Clarifying Your Mental Model of Leadership

The first factor in your Leadership Philosophy Map is called your Mental Model of leadership. Admittedly, Mental Model is a management lingo for “what good looks like” as a leader. A useful analogy might be your mental model of a nice looking lawn. When you think of a “attractive lawn”, what comes to mind? If you live in eastern half of the US, you’re likely to picture lush, green grass, attractive landscaping, no weeds, bare spots or crabgrass, richly mulched flower beds, etc. All these elements combine into a picture of what “good looks like” when it comes to lawns. It is your mental model of a lawn, a picture you carry in your head to use when you evaluate your own or someone else’s lawn. In comparison to the mental model of an ideal lawn, your own may need a lot of work. Without giving it much thought in making that determination, you’ve evaluated your lawn against the model to determine what to buy on your next trip to the garden center. But if you lived in the southeastern US, say in Phoenix, you’d have a much different mental model of a lawn. Garden centers are more likely to sell colored, decorative rocks than grass seed. So mental models of leadership are, in part, reflections of culture. Latin cultures, for instance, have different conceptions of what good leadership looks like than North American culture.

Jesus was very concerned that his disciples understood the difference between leading in the world and leading in the Kingdom of God, Luke 22:24-27. Worldly leadership, which is based on the flesh, has no place in the Kingdom, which is based upon the guidance and partnership with the indwelling Spirit. These are two conflicting mental models of leadership. God promises to bless the one and not the other, John 13:17.

There are two dominant metaphors for the role of the leader in Scripture, that of the servant and that of the shepherd. Over eighty percent of the time the English word “shepherd” is used in the context of a group or in a plural sense, the leader of the flock, the nation, the people of Israel, or the church. Interestingly, the English word “servant” is used in the singular sense, the servant of a master, of the gospel, of Christ, over 80% of the time. We can conclude that servants address the needs of individuals and shepherds address the needs of groups. Further, since leaders work with both individuals and with groups, the compound word servant-shepherd captures the mental model in Scripture for the role or work of a leader.

Application Questions:
1. How does your own mental model of a leader compare to that of Scripture?

2. Do the people you lead, your ministerial staff, for instance, have conflicting or similar mental models of leading?

3. Do the lay leaders who serve on your board have biblically-derived mental models of leadership or are they based upon worldly models?