In my studies of leadership, the phrase I have come across more often than any other is, “We are living in times of unprecedented change,” or something like that. The phrase has been used so often it has become a cliché. So, I will not say it in this post.
One thing I will say, though, is that leadership is always about change. Leaders are always trying to move either organizations or individuals or perhaps entire nations toward some ideal or vision for the future.
Robert Greenleaf once wrote,
“Leaders know some things and foresee some things that those they are presuming to lead do not know or foresee as clearly. This is partly what gives leaders their ‘lead,’ what puts them out ahead and qualifies them to show the way.”1
I know church boards that call their pastor the spiritual leader of the congregation, but limit his ability to lead change. They think they want a leader, but what they want is a manager, someone to maintain their current system.
You don’t see that as much in the business world because, if you don’t adapt strategies to fit current realities, your business will soon die. In the business world, people understand the need for change, even though they may not like it.
Regardless of the mission or goal of any group of people or type of organization, leadership is always about change.
So, what qualities does a person need to be an effective agent of change? Let me suggest five qualities needed in a leader to perform this primary function of leadership.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from failure. Introducing change is a risk and sometimes that risk doesn’t turn out as we had hoped. Leaders know how to encourage themselves when this happens and find the energy and motivation to try again and again until they find a successful solution.
Insight is what Greenleaf was talking about, that ability to see things before others. It is the ability to comprehend the forces at work to bring about our current situation. Insight is not just intuition; it is understanding based on a life of research and experience in the field.
Those who try to do everything themselves will never be successful agents of change. Leaders know how to create a sense of “we” and this motivates everyone to work together toward the desired change.
One of my favorite Bible characters is King Solomon. Even with all his flaws, he was a great leader. As the new leader of Israel, he knew he needed wisdom above all else. Rather than power or wealth or prestige, this is what he asked from God. Discernment is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and that only comes from having a unbreakable set of personal values.
5. Capacity Development
Agents of change understand that, to move an organization (or church or school) toward a new reality requires the preparation of people with the skills and knowledge needed in that new reality. They don’t leave this to chance. Thinking ahead, they prepare today the people the organization will need tomorrow.
So, these are the qualities needed to be an effective agent of change and, by definition, an effective leader. But, how does one gain these qualities? Well, that’s another post for another day.
Greg Waddell provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.
1: Greenleaf, Robert K. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power. Paulist Press,