Traits are inborn characteristics or capabilities. No longer the province of social scientists alone, systematic research into these internal wiring patterns has provided breakthrough insights about how effective leaders function. Researchers have identified several “core competencies” and have explained how they’re developed. We used Leadership Competency Inventory (LCI), developed by the Hay Group.
The LCI, used with thousands of leaders in hundreds of for-profit and nonprofit organizations, reveals four core traits among the most effective leaders. The innate traits (as we modified them for church use) are strategic orientation, conceptual thinking, intellectual curiosity, and others-focused mind-set. Even if your church decides not to look for leaders with these specific traits, you should define the traits your ideal point leader should possess.
- Strategic orientation helps leaders translate disorganized efforts into organized, churchwide outcomes. This trait enables someone to put together organizational pieces so that everyone works together while achieving the church’s God-ordained mission.
- Conceptual thinking is the ability to connect seemingly disparate facts into useful explanations. Conceptual thinkers aren’t confused by abstract or complex circumstances. Instead, they absorb an array of data and information and clarify what is really happening.
- Intellectual curiosity is the desire to understand what makes things work. It is the capability to move into various settings and ask questions that extract the information necessary to understanding ministry dynamics. The intellectually curious are relentless information gatherers who keep digging until they can make sense of perplexing situations.
- Others-focused mind-set is similar to customer service orientation in a business. Just as a businessperson says, “The customer is always right,” an others-focused point leader meets individuals on their terms. Such a leader cares more about meeting people’s needs than fitting them into predesigned programs. The others-focus means going onto the turf of others and walking in their shoes.
Recent research provides sobering evidence in the age-old debate about whether leaders are born or made. The research indicates most leaders either possess these four traits or they don’t, and the degree to which they exhibit these traits doesn’t change much over time. You can train people—through strategic planning, creative thinking, information gathering, and service management—in leadership. But the greatest leaders are born with a potential for excellence. Training merely develops what they already possess. That’s why you should consider looking for a point leader born with the traits we’ve just described.
Donahue, B., & Robinson, R., Willow Creek Association. (2009). The seven deadly sins of small group ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.