Leadership is an Art, by Max Depree, pulls together leadership theories, while weaving in insights surrounding the more abstract idea that leadership is an art form. Depree, himself, has demonstrated his own ability to be a strong and effective leader within both national and global settings. Throughout my career as a consultant, I’ve worked with many organizations and have been blessed to learn from some amazing leaders. When I begin with a new organization or meet a person in a leadership position, I can typically ascertain right away if they are a good leaders. There is a certain spirit and climate that one can sense within the realm of good leadership. And, there is an equally disturbing environment in organizations that fail to leverage their leader’s capabilities or in those that allow bad leaders to reign. When an organization or church faces change, obstacles, or crisis, good leadership is often evident in the way that workers adjust and face their challenges. Likewise, followers trust a good leader and are willing to accept changes that the leader throws their direction in order to enact positive momentum forward.
If leadership were a model that could be easily taught to just any student, then there wouldn’t be so many books and programs on the subject. When we think of leadership as an art form, we understand that a person with natural leadership capabilities can improve upon and refine their skills just as an artist might learn to work with new techniques or methods. Listening to the wisdom shared from strong and tenured leaders is a great way to learn and grow one’s own ability in this area.
I often think that people put too much emphasis on their own leadership skills, so much so, that the focus shifts to following techniques or making great efforts to be transformational. The issue that I see with many “want to be leaders” is that they lack the passion, experience, strategic mindset and artistic ability that it takes to influence and move an organization forward. One thing that Depree points out that I believe is significant, is the fact that leaders are responsible for quality and the ability for an organization to change, and for business literacy. One of the more important points that he makes is that leaders are obligated to provide and maintain momentum.
The fact that Depree writes from a Christian worldview, I believe, is significant. Too many times, I hear from church or Christian organization leaders that they are “not a business”. This mindset has sometimes contributed to complacency toward what is expected from leaders, and this can create an atmosphere that is difficult for organizations to thrive. Depree recognizes the unique gifts that God has given individuals, and places emphasis on the outcomes expected from leadership vs. specific ways of getting the job done. Too many times, we equate good leadership to “let’s just all get along” and to those who can preach good messages. In my own experience, the best leaders are those who learn to leverage the strengths that God has given them and to mitigate their weaknesses by appropriately tapping into others in the community who do have the gifts. Unfortunately, sometimes organizational structures and bureaucracy don’t always lend to this. Look at the organizational structures where you work…do they lend towards developing leaders who can lead in the way that Depree indicates? I am reminded of small churches in denominations where pastors are forced to play the “jack of all trades” and their day-to-day work isn’t necessarily complemented by the greater denominational work. Are we allowing enough room for people to develop the art of leadership? Are we allowing individuals to remain in leadership roles despite their ineffectiveness, lack of business literacy, and inability to engage people to positively change? If the answer is yes, then how is this impacting the church’s ability to impact the world for Christ. Has the church lost the art of leadership?
 Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art (New York: Currency, ©2004)