David Hegg | Leadership and Virtue: Have We Lost One or Both?

David Hegg
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. "Ethically Speaking" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

By David Hegg

It is popular today to suggest our country is experiencing a lack of leadership. In the current political discussions I hear it all the time. “We are waiting for someone to show real leadership!” 

But my question is exactly what are we waiting for? What is real leadership, and why do we need it?

My reading of leadership books over the past several decades leads me to believe that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are authors hoping to sell books. Most of them have the basics in common. Leadership is a forceful influence that causes a group of people to work together to accomplish a stated purpose. Leadership can also be defined in terms of follower-ship. If you want to find out if you’re a leader, turn around and see if anyone is following. 

But just how is leadership influence empowered? Today we primarily think leaders lead through the formulation of ideas and mission, which they then communicate in such a way as to gain emotional ownership of those ideas and mission on the part of a larger group. This group then focuses its combined energy on putting the ideas to work and accomplishing the mission. In other words, we as a society are in danger of simplifying leadership down to this: If you’ve got a good idea that sounds good to us, then you’re a leader we will support. But there is something missing in all this.

At some point in the past it became a social sin to suggest that a leader’s virtue was also essential to the leadership process. As a result, we are more and more willing to support an idea even if we are completely ignorant of the ideology behind it. And if someone does raise a question as to a leader’s ideology, or worldview, or belief system, they are almost universally branded as intolerant, a bigot or worse. Here’s my question: Why in the world would we even begin to evaluate an idea without first understanding the core values and virtues of the one who formulated it? Are we really so blind to reality that we believe what a person thinks has no relationship to who that person is?

It wasn’t always this way. It used to be that a person’s character and worldview were understood as being vital to their place in this world. Pick up any biography of a famous leader and you’ll find the first several chapters exploring family heritage, the early years, and the educational path taken. All of these will be punctuated with stories meant to describe the subject’s growth in terms of certain character traits, life values, and the core virtues that would be foundational to their success in life. Who they were was understood to be an essential component of what they would later accomplish. 

But it seems that has changed. We’ve become so pragmatic that we can’t see beyond our own self-interest to recognize that often we’re being played as patsies by those whose only virtue is a lust for power. They promote ideas without details, plans without measurements, and promises without accountability. They create sound bytes and photo opps through which to promote themselves and their ideas, hoping to grab our emotions and garner our support. 

But what I’m hoping for is real leadership. I want to hear good ideas that flow out of a consistent, informed and authentic understanding of the problems and the hard work it will take to solve them. Anyone who believes the dire situation in our society and our homes can be remedied by some plan built on catch phrases and machine-gunned statistics has bought into the idea that winning an election just means fooling enough people. That’s not a virtue I will support. 

What we need are leaders willing to tell the truth even when it is hard because their character and core beliefs won’t let them operate any other way. I believe the best ideas come from the best people, and right now we could use some of both. 

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays. 

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