The demands, responsibilities, and risks of leadership belong to the basic patterns of human striving through the centuries. We seek the good leaders, we are deceived by the bad ones, we are saved by the new ones, and we lose the best ones. Very short were the moments of human history when some believed that life without leadership was possible, and those moments were often followed by times of totalitarian power. The transition from the utopian ambitions of the French revolution to imperial dictatorship offers an often-repeated paradigm.

Leadership is, however, not restricted to politics. There is leadership – and need of leadership – in the family and in school, in business, industry, and defence, as well as in spiritual care and academic research. The military leader’s situation differs from that of the pastor, but it may still be argued that the basic conditions of leadership are similar. This assumption is the starting-point of the following considerations, which are an attempt to draw the outlines of basic leadership. If the attempt is successful, the brigadier as well as the director will recognise himself, as will the pastor and the teacher.

Authority – identity

The first and basic aspect of leadership is authority. Authority gives the words self-evident power. Authority is authoritative. It has no need of being supported by threat, menace, correction, or punishment. We follow the good leaders not because it would imply risks not to follow them, but simply because they are good leaders. Their goodness is the foundation of their authority.

Authority is self-evident, since it derives from a mission. The good leader is commissioned in the literal meaning of the word. He has a task that has been given him from above. Authority gives duty and the right to lead, and both are included in the commission, or mission, that has been given. In the long run there is no fruitful leadership that rests on itself.

The leader must be led. This is an essential aspect of his authority. He is commissioned, he has been sent with a task to fulfil, not for himself but for a higher cause, and this commission gives him authority. He acts in the name of someone else. Leaders are not elected, they are appointed.

But authority is yet something that cannot be exercised merely by external appointment; there must also be inward qualifications. The most significant of these inward qualifications is identity. Anyone who is to lead must know who and what he is. Identity means to accept what you are, the background you have, and the purpose of your life. There is not a higher degree of identity given to those born in a baron’s manor than to those raised in a fisher’s hut. The decisive factor is not the background you have, but that you accept this background as yours. The same thing may be said of the “feeling at home”. It is not necessary to be at home in London’s West End to become a good leader; you may as well be at home in Bronx. The important aspect is not the place or the circumstances, but the sincerity. What this all points to is the fact that the place you want others to look upon as your home really is your true home.

But what about the purpose or aim of your life, the things that you want to come out of it? If better results in terms of quantity are the aim of your life, the outcome will be modest or even insignificant. With such an insignificant goal, the leadership will be insignificant as well. The leadership will achieve a more considerable significance if you wish to accomplish something of value for your home, your people, or even the world through it. Leadership acquires a lasting value only when exercised in the light of eternity.

Knowledge – integrity

Authority and identity are the first and second foundations, knowledge is the third. Leadership demands knowledge. This is obvious where the Church, the university, and the school are concerned. Those who lead must know what they do – they cannot act blindly. It is impossible for a leader to have deep knowledge in every aspect of the field in which he is responsible, but respect for knowledge is required of him, as is the ability of quick reception of knowledge and the capacity of grasping knowledge.

Fact-collecting is not the same thing as knowledge. A collection of facts can never compensate for the absence of knowledge, which is rather related to intuition and discernment. On the other hand, discernment and intuition can compensate for large gaps in knowledge of the field in which the leader is to act. This is so because knowledge is not the same as a given amount of facts. Knowledge has to do with the gift of cultivating and remembering facts in their context.

The fourth aspect of basic leadership is integrity. The first three ones are, as we remember, authority, identity, and knowledge. Integrity demands that the leader is uncompromisingly loyal to his own identity, commission, and knowledge. This alone gives credibility to all that he is and does. His mouth says what his heart knows, and his hand does what his conscience tells him. He is not two or more persons, but one whole individual.

He is, furthermore, a man of honour, and his honesty is a sign of his integrity. Those who lead must, from one point of view, always be the same, semper idem. They cannot judge from case to case; they must have fixed principles for their decisions. They cannot yield where situations are difficult and dangerous for themselves, and they must not desert a task which inflicts pain on them. The leader is to be a strong rock for those whom he leads. It also belongs to integrity that personal advantages are never allowed to influence a decision. Integrity is a matter of loyalty to the commission, the cause.

Solidarity – sympathy

The fifth aspect of basic leadership is solidarity. You cannot lead those to whom you do not belong except by force or deception. The matter is very simple: you can only lead the people you like. You must like them, indeed love them so deeply that you are prepared to share their life and death. To leave your people, to flee and save yourself as best as you can is alien to all leadership.

