As a leader, I'm often asked what other leaders should be doing to lead well. What techniques should we employ? What data are we missing? What styles of communication work best? Very rarely am I asked, "How should we leaders be listening?" But, when I see Jesus leading, I see him doing a lot of listening. Here are three ways I see that — for Jesus — leading means listening.
Leaders don't just look ahead, they listen ahead. On the cutting edge of every organization — corporate or church, government or school — there is unclaimed territory. What's the sound of that place? What to they believe there? What do they talk about? What's the accent like? Leaders can't lead the mission in a language that isn't spoken. Jesus spent 30 years listening, absorbing, and preparing. Leaders who would follow him must listen ahead like he did.
Leaders must also listen to those who are coming behind them. Not only must leaders hear their followers, but also their future successors. What do they see? How do they feel? This doesn't mean leading by democratic vote. It means leading by love. Jesus asked Peter, "Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?" (Matt 16:15-16) Leading well means hearing your people, even if they say things you wish they wouldn't. Think about how discouraging it must have been for Jesus to listen to his followers miss his message time after time! But if Jesus' followers missed the message of the master, it stands to reason your team might not get it the first time either. Jesus probably led better than you.
Leaders don't just listen on the flat horizon of human experience. We must learn to listen to God — to listen above. I find it fascinating that Jesus took time to go listen to the Father, not just talk. (Lk 5:16, Mk 1:35) If I'm going to lead well I need to listen to God. This is the distinguishing mark of Christian leadership which separates it from good advice. We're trying to lead where God wants to go. We're leaders under authority. You and I have to schedule time to stop, get away, and listen to God. Otherwise we might employ good leadership techniques to take our people to the wrong place.
Leader, listen well. Listen ahead, behind, and above.