He wasn't a natural-born leader, but we can learn a lot from his successes and failures.
Some say that if you want to be a leader, you have to be prepared for everything to be your fault, and that it’s often difficult to tell if you’re being followed or chased. I admit that my natural level of social comfort is to blend in with the wallpaper and, while I’m not a mindless follower, I tend to be uncomfortable making difficult decisions.
That’s how I know God really outdid himself when he made me a priest and put me in charge of a Catholic parish. Now I’m responsible for a big campus and the spiritual care of thousands. I’ve quickly learned that leadership is 90 percent paying the air-conditioning bill and 10 percent letting other people tell me what to do. I don’t know if I’m good at it or not, but at least the parishioners indulge me while I try.
Leadership truly is a complicated quality. It’s about knowing when to speak up but also when to listen. When to act and when to be patient. When to change your mind and when to stand your ground. It’s a leap of faith while trying to hide your inner panic.
Later this week, we celebrate the feast of St. Peter, the first pope who led the early followers of Jesus during a formative, dangerous period of Church history. Peter was not a natural-born leader. He was a simple fisherman who was suddenly thrust into a role with just a few years of preparation. His life story is interesting because it’s completely unvarnished, describing his failures as well as successes.
If you want to be a more effective leader, here are five lessons from the life of St. Peter, one of most influential leaders the world has ever known …
Be quick to ask for forgiveness
Perhaps the first lesson in leadership that I have learned is that I will make mistakes. This is okay; nobody expects perfection, but people do expect that leaders will listen to constructive criticism, admit a mistake, and work to avoid it in the future. Peter made a number of very public mistakes, but always had the humility to ask forgiveness. When we do the same, we emerge stronger from the experience.
Leadership shouldn’t be confused with having the power to tell others what to do. True leaders develop their character and lead by example and attraction. St. Peter certainly fits this description. He changed his whole life for the sake of what he preached and eventually even died a martyr’s death to maintain his integrity. The first step towards exercising leadership is walking the walk.
Don’t give up on anybody
Peter was the leader of a group, the early Church, that was full of contentious traitors and confused followers. If you’ve ever been in charge of a work group or a volunteer committee, this might sound familiar. A good leader, though, doesn’t simply force others to capitulate. A good leader finds hidden talents and works with everyone to create excitement and a shared vision. He or she always see the potential in people and helps them to realize it.
St. Peter frequently asked questions. For him, it was more important to truly understand the situation than to bluff and pretend he already knew everything. A good leader always keeps an open mind while making decisions. In my life I’ve even received good feedback from people who don’t really like me. All I had to do was listen to the substance of what they said and not worry about how they said it. In order to make an informed decision, it pays to be inquisitive and listen to all opinions.
Once a leader hears opinions, a decision must be made. St. Peter had no problem charging into the fray. In fact, he was often too quick to do so. He later learned to be more prudent, but was still consistently the first of his friends to take action when the situation called for it. Don’t be content with just knowing the correct course of action, be bold enough to take the action.
What the world needs today is leaders who are courageous, thoughtful, and full of integrity. Begin with these lessons from the life of St. Peter and you, too, can change the world.