Poor Leadership vs Great Leadership

Some of the differences between poor leadership and great leadership.

The Bible is a surprisingly rich source of leadership wisdom, and has been a significant source of inspiration to many of the most respected leadership gurus of our age, including John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard and Stephen Covey [1. which is not to say that everything these authors say is Biblical].

The table below illustrates some of the differences between poor leaders and effective leaders. It is loosely inspired by the contrast between the self-serving leadership of the Pharisees and the world-changing leadership of Jesus and his early followers.

The table below is loosely based on this contrast:

The Poor Leader The Great Leader
Needs to feel superior to others Seeks growth through personal humility [1. Luke 2:52]
Derives status from good connections [1. Matthew 3:9] Derives authority from good character [1. Matthew 7:29]
Is concerned with external appearances [1. Matthew 5:20] Is concerned with internal realities [1. John 14:27]
Is fearful that their mistakes will be discovered [1. Matthew 5:20] Is honest about their failings [1. James 5:15]
Avoids being seen with the wrong kind of people [1. Matthew 9:11] Sees value in everyone [1. Mark 2:17]
Makes a show of self-denial [1. Matthew 9:14] Enjoys life to the full [1. John 10:10]
Thinks they’re better than other people [1. Matthew 9:14] Recognizes that we all share the same struggles [1. Hebrews 4:15]
Treats rules as more important than people [1. Matthew 12:2] Treats people as more important than anything [1. John 3:16]
Lives by the rules [1. Matthew 12:9-16] Lives by convictions
Imposes rules on others [1. Matthew 12:9-16] Frees others from their limitations [1. Mark 10:52]
Is threatened by the success of others [1. Matthew 12:14] Celebrates the success of others [1. Matthew 25:23]
Assumes the worst of people [1. Matthew 12:24] Sees the best in people
Speaks ill of good people [1. Matthew 12:24] Speaks well of others
Understands right behaviour is defined by tradition [1. Matthew 15:1-9] Understands right behaviour is what benefits people
Resists change [1. Matthew 15:1-9] Embraces beneficial change [1. Matthew 5:17]
Neglects family [1. Matthew 15:1-9] Takes care of family [1. 1 Timothy 3:4]
Focuses on resources [1. Matthew 15:12-14] Focuses on production
Is easily offended [1. Matthew 15:12-14] Is not daunted by the opinion of others
Is unaware of their ignorance [1. Matthew 15:12-14] Knows that they have a lot to learn
Has a damaging influence [1. Matthew 16:6-12] Has a healing influence [1. Matthew 8:1-4]
Wants people to be just like them [1. Matthew 16:6-12] Helps others to make the best of their potential
Asks questions to catch people out [1. Matthew 19:3] Asks questions to help people think for themselves
Is quick to point the finger [1. Matthew 15:8] Encourages despite their failings [1. John 3:17]
Lives a life based on rules [1. Matthew 15:8] Lives a life based on healthy relationships
Is fearful of emotions – their own and those of others [1. Matthew 21:15-16] Lives a life of passion [1. John 11:35]
Talks a good talk [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Walks a good walk
Makes it hard for others to be successful [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Encourages success in others
Seeks high positions [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Seeks to influence others to their benefit
Is keen to impress [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Is keen to make a difference
Seeks status [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Looks for ways to serve [1. Matthew 20:28]
Knows-it-alls [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Is too busy living to show off
Defines a standard [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Sets an example [1. 1 Corinthians 11:1]
Teaches a pipe-dream [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Shares an experience
Points the way [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Demonstrates the way [1. John 14:6]
Watches people get weary and sick and tired [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Helps people to recharge their batteries [1. Matthew 11:29]
Keeps up appearances [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Isn’t out to impress [1. Mark 18:18]
Is a consumer [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Is a producer
Builds their importance on the productivity of others [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Sees the importance of helping others to build productive lives
Seeks status [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Values the contribution of others
Enjoys positions of honor [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Sees others as fellow travelers
Like titles [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Eschews titles
Want public recognition [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Gives honor to others
Is self-important [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Is humble
Is ineffective [1. Matthew 23:13-15] Is effective
Reduces the effectiveness of others [1. Matthew 23:13-15] Promotes effectiveness in others
Wears a mask of respectability [1. Matthew 23:13-15] Is authentic [1. John 1:14]
Acts a part [1. Matthew 23:13-15] Is genuine
Insists that people emulate their way of life [1. Matthew 23:15] Encourages others to be the best that they can be
Applies rules selectively, but is unaware of their own inconsistencies [1. Matthew 23:15] Applies principles consistently
Insists on the letter of the law [1. Matthew 23:23] Allows for people’s mistakes
Quibbles over minor matters [1. Matthew 23:23] Focuses on the bigger issues
Nit-picks the presentation [1. Matthew 23:23] Majors on the meaning
Is hard on self and others [1. Matthew 23:23] Is kind to self and others
Focus on appearances [1. Matthew 23:25-27] Focuses on character [1. Galatians 5:22-23]
Desires more for self [1. Matthew 23:25-27] Wants more for everyone
Has a scarcity mentality [1. Matthew 23:25-27] Has an abundance mentality [1. Psalm 50:10]
Pays lip-service to heroes [1. Matthew 23:29] Seeks to emulate heroes
Is quick to say what they would have done better [1. Matthew 23:29] Is keen to demonstrate a better way
Sucks the life out of others [1. Matthew 23:33] Gives life to others
Dismisses visionaries [1. Matthew 23:34] Is a visionary
Rejects innovation [1. Matthew 23:34] Stimulates innovation
Refuses to learn [1. Matthew 23:34] Is a life-long learner [1. Heb rews 5:8]