But solidarity also implies sympathy, and thereby the leader enters into the spirit of the others so as to know them from within. He knows his people, he understands them, and he knows how they live and what they need.

Sympathy and solidarity do not, however, imply a loss of distance. Indeed, there is a distance present in all leadership. The Danish pastor and theologian Jørgen Glenthøj once mentioned the advice he was given by his father at his ordination: “Wherever you do spiritual counselling, make sure there is a table between you.”

The leader can never in every respect be at the same level as those he leads. He has a commission and a responsibility that the others do not have, and this fact creates a distance that is not at all negative; on the contrary, it is pertinent and correct. This means that distance should be given visible signs, forms, and symbols. These signs are useful as necessary instruments of leading and being led.


The sixth aspect of basic leadership is purposefulness. What has earlier been said about identity and integrity may also be seen as the purposefulness of the leader as an individual. But now we are to think of the purpose of leader and led together as an entity. Purposefulness means that you do not stop where you are, but continue forward towards a higher purpose or level above the present. It is not enough for the teacher that his students pass the national tests; they should be among the best. It is not enough for the commander that his battalion reaches an acceptable competence; it should be brilliant.

What is demanded is basically an ability to use all possibilities to further growth and maturity, and this you can do only when you see your task as a part of a wider context. Knowing that his students are as competent as the others does not satisfy the teacher, what interests him is whether their knowledge of, for instance, mathematics reaches a level where they can benefit from scientific education without difficulties. Out of such considerations grows the purposefulness of leadership.


The seventh aspect of basic leadership is sacrifice. The will to sacrifice is the necessary condition of confidence. Sacrifice is the opposite of exploitation. Exploitation means that you use leadership to get personal advantages. It is true that leadership may be a pleasant experience of individual significance and power, at least for some time. To exercise power over others may bolster up an unconfident or uncertain identity; this is the intoxication of power. Those who debase themselves in this manner may also get undoubted advantages. However, this exploitation of leadership cannot but be negative in the long run. It demands ever more of menace and deception to uphold its functions. Positive leadership is the antithesis of exploitation. It is always a sacrifice. You relinquish from your own advantages to serve a cause that you cannot desert.

This is leadership as duty. There is no other option than this one, and it implies sacrifice. It is to sacrifice yourself and what you have for those you are to lead and serve.


The eighth aspect of basic leadership is humility. However great the commission of leadership is, the commissioned person – the leader – remains a fragile instrument. Only those who know this can exercise positive leadership with authority and identity, knowledge and integrity, purposefulness, and sacrifice.


Where you have such leaders, you will also discern a powerful inspiration. They are themselves inspired, and they inspire others. Inspiration is the ninth aspect of basic leadership. It means that the spirit of leadership is conveyed to those who are led. Thereby people are encouraged to grow and mature to authority. They will develop their ability to make independent and responsible decisions. An inspiring leader makes the others participants of his commission. His task becomes their cause.

Such leadership liberates and affirms identity; it strengthens integrity. It invites others to participate in knowledge, and thereby it wins disciples and successors. It creates an atmosphere in which new leaders step forward. In his atmosphere the solidarity between the leaders and those who are led grows, and purposefulness and sacrifice find their way. The mistakes and defeats do not end in despair but sustain humility.


A leader who wants to be inspiring in his leadership is anxious that his leadership is characterised by honesty and equity. His honesty is not just an attitude, but is practiced in honest decisions and dealings. Where honesty is practiced in honest actions, the leader as a person is fairly irrelevant to himself. What he would personally prefer is uninteresting to him compared to what honesty demands.

This means that a leader must be a man of conscience. Thereby he will at the same time be bound and free. Indeed, he stands free from undue influence precisely because his conscience is bound by honesty and truth. This makes him uncompromisingly honest to his staff and to himself. He is under the same obligations. As he knows himself to be under a higher authority, he is able to exercise fruitful leadership, unlike the dictator who strives only to establish his own authority.

From history a great host of leaders may be described: scientists, merchants, industrialists, politicians, and officers. They all realised at least some of the aspects of leadership mentioned above.

But is there anyone in history who has developed all the aspects of leadership? There is but one, but then, his leadership is the most fruitful in world history. No other person has had such far-reaching and long-lasting effects. This leadership is described in the most widely read book of all.

