Being & Building Followers & Friends of Jesus
Phil Miglioratti Interview
Phil: Dave, before I ask you to respond to several quotes from your book, please explain why the message of “Elemental Leaders” is so critical.
In the Old Testament, we see a repeating pattern of the rise-and-fall of Israel based on the integrity, spiritual vitality and competence of its kings…its leaders. And then in the book of Acts, we find certain people rising to the occasion to model and lead this new little sect called “the Way”…and they turned the world upside-down. While organizational effectiveness cannot be solely tied to a single pastor or leader, we cannot deny the effect good leaders have on the mission of a local church. And if you believe, as I do, that the local church has—and is—the antidote for a very broken world, then we should do whatever we can to develop and strengthen the leaders who steward that responsibility.
“Elemental Leaders” unpacks what I believe are the four foundational and vital traits in good leaders and good churches: Integrity, Passion, Servanthood, and Imagination. Good leaders seem to “intuit” when those factors need to be amped up in their own lives and in the life of their church. The book explores what it takes to discern that and make it happen.
Phil: You begin by saying, “This is a simple book on leadership ... written for people who want to lead anything well ... from a family to a team to a complex organization. Simple doesn't equal easy.”
What I hoped to do with “Elemental Leaders” was break down effective spiritual leadership to its core components. My observation after decades of personal pastoring, study, and observing successful leaders, was that the four core competencies seemed obvious, despite personality, life-stage or experience. So while the concept is simple, the discipline and practice is not easy. In the book, I ask readers to compare it to football: conceptually, all you have to do is carry a leather oblong ball to the other side of an arbitrary line. Simple. But easy?—Try telling that to a wide receiver who’s leaping three feet vertically to pull in a poorly placed pass while a one-hundred-eighty-pound safety is barreling at him full bore that all he has to do is catch-and-grab and stretch for a first down. Perfect takes practice.
Phil: As an observer of leaders in various situations, you said: “I've come to believe that effective leadership could be boiled down to four basic factors.” Why use these terms [Earth Fire Water Air] to describe those four factors?
Let me explain the four factors. First, Integrity has to do with wholeness: do I actually walk my talk? For an organization, Integrity has to with systems, processes, infrastructure, etcetera. In other words, does the organization really walk its talk, its mission?
Second, Passion is all about the leader’s “fire-in-the-belly”; is he or she genuinely committed and energized to accomplish the mission? For the church or organization, how committed to and engaged in the mission are the members?
Third, Servanthood is the lens through which a leader must view life. The obvious picture is Jesus, who said of himself, “Even the son of man didn’t come to be served, but to serve others.” If that’s how the God of the universe stepped onto our planet, what does that say about his followers? As it relates to an organization, how outward-focused is it? Does it exist only for its own survival and members?
Last is Imagination. Without leaders who ask “what if?” questions, an organization is bound to atrophy. In a rapidly changing culture, churches must innovate how they communicate the life-changing, dangerous message of Jesus. How open to change are we? And are we promoting values or are we defending methodologies?
The word “elemental” held two meanings for me: simple and foundational. So for sake of memorability, I associated those characteristics with the four basic elements of classical Greek philosophy: Earth (Integrity—wholeness, interdependent health), Fire (Passion—energy/combustion), Water (Servanthood—being “poured out” for others), and Air (Imagination—creative, “blue-sky” thinking).
The Greek elements are a cross-cultural universal scheme: they’ve been used over a wide spectrum of genres and practices for all sorts of applications and, honestly, they happened to metaphorically fit with what I believed were the four vital traits of leadership.
Phil: Why start with “EARTH”?
Integrity, symbolized by the Earth metaphor, represents foundational wholeness. A person with integrity is viewed as “rooted”—they are solid, grounded and dependable. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin word “integer” which we use for a whole number in mathematics, that is, not a fraction. Leaders with integrity are complete and “one” with themselves, not double-minded. Sadly, we’re all aware of leaders who were not integrous, who appeared one way to their followers, but had a “double life” that turned out to be destructive to themselves and their organizations.
As it relates to the groups or churches we lead, I use the “Organizational Integrity Triangle”:
If any one of the three points of the triangle fails—either the leader’s personal integrity, or the organization’s sense of mission, or the systems that make the mission happen—the whole structure tumbles down. Smart leaders are always paying attention to all three points
Phil: You state: “Elemental leaders provide catalytic heat to situations...” and observed “six primary FIRE-starters ... that fuel organization passion.”
I’ve never met a successful leader that didn’t have...