How To Take A Leadership Inventory


Leaders don't all look alike, but the good ones do share one thing in common: they know what the do well.

Winston Churchill: The Glow Worm

In 1906, a thirty-two year old Winston Churchill dined with Violet Asquith, the daughter of a prominent British Cabinet minister. Martin Gilbert, the Official Biographer of Churchill, relays the following incident, which sheds light on the extraordinary leader:  

He turned on me a lowering gaze and asked me abruptly how old I was. I replied that I was nineteen. "And I," he said almost despairingly, "am thirty-two already. Younger than anyone else who counts, though." After a long oration he suddenly ended with the immortal words, "We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glow-worm."[1]

As a leader, Churchill was a glow-worm. He was larger than life, a geyser spewing optimistic enthusiasm. Gilbert notes that, "One of his greatest gifts . . . was his ability to use his exceptional mastery of words . . . to inform, to convince, and to inspire."[2] He was a visionary whose finest hour was leading Britain through its darkest night.

Daniel Nash may have had only a thimble of Churchill's charisma, but he was every bit the leader. He shined the brightest when he understood his strength.

Daniel Nash: The Prayer Warrior

Daniel Nash was forced out of his pastorate at age forty-six, apparently in favor of a younger leader. Not surprisingly, Nash languished for a time until God tethered his rope to the evangelist Charles Finney during the Second Great Awakening. Theirs was a partnership in prayer. Nash devoted the last seven years of his life to provide full-time prayer support for Finney. How important was this quiet leadership? When death silenced the prayers of Nash, Finney's evangelistic crusades came to a halt. The tombstone of Nash reads: "Father Nash -- Laborer with Finney; Mighty in Prayer." [3]

As a leader, Nash was unspectacular and quiet, his character forged through hardships and suffering. But it was through his disappointments and failures that he came to recognize his strength: leading a spiritual revolution - on his knees. 

John the Baptist: The Voice

You remember John don't you? The religious leaders arrived on his doorstep. They were looking for the scoop on this desert wayfarer who had recently kicked up more dust than an arid Palestine breeze. As the religious elite gathered around this powerful man, they began to pepper him with questions:

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." John 1:19-23 ESV

Churchill was a glow-worm, guiding his country in their darkest hour. Nash a prayer warrior, and John the Baptist, the voice for God. The three illustrate that a leader's effectiveness hinges, in part, on his or her understanding of the strengths they bring to the table.

Taking inventory of one's strengths is not just a good idea it is a biblical imperative. We see this in Paul's letter to the church at Rome:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Thinking soberly is taking inventory, making an honest assessment of one's gifts and capacities to lead. Here are five questions that will help you make that assessment:

1.  Will I assume responsibility for my leadership?

The Bible is clear that pastors are to equip the church for works of service, but it is equally clear that we are all responsible to "think soberly" as to how we can make our best contribution for God, whatever our leadership post.

In The Truth About Leadership, Kouzes and Posner, distill thirty years of research and one million responses to their leadership assessment survey into ten truths about leadership. Number one their list is this: Leadership begins when you believe you can make a difference. The authors note: "Myth and legend treat leadership as if it were the private reserve of a very few charismatic men and women. Nothing is further from the truth.[3]

We make a mistake if we think we must be like Churchill to lead. Many of God's best leaders were most reluctant to lead: Moses and Gideon come to mind. Yet both men took responsibility to act on God's call on their lives. You too must act. 

2. Is my leadership an act of worship?

Before Paul admonishes us to "think soberly" (Romans 12:3), he tells us "to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1). I am missing the leadership target if leadership entices me, but worship does not. C. J. Mahaney notes:

As sinfully and culturally defined, pursing greatness looks like this: Individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursue selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. Contrast that with the pursuit of true greatness and biblically defined: Serving others for the glory of God. This is the genuine expression of HUMILITY; this is true greatness as the Savior defined it.[4]  

You do not need to serve God "at church" for your leadership to be an act of worship. There is no division between sacred and secular work. All work is sacred. And all work - including the work of leadership - is an opportunity to worship God. Paul writes, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." (Colossians 3:23) Do you want to lead? Surrender yourself afresh to God right now. 

3. What do I do well?  

You are hard-wired by God to excel in some ways, but not in every way. That is why God tells us, "Think with sober judgment." (Romans 12:3) The idea there is to make a fair appraisal of the gifts and talents God has given you.     

Warren Bennis is a Distinguished Professor of Management at the University of Southern California, a prolific author, and respected leadership guru. Early in life, Bennis discovered that, "I was better suited to counsel great leaders than to be one. So I came home . . . to spend the most productive years of my life writing and teaching."[5]  

That is making a fair appraisal. Churchill was a visionary and communicator; Nash, a prayer warrior; John the Baptist, the guy with the booming voice who prepared the way for the Messiah. What do you do well?

What two things do you bring to the table that help make a difference? Knowing this is critical for effective leadership. Spend some time reflecting on your spiritual gifts, your talents, and your temperament.

If you want to dig a little deeper, you can go online and find a number of Spiritual gift assessments and temperament analysis assessments.

4. Where do I see the blessing of God on my service?

Leading well is not about what you want to do, but what you should do. We often find out what we should do by examining where we have seen the blessing of God on our efforts. For example, when John Ortberg teaches, people grow. When Bill Hybels casts a vision, people line up to go there. When Nash prayed, the power of God was present!

Look back over the last three to six months. Where do you see the blessing of God on your work? God blesses where he gives us the gifts and capacities to serve. 

5. Where have I heard "well done"?

We must not live for applause or "Atta Boy's," but we must not ignore the insight of others either.

One Sunday night in 1978, I preached for the very first time in a small Baptist church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. After the service, a neighbor who had known me all my life, walked up and said, "Tommy, you're a teacher!" She recognized the early signs of God's gift and affirmed that in my life. I've learned to pay attention to those words of affirmation.

There is a difference between flattery and affirmation. We must sort out the nice words of flattery from the helpful words of true affirmation. But pay attention to those words. They are part of what God uses to help you determine your strengths for leadership service. 

Be the best YOU can be FOR GOD.

There was once an old Rabbi whose name was Zusya. As he spoke to an eager group of young followers he said,   

"In the next life, the Lord will not ask me, "Why were you not Moses?" but "Why were you not Zusya?"[6 ]  

God does not want you to be Billy Graham, John Piper, or Bill Hybels. He has gifted you. He has empowered you. God wants you to be the best you can be for Him! It will take time to reflect on how you can best serve God through your leadership. Take that time.   


This week we are explore more about this leadership axiom: Every Leader Is A Limited Edition Of One. Monday: Every Leader Is A Limited Edition Of OneWednesday: Exploring Your Leadership StyleThursday: How Good Leaders Become GreatFriday: Quips and Quotes on Leadership

Notes: [1] Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life, p 185 [2] Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life, pp. xix-xx. I first learned of Nash in Jim Cymbala's book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, pages 174-7. See also, Daniel Nash: Prevailing Prince of Prayer at [3] Kouzes and Posner, The Truth About Leadership, pages xxi-xxii, 1-14, 5. [4] In "Leadership Essentials" Southern Seminary, Fall 2011, page 35. [5] Warren Bennis, "My Inglorious Road To Success," Harvard Business Review, July-August 2010, page 38. [6] Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak.