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Does Darth Vader qualify as a leader by your definition?

On several occasions in the last few years, people have proposed definitions of leadership. When pressed, they admit that even Adolf Hitler would qualify according to their definitions. So, why not Darth Vader?

How do you define “leader,” “leading,” or “leadership”? 

Presumptions

A lot depends on our presumptions. We all have them.

A presumption is typically a position or a “fact” that becomes part of our understanding of a particular issue. It’s something a person takes for granted. For instance, one of my presumptions is that there is a God – and that God reveals himself as Jesus Christ. 

You may not share my presumption, in which case we probably will end up with different conclusions.

Based on this presumption, my perspective or orientation on whether something is valid is subject to three elements: the Bible; the person and work of Jesus Christ; and God’s character of love. If that “something” is inconsistent with any of these elements, it is not valid.

I’ve written about this in a bit more detail in “Is that you God?” 

So, any valid definition of leadership must be consistent with these three elements.

The English translation of the Bible I use most often is the New International Version. The verb ‘lead’, together with the noun ‘leader’, and their respective variations, occur well over 500 times. Even the word ‘leadership’ arises four times.

The Bible has a lot to say about leaders and leading. 

Parameters

Parameters are limits. In this case, limits on a definition of leadership.

In “Leaders, Fools and Impostors,” I started at the beginning – Genesis 1-3. Based on a careful reading of those chapters I identified three aspects of ‘real’ or ‘true’ leadership.

First, it is under God’s sovereignty. God is the source of all power and authority – and we learn that he delegated some of this to humans to subdue the earth, and to rule the animals (Genesis 1:28). This delegation implies human capacity and responsibility.

Second, it is toward God’s purposes. Humans were commanded how to use the power and authority God delegated to them. As God’s representatives, they were to use it in the same way that God himself would use it.

Third, it is within God’s boundaries. God set boundaries on the legitimate use of his delegated power and authority. A clear instance is the injunction not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:17). 

Particulars

I’ve chosen this word to keep the alliteration.

What I’m getting at is the idea of calling this perspective on leadership “real” or “true.” In doing so, I’m trying to distinguish this particular perspective of “leadership” from other forms called “leadership.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that other forms we view as “leadership” are not leadership at all, despite what others may call it.

Let me draw a parallel from the current controversy over "marriage" to make this point.

“Marriage” is now defined by the Supreme Courts of Canada and the USA to include “same sex marriage.”

Based on the three elements of validation (above), “same sex marriage” is not marriage at all.

For instance, the Bible defines marriage. In basic terms, marriage is a life-long covenant of exclusive relationship between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:21-25; etc.). There are other types of human relationships, but those other relationships are not marriage. It doesn’t matter how many court decisions, governmental statutes, and cultural assertions are made – a "same sex" relationship cannot be marriage.

So, should we talk about ‘real’ or ‘true’ marriage to distinguish it from “same sex marriage”?

I say, “no.” One is marriage; the other isn't.

In the same way, there is leadership and there are other uses of power and authority. Other uses of power and authority are not leadership.

What about Adolf Hitler and others like him? Those that disregard or diminish God’s sovereignty, God’s purposes, and God’s boundaries. Are they leaders? 

I say, “no.”

Among other things, they may be bosses, managers, masters, power-brokers, generals, dictators, oppressors, abusers, potentates, princes, presidents, fools, and impostors – but they are not leaders

Proposals

For your consideration, here are a couple of working definitions for ‘leader’, ‘leading’, and ‘leadership’. 

Although these definitions are probably counter-cultural, they reflect leadership as taught and modelled by Jesus.        

Dr. Robert Clinton of Fuller Seminary writes:

Leadership is a dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacity influences a specific group of ... people toward His purposes for the group.

Dr. Guy Saffold provides this definition of leadership: 

taking the initiative to know God deeply, to reflect his holy character abundantly, and through loving relationship to draw people together to further his purposes in the world.

Each of these definitions is rooted in the presumption that God's sovereignty, God's purposes, and God's boundaries are integral to leadership. 

No doubt, this post raises some intriguing and important questions and concerns – not the least of which is, "How does this impact your life?" 

Have I gone too far? If so, where and how? What are your thoughts?

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