#IllRideWithYou this Christmas

This is the Christmas that the #IllRideWithYou hashtag went viral.

On Monday December 15 2014, at a café in Sydney, Australia, a lone gunman took a number of hostages. After a 16-hour siege, police stormed the building. The gunman and two others were killed.

Early on during the incident, hostages were forced to hold up an Islamic flag in the café window. Concerns about an anti-Muslim backlash grew.

As news of the hostage siege broke, a post by Twitter user Rachael Jacobs got noticed. Jacobs said that she had encountered a (presumably) Muslim woman at a train station who was removing her hijab. She posted:

I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.Rachael Jacobs

Moved by Jacobs’ story, Facebook user Tessa Kum decided to take a stand. Offering to sit next to members of the Islamic faith on public transport, she posted a message to those who took her regular bus:

Wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you.Tessa Kum

And so the #IllRideWithYou hashtag was born. It was soon picked up followers, with fellow Australians offering Muslims lifts to work, promises of support and of protection.

As Kum later told news agencies:

It just seemed that a simple way of promoting kindness would be to say if anybody catching public transport didn’t feel comfortable just because of what they were wearing, I would sit next to them, so they weren’t alone.Tessa Kum

Since then, the #IllRideWithYou hashtag has gone viral. Featured in hundreds of thousands of tweets, the hashtag has been picked up by celebrities, news agencies and thousands of ordinary people who want to speak out against prejudice.

To me, this is the perfect illustration of the real message of Christmas. Instead of condemning those who dared to disagree with him, God stepped down from heaven and made this offer to each of us: #IllRideWithYou.


Call Me Trim Tab: The Power to Influence

Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller was an influential inventor and visionary whose ideas and inventions have inspired countless designers, architects, scientists and artists.

Inscribed on his gravestone are these simple words:

Call me Trimtab – Bucky

This enigmatic epitaph originates from an article published in the February 1972 issue of Playboy, where Fuller said:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.
So I said, call me Trim Tab.

Fuller realised that “one little man” (or woman!) can make a difference – even a big difference – and based on that realisation he set about becoming a person of influence.

Understand the Power of Small Changes

Other writers have supposed that being a trim tab is about making small positive changes within the organisation that you want to change. There is a great deal of truth in this: small positive changes are often a key aspect of bringing about change. However, that is only part of the story. The other part is that, for maximum impact, you need to position yourself where you can have most influence.

Position Yourself

The trim tab is optimally positioned in relation to the whole of the system to bring about change. A trim tab doesn’t change the direction of the ship by itself. Rather, it influences the rudder, which in turn changes the direction of the ship. The message here is that, if you want to be a change agent within any given situation then you need to identify the influencers within that system and systematically set about having an influence on them.

Seek out the Influencers

Interestingly, the people at the “top” of an organisation are not always those with the most influence. Sometimes it is the boss’ secretary, husband or golf partner who really determines the direction of a company. In other organisations it is the finance guy or the IT director or the union boss who have most impact on the direction of the organisation. As a trim tab, your job is to find out who really has the influence and gently but firmly exert an influence on them.

Be Guided By a Higher Principle

The other thing to notice about a trim tab is that doesn’t move on its own. It is controlled “from above” by the captain of the ship. The problem with some organisations is that the movers and the shakers have no guiding principle. Instead, they may just follow the latest trends or band-wagons, or simply do whatever makes their lives easiest. A good trim tab, however, is guided by something more dependable. It is directed by an agent with a clear idea of their destination, who knows how to navigate these waters, and who has the experience to bring the ship through whatever storms beset their ship.

