God raises leaders at every level of society: Robert Banks

“We are addicted to leadership”: theologian Dr Robert Banks

By Kara Martin

October 14 2015“We are addicted to leadership,” announced theologian Dr Robert Banks as he discussed the modern interest in leadership issues at the annual Marketplace Institute Lecture on 12 October at Ridley College. By example he pointed to recent leadership crises including the quick rise of our new Prime Minister, the International Football Federation’s woes, and Volkswagen’s emission controversies.

One of the world’s leading authors and consultants in the area of integrating faith and work, Dr Banks presented completely new material on “overlooked dimensions” of leadership. These covered the extent of leadership, the methods of leadership and training in leadership.

Firstly, he argued that leadership should not be seen as a solo affair, but should exist at every level of an organisation.

After an analysis of leadership in the Old Testament he concluded that God raised leaders at every level of society, particularly from less privileged sections of society. However across the myriad of levels of leadership were the following characteristics:

  • Performing the task given
  • Faithfully keeping promises
  • Maintaining covenantal relationships
  • Developing trust
  • Facing up to reality
  • Being good stewards
  • Giving a voice to the voiceless
  • Building relationships
  • Generating hope
  • Encouraging creative effort
  • Advocating for fairer treatment.

Dr Banks talked about the leadership potential of everyone, quoting Jeremiah 33:31-34, that all will know God; and Joel 2:28-29, with the Spirit being poured out on all.

In the New Testament he pointed out the leadership advice of Paul in his letters, and that all his instructions, outlining of problems, and suggested solutions were addressed to the whole church, because all were responsible for receiving teaching, having input into the community, and living it out.

Dr Banks’ second dimension considered methods of leadership, and in particular cultivation of imagination. He pointed to the way the Bible gives us new ways of looking through its various genres: narratives, wisdom, metaphors in poetry and song, and all the images from the prophetic books.

He pointed out the power of good questions, using the example of American businessman Max DePree who regularly asked his employees: “Who do you want to be?”

DePree also had a set of questions for his leaders:

  • What uncomfortable questions are you asking?
  • What uncomfortable questions are you asking about yourself?
  • What uncomfortable questions should you be asking?
  • What must you NOT delegate?
  • How do you feel when you thwart someone’s potential?
  • How are you encouraging the spirit of your people?

Dr Banks pointed out that both Jesus and Paul asked questions frequently. As an example, in the book of Romans, Paul’s most instructional letter, Paul asks more than 50 questions in 10 chapters (the length of a typical sermon).

In the third and final overlooked dimension, Dr Banks discussed how to develop leaders, quoting Leighton Ford who suggested that leaders in the future will have less authority derived from their role, and therefore need to have a natural ability to influence others.

Ford told those exploring their potential for leadership to join a voluntary organisation (following a hobby, passion, cause) to see if they naturally ended up being asked to take on a leadership role.

Dr Banks mentioned Mark Strom’s Lead with Wisdom which is grounded in biblical truth, including the following leadership maxims:

  • Ultimately, leadership is about creating new realities through our words and our lives.
  • Know, shape and reshape the central story by telling it. Allow each new context to reframe it.
  • Maintain the central conversations. Name it. Promote it. Put it at the heart of strategy, culture and practice.
  • Grace is possibly the most powerful innovation in social thought.
  • Cherish the people you lead. Nothing creates strength and heart like love.
  • The more we live and lead by grace, the more we give up control.

The talk was followed by an animated question and answer time, with the desire to explore the search for meaning and purpose in work and leadership, the significance of character, and how to bring people along with your ideas.

Audio of the talk is available on the Ridley College website: 

Robert Banks is co-author of the award-winning Reviewing Leadership: A Christian Evaluation of Current Approaches, which has recently been substantially updated.

Kara Martin is Associate Dean of Ridley Marketplace Institute which exists to bridge the Sunday / Monday divide.