The demands of leadership

Nearly all men will at some point exercise leadership. In fact, leadership pertains to the responsibility of the mature man, and leadership is also an instrument of maturing. People grow and mature when they lead others. Rotating leadership is a useful instrument to further the quality of the group and its growth.

In this connection, it should be noted that there is a difference between leadership and greed for power. Leadership is a question of responsibility, greed for power has to do with exploitation and personal advantages. It belongs to human frailty that the responsibility of leadership and the greed for power can be found side by side in one and the same individual. This may be concealed to himself, as the devastating effects of the demand for power are often disguised by followers, just as they are mercilessly emphasised by one-sided adversaries.

Why is it so important to see the difference between leadership and greed for power? The reason is that only leadership has positive effects in the long run. Greed for power, in the end, always turns out to be destructive. It disorganises and breaks down any community or organisation. The reason for this is that because it is egocentric, it is alien to community. The man of power knows neither the rules, nor the nature of community. Leadership, on the other hand, is self-sacrificing. The man of power wants to get something from others, the leader wants to give.

To make the difference clear, we will consider the man of power. The substance of his life is merely power. Normal men can strive to achieve their ambitions, and conflicts may arise between different ambitions. Such conflicts are constructive, and when handled well they clarify the positions. But where the man of power is concerned, the question of power is never a common cause – a fact that will be deceitfully disguised. The truth that gradually or suddenly emerges out of the disguise is that the issue is quite another: his own power. To these men, power is a drug, an intoxicant. That is why all negotiation and attempts at settlement with them is futile. They are intoxicated by power and are as unreliable as alcoholics. They may be intelligent and energetic; generally they have an ability for developing a convincing charm. This is one of their principal instruments in deceiving and controlling others. When the effects of charm fade away, the next phase begins, in which they attempt to break down the self-confidence of their followers in order to get total control over them. Those who are deceived become enslaved and will live in constant fear and servile admiration. Others, who resist, will be ejected and persecuted. The man of power has no friends, only admirers.

The man of power will be able to realise great projects that will deceive many due to his energy and cunning. “He is clever, isn’t he”, they will think and say. But in the long run his achievements turn out to be problems for the community of which he took control. His achievements are not fruitful, they do not bring forth anything of lasting value, as their sole aim was to manifest the man of power.

The basic demand on the character of the leader is that he is fully normal. But what is normal? It could not be mediocrity or harmlessness – such leaders are rarely creative. There are, however, four variables by which we can discern what is normal. The first is capacity. Capacity has been viewed as quality of the brain. The very capable person has quick perception, great ability to create, develop, and abstract, i.e. to draw the general outlines out of the single phenomenon. It is easy for him to combine and survey, he has a sense for essentials, context, and continuity. He is open to new impressions, suggestions, and ideas. The sub-capable person, on the other hand, has slow perception and defective ability to create and develop. It is difficult for him to combine and survey. He is free of problems in the sense that he, in naïve self-esteem, does not perceive the problems, which gives him an unsatisfactory capacity to adapt.

The second variable is validity, which has been understood as a greater use or consumption of psychological energy. The super-valid person has a well-founded and well-reasoned view of the world, whereas the view of the sub-valid person is vague and diffuse. The super-valid person has a strong grasp of reality, which gives him great capacity in practical matters. He has also got the ability to leave his duties for shorter or longer periods, and thereby he will recover psychological energy faster than the sub-valid person. He has a fearless joy in decision-making. When he faces the decisive trial of his life, he is happy and relieved: at last!

The third variable is stability. The super-stable person is cool rather than hot. He has got a strong tendency towards creating habits and practices. The sub-stable person, on the other hand, tends not to make habits. He has got strong feelings, and varies between darkness and light. The super-stable person looks beyond what is common to all. He does not expect kindness or admiration, and if he is confronted by the opposite, he will not despair, as does the sub-stable person does when treated badly.

The fourth variable is solidity. The sub-solid person has an astonishing ability to shut out great sections of reality. He will easily be involved with and committed to causes with which he is little acquainted. He is quick to be instigated on one single point of life. He can be carried away by a sentiment without really being empathetic, since all his sentiments are egocentric. If he is to congratulate a father on his newborn child, he will speak of his own children, if he is to console a mourning mother, he will expound his own sorrows. He is without perseverance, and his ability to be instigated on one single point has only got the apperance of real will-power. The super-solid person is pertinent, practical, sober, all-round, and dispassionate. He is not interested in attracting the attention of others, and will not let himself be carried away by sentiments.

The author is a priest in the Swedish church and has served as a battalion chaplain.
Foto: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten

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