Conclusion: The Trim Tab Principle

If you want to make a bigger difference, become a trim tab. The Trim Tab Principle implies that you influence people both directly and indirectly. The implication of this is that your influence is at least partly dependent on your position relative to other influencers.

Further Reading

  • Becoming a Trim Tab at Work
  • Readers of the Bible may see the Trim Tab Principle at work in:
    • Joseph. While he was in prison, Joseph developed his influence over the Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer. Ultimately, this took him to a place of influence over all the land of Egypt.
    • Mordecai, whose influence over Esther prevented genocide.


Leadership Basics: Part 2

In a previous article, we looked at a very simple leadership situation, and discussed some of the basic leadership lessons that every leader needs to learn. This article continues where that one left off.

The scenario we’re discussing is one that I stole borrowed from Robin Scharma: a class of children lined up at the classroom door. Like the engine at the front of a train, the child in front leads the rest the class off to their appointed destination: perhaps to assembly, the dinner hall or out to play.

The advantage of this simple scene is that it encompasses many of the essential aspects of leadership. As such, it is a great illustration for many of the key principles of leadership excellence.

Here are my observations:

To Be a Leader You Need Followers

Leadership guru John C. Maxwell said it best:

A leader without followers is just taking a walk.John C. Maxwell

To be the class leader at school, you needed the rest of the class to follow you. At school, it was easy to get people to follow you, because the teacher told them to follow you. In the adult world, however, things don’t always work that way: you’ll be a lot more successful as a leader if people follow you because they want to rather than because they have to.

Your Leadership is Built on Trust

Children tend to trust their teacher, so when they’re told to follow the leader they generally do so. With adults, it is usually you, as the leader, who has to instil trust in your followers. Your followers will only follow you if you show them that your intention is to take them where they want to go. Of course, building the kind of trust relationship with people can be hard, but is the only way to ensure you have a following.

(Incidentally, one of the best ways to build trust is to listen: if the guy just behind you says you’ve taken the wrong corridor, listen. He may not be right, but you’ll have shown respect, and respect is a coin that buys loyalty)

You Need to Slow Down If You Want Others to Keep Up

When my son was young, his Nursery School ran a scheme where parents could go and work there for a morning or afternoon so that they could see how the school operated and what kinds of activities their children were engaged in. I was privileged to attend one of these sessions, and enjoyed every minute. My favorite memory of the day was watching my son travelling between rooms in the kind of line we’ve been talking about. The teacher went first, followed by a fairly tidy line of rather serious-looking and purposeful 4-year-olds. Then, straggling somewhere near the back and a good way behind everyone else was my son, JB. Unlike the others, he was meandering along in his own little world, singing away happily to himself. He looked so cute!

In many leadership situations, you’ll find that you will need to slow down if you want the stragglers to keep up. As Steve Chalk has said,

The journey with others is slower than the journey alone.Steve Chalk, Change Agents

Those in Authority Look for Leaders Who Get Results

When I was at school, there were some children who got to be the leader far more often than the rest of us. That seemed so unfair at the time, but I realize now that the teacher preferred to choose children who had already proven that they could do the job effectively. Of course, that’s not to say that some of the other children couldn’t have been a good leader if only they’d had the chance. Nevertheless, having worked as a teacher myself, I can understand why some teachers would choose reliability over fairness: classroom management can be “challenging” (think herding cats) they need to get a job done, and they need someone they can trust to do it.

Not surprisingly, the adult world is the same: people in authority need a leader they can trust. As a result, it is more often than not the people who get results are the ones who get chosen as the leader.

Your Position as Leader is Temporary

When the class reaches its destination, the train of children usually disbands. It is the same in any leadership scenario – leadership is only ever a temporary situation, one which will end when you either: (1) loose your followers, or (2) arrive at your destination. You’ll become known as an effective leaders when you regularly, and with a minimum of fuss, help your followers achieve the latter.


If you want to take your place at the front of the train, you’ll need to win the hearts and minds of both your followers and those in authority over you. At the same time, remember that leadership is everything else. To coin a phrase:

Everything is Temporary


Image courtesy bugdog via Stock.Xchng.

Leadership Basics: Part 1

Leadership is a hot topic these days, and there is an overwhelming wealth of books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc. on the subject. In this article I’ll try to separate the wood from the trees and get back to first principles.

It seems as if everyone has something to say about leadership, and there is no doubt that there is a lot of great material out there. But with so much material, it can be difficult at times to separate the good from the bad, or the essential from the peripheral. From time to time, then, even a leadership guru can find it helpful to go back to basics to think about what really matters when it comes to great leadership.

