THE MOST IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP QUALITY THAT ALMOST NO ONE TALKS ABOUT
by Trevor DeVage
To the list of qualities most often associated with successful leaders, I want to add one not often considered.
An effective leader is attentive—not only to the other leaders in his organization, but to people in general.
I thought of this as I reflected on Mark Moore’s visit to Christ’s Church a couple of weeks ago. We were challenged and motivated and informed by his sermon, of course. It was a great boost to all of us working through his Core 52 Bible study.
But quite a few of us experienced something more than his excellent presentation. We felt his personal attention when we engaged him in informal situations over the weekend. I saw it with our leaders who shared a dinner meeting with him that lasted over four hours. He left knowing a lot about those around him at the table that evening. And they knew he cared about them. In that bustling group of high-capacity adults, I saw him give five minutes of undivided attention to my daughter, Natalie. I saw the same interest shown to person after person who stopped him in the hallways after our Sunday services. And I felt it when he and I had refreshing times alone. Here’s a guy with multiple doctorates, the teaching pastor at one of the largest churches in America, the author of a book that many thousands will be talking about. And he devotes his energy to my ministry, my congregation, my family, my dreams for the future.
Somehow effective leaders have learned to concentrate on the person in front of them, to focus on that person’s eyes instead of looking over their shoulder to see who else is in the room. They inquire, they listen, they care.
- Several years ago George W. Bush was the guest of honor at a fundraising banquet for a pregnancy life center in Dallas, close to where I lived. My preacher, Drew Sherman, interviewed him on the platform during the program. Drew’s dad had died just few months before the banquet, and his mom was with us at the event. When Drew met President Bush backstage ahead of the interview, he introduced his mom, and she mentioned that her husband had died the previous year.
And then this man, the former leader of the free world, did something surprising. He took Mrs. Sherman’s hand, looked into her eyes, and said, “Tell me about your husband.” He listened for several minutes even though he’d be onstage in front of a crowd soon.
- Once when I was in Louisville, Bob Russell, retired minister of the great Southeast Christian Church (another of the largest churches in America), took me to visit the church buildings that had housed Southeast before they occupied their current massive facility. Even though this was years since those earlier buildings had been sold, Bob knew the names of every secretary and staff member now serving in each of the two new churches. The same was true when we came back to Southeast. About 100 volunteers were busy with various tasks in the church’s expansive lobby, and Bob moved among them calling them by name and asking about their families.
- Another time I was visiting Christ’s Church of the Valley outside Phoenix where Don Wilson was the pastor (he retired from there in 2017). Between services on a Saturday night, several thousand milled about in the large outdoor courtyard in the center of their campus. Like Bob, Don moved easily among his church members, calling them by name. Like Bob, he knew them. He cared about them.
- A few years ago several of our leaders were visiting with Gene Appel, pastor of Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, California. He had invited us to meet him backstage before the Saturday-evening service began. We talked for 30 minutes, right up to the time for him to preach. He didn’t look at his watch. He didn’t fidget or seem distracted. He paid attention to us and our questions about his congregation. I had my eye on the monitor and was antsy about quitting our discussion soon enough for him to go onstage. Not Gene. He was attentive to us.
- And then there’s Roy Lawson. Former megachurch minister and Christian college president. Internationally known consultant to missionaries and local churches. Prolific writer. World traveler. And friend. When I’m with him I think he thinks I’m the most important person in the world. And I know there are dozens—hundreds?—who feel the same way. It’s not just an act from him. He really is interested. He really does listen. He has an uncanny knack for seeing what’s good in your current situation and making you feel good about yourself because of it.
Each of these men is typical of what I’m describing. The attentive leader pays attention to the people he’s encountering. Like Jesus who stopped to heal a woman who touched the hem of his garment, they have time for the people around them. They get others talking about themselves, and in the process they encourage them to their highest potential.
Attentive. It may be the most important leadership quality of all. How about you? Do you struggle or do you lean into this attribute of leadership? Would you agree or disagree about this quality?