Leadership is often misunderstood. We tend to hold up some caricature of a leader and then decide if we want to be that. More times than not, the answer is no. If you are reading about personality types, there seems to be one type that is more of that dominant, up-front kind of person. The image for that person seems to always be in a power suit and tie, standing behind a podium. The caricatures of the other personalities are more interesting to the majority of people (because only a fraction of the population likes standing behind a podium). The artist with her paint brush, the adventurer with his hiking boots and backpack, the investigator with her spy kit. Name the personality test, and there are similar images.
The tragic downside to this is that it implies that artists, adventures, investigators, etc. aren’t or can’t be leaders. This is absolutely not true. I like the following description of leadership from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) because it debunks some of that nonsense:
- Recognize and capitalize on personal and team strengths to achieve organizational goals. Inspire, persuade, and motivate self and others under a shared vision.
- Seek out and leverage diverse resources and feedback from others to inform direction.
- Use innovative thinking to go beyond traditional methods.
- Serve as a role model to others by approaching tasks with confidence and a positive attitude.
- Motivate and inspire others by encouraging them and by building mutual trust.
- Plan, initiate, manage, complete and evaluate projects.
This definition describes leadership as being able to foster the strengths in others and organize in such a way that others thrive in their strengths—all of this being done with empathy and emotional intelligence.
Not surprisingly, the results of the research that NACE has done line up with the worldview that the scripture teaches. The scriptural examples of leadership include the understanding that everyone has been given gifts (1 Cor 12:7), that leadership is not about stature (1 Sam 16), that we are to have lives that build into others (2 Tim 2:2), that we are to be people of humility putting others first (Phil 2:3-4), and that we are to do so with emotional intelligence (Num 20). There are loads of leadership lessons throughout scripture; rich passages like the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. Simply look at the life of the one we call our leader, Jesus. Humility. Integrity. Investing in others through relationships. Empathy. Delegation (he gave the ultimate example of turning his organization over to those he raised up). I could go on and on.
Identify Your Role, Not Your Position
When students come into my office, and they have a student organization listed on their résumé, I always ask what their role was in the organization. I often get the answer, “I am just a member.” We could spend a long time unpacking this answer. But let me make just a couple of observations.
There is a difference between positions and roles. Positions in organizations come with titles. These positions are limited, not everyone gets one, they are often taken by upperclassmen, and they are usually by a vote which is out of your control. Roles, on the other hand, are almost entirely in your hands. For instance, when I ask students, “What do you mean you are a ‘member’ of the XYZ Club?” They will often say something like, “I just attend some meetings to listen to speakers. I joined because I knew it would look good on my résumé.” What an employer hears in this is: “I am a spectator.” But they are not looking for spectators. Having XYZ Club on your résumé is only helpful if you have gained something or contributed something, and this doesn’t mean you need a title.
The answer could have just as easily been, “As a member, I show up early to help the officers set up the room, which also gives me the opportunity to greet guests as they arrive. I specifically like to focus on first-time attendees to help them feel welcome. In addition, I invite others from my residence hall and classes, so that they can also benefit from our programs. In the future, I would like to have an official position in the club, but right now I am establishing myself as a leader by serving those around me.”
In that answer I hear emotional intelligence, motivation, interpersonal skills, common goals, servanthood, prioritization, time management, and organization. I hear leadership. If your club happens to be a student ministry, this all still applies.
In addition to the “club” aspect, student ministries also often have summer leadership training programs, leadership retreats, conferences, and spring break experiences. These are all great places to develop as a leader. They are not categorically different from other clubs on campus in terms of developing the kinds of leaders that employers need. In fact, most campus ministries are more robust because their advisors and mentors are seasoned leaders and are far more engaged with the group.
You need to learn how to talk about your leadership experiences in ways that relate to the jobs you are seeking. By this, I mean tone down the insider language and talk about the transferable aspects of what you have done. By putting in the intentional work now, you will develop the ability to talk readily about your story in ways that resonate with employers.
The world needs more leaders that display the servant-leadership qualities of Jesus. Who better to offer this than those who hold to his teachings?
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the new booklet Qualified: How To Think About Your Ministry Experience In Relation To Your Job Search by Jeff Eads, available now on Amazon.