fit.
8. Leaders leave an intentional legacy
Moses was intentional in naming Joshua as his legacy replacement. The inspiration came from the Lord. We’ve already named that in point four. Now Joshua knew his time was ending. He challenged the people of Israel to stay faithful to the Lord and to continue the legacy of faith. In Joshua 24:14-18 he renewed the covenant that the people had made with the Lord at the beginning of their entry into the Promised Land.
The Scripture states that the Israel worshipped the Lord throughout Joshua’s time and even during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. But it when it fell to the generation who had not lived through all the things that the Lord had done for Israel, a falling away took place. Legacies are not guaranteed forever. They are not even guaranteed at all. But if a legacy is going to last at all, it must be intentional.
These eight are not exhaustive, if you as a leader in your home, business or church will seek the attitude posture that these bring, I believe you will be not only growing as a leader, but will be effective as well.