Leadership, skill sets, and the key to success


When we think of leaders, we tend to think of men and women who are great orators or persuasive advocates, people who are able to unite people while asserting themselves, or those people who have the type of charismatic personalities that draw you in and fill a room.  When we look at the leaders in Scripture, however, many might not fit our leadership mold.

I am giving a talk this week on leaders in Scripture at a youth leadership summit, and the first people who came to mind were Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles.  Looking at Peter, though, he seems a bit impetuous for someone who is supposed to lead the other eleven.  He tries to tell Jesus what he should do, then later pledges to die for Christ, then cuts off a guy’s ear, then denies he even knows Christ.  Paul is dismissed by people as weak and a poor orator (2 Cor 10:10). The other Apostles have their own quirks too—James and John seem a bit power-hungry but yet reliant on their mother (Mt 20:20) and Philip is a bit slow at times (Jn 14:8). If I had to choose one of them, I’d probably pick Andrew, who at least seems to have a handle on public relations for Jesus (Jn 1:41, 6:8, 12:22).

Maybe we wouldn’t have chosen these men if we were in charge of picking the core team of people to run our new company. But Christ did.  And even though these men had drastically different personalities and probably had very different leadership styles, they were successful.  Why?  Did they have the proper skill set?

If you read Scripture, you might begin to wonder… did anyone have the proper skill set?

Read the call of Moses in Exodus. Moses spends a lot of time protesting his mission because he can’t speak.  “Moses, however, said to the LORD, ‘If you please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.’” (Ex 4:10-12) God isn’t taking that for an answer. After all, he’s the Creator, and he knows Moses better than Moses knows himself.  “The LORD said to him: ‘Who gives one person speech? Who makes another mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, I will assist you in speaking and teach you what you are to say.’”  Moses still protests, and God gives him Aaron to help him. But he doesn’t change his mind. Moses needs to trust that the Lord can work through him.

In the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, we see him protesting his call as well. “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “I do not know how to speak. I am too young!” (Jer 1:6-10) And God has a similar response to the one he gave Moses. “But the LORD answered me, ‘Do not say, I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you—oracle of the LORD.’ Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying to me, ‘See, I place my words in your mouth!’”

If we look at the leaders in Scripture—all various ages and occupations, varying appearances, oration abilities, and personality types—we see one thing the successful leaders have in common. They are docile to the Holy Spirit.

King Saul was tall and handsome, a skilled military commander, and brave.  But he was also arrogant and set on doing things his own way.  Compare this to David, who might have been young—and did make plenty of mistakes during his time as king—but he was ultimately willing to be docile, even giving up the plan to build the Temple himself.  The world would probably vote for Saul over David. But who ended their life in madness and whose line gave birth to the Messiah?

Again and again, Scripture reminds us that God doesn’t necessarily play by our rules when it comes to choosing leaders.

“For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor 1:26-29)

Paul admits to the Corinthians that he hasn’t been an orator that’s knocked them off their feet… because it’s not his ability that is supposed to touch their hearts, but the message itself.

“When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Paul has success in preaching not when he preaches with the greatest skill, which he ostensibly does in Athens in Acts 17. There the people mock him or simply walk away.  Rather, he has success when he preaches the absurdity of the Cross.  He has success when he allows the message—as foolish as it seems—to touch people’s hearts.

We are most successful when we allow the Lord to work through us, regardless of whether we think we can do what he is asking. There are personality tests like Myers-Briggs and various leadership evaluations like the color test, which can help us find our gifts and learn from our tendencies. Self-knowledge is a great thing, and these tools can help us to know how to use the talents and the personality God has given us.  After all, these things are gifts from our Creator, and he wants us to use them!  Paul reminds us that each of us were given different gifts, and the different members of the Body shouldn’t wish to be something other than they are.

It’s obvious that some people are more wired for leading and others for following.  At the same time, Christ didn’t tell only the Type A personalities to make disciples, or only the ENTJs to go out to all the world and preach the good news.  He didn’t tell only certain disciples to be salt of the earth or leaven in society. These are commissions he gave to all, regardless of whether we feel like “leaders” or not. Ultimately, our success in leadership comes not from our personality type, but from our willingness to cooperate with the Lord.

It can be easy for us to sit back and assume that someone else should be evangelizing, preaching, leading a small faith group, or serving the Church community in some way. Maybe we find it easier to pray that the Lord send workers into the harvest than for us to actually going into the harvest ourselves.  “That’s not my skill set, Lord.”

Be careful. That’s not an answer he usually accepts!

And while he might not be asking you to take a visible leadership role right now, he is giving you a mission.  The key to success in that mission is docility to the Holy Spirit.  When was Peter successful? After he learned the lesson of Matthew 16:23-28.  Do not think as men think, but as God thinks.  If you want to be a good leader, follow the One who walks before you—even though he’s carrying a cross.

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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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