On Jan. 15, 2009, a bird strike knocked out the engines of US Airways Flight 1549 that had just left LaGuardia airport, and was headed for Charlotte. The plane was over the densely populated area of New York City and its suburbs. In a now famous event, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, popularly known as “Sully,” landed the plane safely on the Hudson River, got all 155 passengers and crew out safely without a single life being lost. It was a supreme example of leadership in a crisis.
What is leadership? Many are asking that question now, for several reasons. We have a presidential election looming in a few months. Pastors are being forced into new decisions because of Coronavirus. Mayors and civic leaders have new decisions to make because of racial tensions. Academic leaders have new decisions to make about school openings and new methods of learning. What do good leaders do in a chaotic time?
For the next few weeks, I want to probe that issue in dialogue with the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a book of wisdom. Essentially, wisdom is skill in living, from the Hebrew term hokmah. The book was very likely directed to future leaders in Israel, with a series of proverbs, basically two-line wisdom sayings for future leaders to ponder. What does the book of Proverbs teach leaders and future leaders? To clear the landscape, let us consider for this week what leadership is not.
It is not confidence or self-assurance
Some of us have this in abundance, and act with supreme self-confidence. However, self-confidence, like staying at a Holiday Inn, does not give someone the skills necessary to operate on a human heart, to teach German, or land a plane safely on the Hudson River on a cold January day.
Leadership is not the right personal or family connections
Knowing other brain surgeons does not qualify someone to operate on your brain; having the friendship of other translators does not prepare someone to translate for the UN; knowing other pilots well does not land a plane in a crisis. The well-connected, even with the right references, do not necessarily have the ability to lead. Jefferson Davis and James Buchanan were both far better connected than Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln was the leader needed in 1861.
Leadership is not necessary experience doing something
The fact that someone has done something for, say, 25 years, actually tells us little. Have they done the same thing each year for 25 years, or have they grown in that time? Again, Davis and Buchanan were both vastly more experienced than Lincoln.
Leadership is not energy
The Energizer Bunny may be able to beat a drum, but is that leadership? Perpetual motion does not mean wise motion. Working smarter is far more effective than merely working more.
Leadership is not good looks
“God does not look at the outward appearance, but the heart,” 1 Samuel 16:7 says. Yet, churches want pastors with good looking families, we want photogenic politicians, and we want newscasters to look like models. Our best president may have been our ugliest.
Leadership is not about age
We are fascinated with youth, but age is not a qualification or disqualification for anything. Churchill became Prime Minister at 65, Golda Meir in her 70s, and William Gladstone was appointed Prime Minister for the fourth time when he was 82! Moses was called in his 80s. Lev. 19:32 says, “You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged.” Do we obey that? After all, nothing magical happens when a person hits 65!
Thinking clearly on leadership is crucial.
We are hiring someone for George Washington’s job when we elect a president.
We hire people for Martin Luther and Jonathan Edward’s jobs when we hire a pastor.
We hire someone for Aristotle’s job when we hire an educator.
We are hiring someone to land a plane safely on a river in January in New York.
If he or she can.
For the next few weeks, we will probe Proverbs for what leadership, from the Bible, actually requires.
Dr. Tim Dwyer
Professor of Bible and Ministry