Consider a Simple Leadership Scenario

In his audio programme, “Extraordinary Leadership”, Robin Scharma mentions in passing a basic leadership scenario that we’ll can use to help us sort out the leadership principles that really matters from the irrelevant or down-right unhelpful. The beauty of this scenario is that it has all the basic elements of leadership but without all the distractions. So, what is it?

Remember at school when you were were all asked to line up at the classroom door before going off somewhere else? To the hall or the gym or out to play? Remember how someone was always appointed to head up the line? Everyone else was expected to follow the leader like ducklings following mother-duck. On a good day, the leader would lead the class to the appointed destination and all would be right with the world.

Now, based on this scenario, what can we learn about the characteristics of a successful leader?

You’re a Leader

At school I tried to avoid leading the class. I found it easier just to tag along behind the more confident kids. But it turns out that, despite my reticence, even I got to be leader sometimes. Some days, my teacher would put me up front anyway – perhaps because she thought it would be good for me. And of course, I often had to lead myself – perhaps taking a message to another teacher or taking the register down or, quite frequently, taking myself off to the toilet. Indeed, we all get to be leader sometimes, even if it isn’t a role to which we’re drawn. But that’s OK because all humans are born leaders – it just takes some of us a little longer to realise that than others.

As the Leader, You Need to Take Your Place

Now, the whole classroom line thing doesn’t really work very well if the leader doesn’t take their place up front. No matter their qualifications for the role, the whole thing falls apart if they’re too busy messing about to take up the role that the teacher has given them. So go on, step up to the front. You know you’re ready, and everyone is waiting for you!

A Leader Listens for the Destination

To be a successful leader at school, you needed to listen to the teacher to find out where you were supposed to be going. Similarly, in life and in business, you need to take the trouble to understand your goals.

Many people in business and in life have little idea what they’re actually trying to achieve. Sure, they can tell you that they want to “make money”, or that they “just want to be happy”, The problem is, however, that these aren’t really a destinations. Money and happiness are by-products of perusing a worthy goal. So, when you say you want to be happy, what sort of happy do you have in mind? Because I’ll bet that truly happy won’t happen until you loose yourself in something that is bigger than you are. And when you say that you want your business to make money, what kind of value will you offer to get it?

If you’re not sure, listen. The answers are there, so be quiet a moment and listen.

A Leader Picks the Route

The class leader needs to be someone who knows the school well enough to navigate from their classroom to the place where they’re going.
Again, there are a lot of people in this world who can name their ideals destination, but who have no idea how to close the gap between their current situation and their desired outcomes.

A good leader needs both vision and strategy. A good leader will be able to re-plan when obstacles get in the way, like that other class that’s also on the move. The best way to do this is simply to get to know the environment in which you’re leading. Don’t just learn the way to the loo, but take notice of your surroundings, ask about the places that the corridors go, volunteer for activities that will take you places you’ve never been before.

The Leader Goes First

A leader is the person who goes somewhere first. That means that, as the leader, you don’t get to tag along, following the crowd. You don’t get to fit in with the masses, to blend in with the sheep. You don’t get to be lazy.

No, as a leader, your job is to go ahead of others. Your role requires that you make progress so that you can help others find their way. And I have to tell you, that takes courage, because you have to stand out, to take a risk and follow through on your convictions.

As the Leader You Need to Get Moving

Leaders aren’t passive, they’re active. They do something. That line of children isn’t going anywhere unless the leader gets moving.

So, what are you waiting for? If you wait too long they’ll get fidgety and lose interest. Then, when you do move, you’re likely to lose a few because they’ll be taken by surprise. So, come on, everyone is ready. Let’s get going!

Be the Leader

Well, there you have it. The class is waiting for you, you know where you’re going and you know how to get there. So, go ahead and take your place. Then make like mother-duck and lead the way!


Original image by Pierre Amerlynck, via Stock.Xchng.

Building Community

There are some things that every community needs.

This set of requirements applies to any type of community, for example:

  • software projects
  • churches
  • businesses
  • product lines
  • clubs
  • sports
  • families

Even if these things are in place, there is no guarantee that the the community will flourish. Without them, however, the community is certain to dwindle and die.

If our aim is building community then we will need:


A purpose that members will consider worthwhile and achievable.


Someone to champion the cause. Someone to guard, guide and govern the community. That’s probably you, but it doesn’t have to be.


The people, time and finances to achieve the goals of the community.

Faith in the Community

A belief that there are others who share a passion for the vision, and who are committed to its realisation.


A forum for that community to share ideas and offer encouragement.


If a community does not grow, it will die.