Developing Twenty-first Century Leadership


Bridging the divide between yourself and another is often hard enough, but at times we are called upon to bridge divides between two other people. This calls for more than interpersonal communication skills; it calls for leadership skills.

Mason Neck State Park

Mason Neck State Park

At one point in my overseas career, I was given a leadership role among the teachers I worked with, the position of lead instructor. Suddenly, I was no longer responsible only to the students who were under my care, but I was also responsible for leading my peers and collaborating with the program director, who was Korean. I think I did a reasonably good job of managing the complexity of the job, but I didn’t always do a good job leading all three groups. While I excelled at leading the students and had a strong rapport with the director, I had not yet developed the skills necessary to effectively lead my peers. This led to conflict on my team when two instructors failed to coordinate with each other, and this undermined our ability to function cohesively. My lack of leadership skills prevented me from helping these teachers bridge the differences between them.

Since that time, I have continued to learn the “soft skills” needed to effectively lead groups of independently minded professionals. Without continuing to invest in my own personal growth, I would be not able to increase my effectiveness in leading my classes or my colleagues. In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about “The Law of the Lid.” He explains that your ability to succeed in any endeavor will be limited by your leadership ability. Lower leadership skill leads to small successes, but greater leadership skill enables you to achieve greater successes. Your skill level, in essence, puts a “lid” on your ability, limiting you.

However, there is hope; leadership skills can be learned and improved, but first you need to recognize your current status. Rosalinde Torres poses three questions to help her audience evaluate their effectiveness as modern leaders in her TED Talk “What it takes to be a great leader.” By evaluating your answers to these questions, Ms. Torres believes you can evaluate your impact potential as a 21st century leader.

Jesus is viewed by many as an amazing leader whose work impacted not only his country but also the Roman world and even world history. However, would Jesus’ approach to leadership be effective today? How would Jesus have answered the three questions posed by Ms. Torres?

  1. “Where are you looking to anticipate change?” In other words, what are you doing to grow and learn? How are you monitoring trends and changes in your field?

Jesus began his public ministry when He was 30 years old, and there is very little in the Gospels regarding His previous life. However, in Luke 2:52, we are given a glimpse of His life when it says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (ESV). Jesus must have spent countless hours and expended great energy in studying the scriptures and becoming a man who understood God’s direction and how to interact with people effectively – we see this demonstrated time after time in the Gospels. He clearly invested Himself in the knowledge and skills He needed to be effective in ministry.

  1. “What is the diversity measure of your network?” To what extent are you engaging with diversity and valuing the opinions and views of people who are very different from yourself?

Jesus chose twelve men to be His disciples, and these men couldn’t have been more different in background and temperament. True, several of them were fishermen, but He also called Matthew, a tax collector for the Romans, and Judas the Zealot, who opposed Roman influence and rule, two men who would have been ideologically in conflict (Mt. 10:3-4). These are the men Jesus handpicked; He chose them deliberately. He clearly wasn’t afraid of disagreement!

  1. “Are you courageous enough to abandon practices that made you successful in the past?” To what degree are you willing to take risks on new ventures and new procedures?

Even a quick reading of the healing miracles in the first few chapters of the Gospel of Mark reveals that Jesus took a different approach with each miracle He performed.

  • He took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her out of bed (1:31).
  • He put out His hand and touched the leper (1:41).
  • He told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven (2:5).
  • He told the man with a withered hand to stretch it out (3:5).
  • His garment was touched by the woman with an issue of blood (5:29).
  • He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead by taking her hand and speaking to her (5:41)

Jesus was clearly not lacking in creativity when it came to interacting with and touching people!

Many American Christians today are concerned about the direction our culture is moving in, about the threats to religious freedom and the erosion of morals among our celebrities and leaders. I, for one, am not content to sit by and watch our nation continue to slide further along this path, and I believe the most effective way to turn things around is for Christians to take a more active role at all levels of society. This will require each of us to grow in our ability to lead not only those closest to us but also those with whom we may not agree. If we want to increase our ability to bridge these differences and to see culture change in our communities and our country, we have to emulate Jesus and become the 21st century leaders that Rosalinde Torres talks about.

In the months ahead, I will be writing more about how to become a 21st century leader and the skills needed to effectively connect with those around us.


Links and Resources

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Rosalinde Torres’ TED Talk What it takes to be a great leader

22 Bible Verses about Leadership

68 Bible Verses about Being A Good Leader



2 thoughts on “Developing Twenty-first Century Leadership

  1. I like how you illustrate from the life of Jesus. The question of the diversity of our networks is an important one. Often we are only talking to people who agree with us and reinforce our own views. One challenge of diversity is how do we create a climate that welcomes difference and doesn’t get stressed when people don’t agree?


    • I think the key, and this can be very difficult, is to not hold so tightly to our opinions. We often forget there are different ways of seeing things, of doing and being, and our way might not be the most effective in a given situation.


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