Anyone that is familiar with marketing messages of Christian schools can attest to the fact that leadership is high on the list of promised deliverables. In fact, developing leaders, probably more than any other objective, is nearly universally promised.
While there are some good opportunities to talk about the challenges associated with what are, at times, wildly optimistic promises, I think there is also another issue more related to how we define leaders. So, “Who will all of these leaders lead?” There’s another aspect of the discussion related to the way we look at and evaluate leadership as a characteristic.
In “Facing Leviathin,” a recent terrific study on leadership, Mark Sayers discusses the historical ideas of leadership as seen through the lens of both Enlightenment and Romanticist philosophy. The former was based on power; the latter, creativity. A mechanical view of leadership born out of the Enlightenment esteems the hero. The corrective of Romanticism chooses the genius.
Today, the mechanical element of leadership from the Enlightenment has been replaced with the organic of Romanticism. According to Sayers, “organic values represent the ideology of our day. They tell us something profound…about how we want the world to work.” We are Romanticists because of the time in which we live.
I wonder how many of our thoughts on how to evaluate our success in developing leaders are based on the model of either the hero or the genius? Here’s a popular one: “Champions for Christ.” Sounds a lot like a promise to develop a hero. Another aspiration, “A higher standard,” leads the reader to think “genius.”
But Sayers points out that both of these views are of the world:
The real battle in which our culture is engaged is not between the mechanical and the organic, but rather between the pagan and Christian world views. A Christianity that attempts to model itself on the hero or the genius will be a faith that has little potential to speak good news.
Instead, we must rediscover the truly radical vison of leadership found in the Bible. A model of leadership that was born out of a dangerous truth that was repellent to pagan ears. The pagans wished to leave this world, to cross the divide between human and god. But the dangerous gospel taught that the central organizing principle for leadership, for life, for the universe, was the truth that God had come to us.
Maybe both of these Christian school slogans reference much more than either of these pagan views. But if they do, how are we demonstrating the difference?
And if we are offering the way that was and is repugnant to pagan ideas, won’t that mean that our ideas on leadership will be less a slogan and more a stealth deliverable? If our view of leadership is in contrast to the way the world leads, it won’t be much of a sales tool, will it? Rather, it’s the way of the cross and a better way.
If a biblical view of leadership is very different from the culture all of us have been raised in, it’s easy to see the hard work that faces us at Christian schools.
One particularly challenging question to ask in this process was raised by Sayers. In practicing a biblical model of leadership, “How do I battle the darkness in my own heart?” It’s also something that Christian parents and students should want to know the school is wrestling with.
Paul T. Neal (paul.neal@cace.) is Sr. Vice President for Marketing and Enrollment at Cairn University and co-founder of Charter Oak Research where he serves as Principal and Chief Research Officer. Charter Oak Research is a marketing research and consulting firm focused on resourcing and supporting Christian schools and colleges, other Christian ministries and for profit organizations. Charter Oak brings marketing research to bear on the strategy and tactics of enrollment and advancement needs of clients to improve brand awareness, perception and sustainability. Paul has presented and been published on: the use of normative data in analysis, respondent motives, trends in education and online communities and respondent quality. Prior to founding Charter Oak Research, Paul was a Principal at Olson Research Group for 15 years as well as serving as the Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Federalism at Temple University responsible for qualitative research on political culture and U.S. Public Policy. Paul has served as an adjunct faculty member at several Philadelphia area universities. Paul is a graduate of Eastern (B.A.) and Villanova (M.A.) Universities and attended Temple University for further graduate study.