Our society loves the myth of the lone leader who has all the answers. But we are coming to appreciate the wisdom of what author James Surowiecki has called "the wisdom of crowds." Under the right circumstances, with sufficient diversity and independence of thought, groups consistently make better decisions than the most knowledgeable members of the group.

Healthy leaders support and strengthen the processes of deliberative decision-making. Unhealthy leaders undercut these processes by keeping secrets and behind-the-scenes manipulation of decision-making, whether through deals or threats.

8. They are never too old to learn.

In a study of professional wildfire fighters, Karl Weick, a professor of organizational behavior and psychology at the University of Michigan, found that most casualties occur among firefighters with only a year or two experience and those who had been fighting fires for more than 15 years. The novices, obviously, had not learned enough, but the death of veterans was more surprising. They tend to die in fires because they think they've seen it all, they think that fire has nothing new to teach them.

This is a crucial insight for leaders. It's important to remember that we're never too old -- or too experienced -- to learn. The fires of organizational leadership always have new things to teach us.

9. They know what to pay attention to.

Good leaders develop an intuition of knowing what to pay attention to, and what to leave to others. Scott Cormode, a principal at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary, has observed that both beginning drivers and fledgling leaders make mistakes because they are paying attention to too many things.

10. They enlist followers in change.

There is a significant difference between purposeful, strategic change and mere movement. Healthy leaders use their influence and power to make sure their organization makes necessary and effective changes.

According to Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, noted researchers and writers on leadership, leaders should help the members of their organization know and understand the particular situation that is calling for change. Such knowledge can lead to a change in attitude among the group. The members of the organization will see that their own individual behavior needs to change to reflect their new understanding, and this will lead to changes in the group's behavior.

The leader, however, must be open and willing to allow the process to belong to the organization, which means the end result may not be precisely what he or she imagined.

A Closing Reflection

Leadership is a remarkable calling, a demanding but rewarding vocation. As Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and novelist, has written, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." May your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet in those places where you lead.

Michael Jinkins is dean at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is regular contributor to Faith & Leadership's blog
This article originally appeared on
Faith & Leadership.

Publication date: April 22, 2010