How successful or how great a nation or an organization is, is very much dependent on the quality of its leaders. On one hand, with a sophisticated and educated people, it would seem that choosing leaders should not be a problem. Yet, regardless how intelligent, brilliant and eloquent someone can be, he might not be the best person to be a leader. Indeed, we tend to look on the external qualities when choosing leaders.
This was the case in the selection of Saul as the first King of Israel. We are told that he was not only handsome but “he stood head and shoulders taller than the rest of the people.” He must have been a capable young man and admired by many. He therefore seemed the most appropriate candidate for leadership.
However, history shows that although Saul had every talent and skill needed to manage the country and be a good leader; he lacked the right motivation and the interior qualities of leadership. He was proud and independent of others and most of all, of God. Instead of consulting God and listening to His commands and walking in His laws, he took matters into his own hands, relying only on his ingenuity and skills rather than the wisdom and guidance of God. As a consequence, he brought paganism into the country and his strength was on horses and military might. He was insecure as a king and because of his jealousy and fear, would even destroy and eliminate those whom he felt were a threat to his kingship. He was particularly weary and paranoid with David who seemed more popular and capable than him, in spite of his absolute loyalty to him. He was vindictive and insincere even towards those who supported him. As a consequence, he brought disaster upon himself and his country.
This does not mean that the choice of Saul as king was wrong. The crux of the failure lay in Saul himself. He did not make use of the talents that God gave him for the good of the people and for the service of God. Instead, he used his talents, position and abilities for himself, his vested interests. If he had made use of his resources wisely, he would certainly have been a great king. This explains why God chose Saul to be the king of Israel. It was not because God chose the wrong person but because he failed to exercise the gifts God gave him wisely and selflessly.
Indeed, it would be a mistake to think that God always chooses the uneducated, those without talents and skills to fulfill His work on earth. Grace does not destroy nature but perfects nature. So we cannot imagine, as some do, that God will work miracles in those who are not endowed with talents, especially intellectual and leadership skills, so that they could be outstanding leaders. It is a naïve belief of some Catholics to think that if they send those who cannot study or who are failures in life to join the priesthood, God will take care of the rest. It would be disastrous for the people of God to have people without the necessary pre-requisites in intellectual and emotional capacity to become religious leaders. On the contrary, God would choose those who already have been blessed with leadership qualities to be His leaders.
However, the real challenge of choosing leaders is not simply spotting those who obviously qualify because of their leadership qualities, but those unlikely ones whose talents are hidden or unknown to them and to us. This is where a good leader is able to read beyond the externals and recognize the potential that lies behind such a person, even though, apparently, he or she seems to be a most unlikely candidate for discipleship, much less for leadership. This is precisely the case in the selection of Levi or Matthew.
Jesus shows His foresight and keen observation of people in His choice of St Matthew as His disciple and leader. Matthew was the most unlikely of all choices because he was a traitor of the Jews by virtue of his work as a tax collector for the Roman Empire. He was an outcast, a cheat and most despised by his fellow Jews. Yet, of all peoples, Jesus chose him to be His disciple and later, as His apostle. In the eyes of man, it was a wrong choice. In the eyes of the righteous Jewish leaders, Jesus must be blind. They grumbled when He visited Matthew’s house to eat and drink with him and his friends. The scribes of the Pharisee party said to Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” What does Jesus want to tell us and teach us with regard to choosing people to be on our team and even making them into future leaders?
Firstly, Jesus saw not the current Matthew, but what he could become in the future. Jesus does not look at our past but always the future. That is why He told the self-righteous Jewish leaders, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.” Jesus demonstrated confidence in him. Jesus was able to recognize the goodness in Matthew. He could see the hidden qualities in him whilst not being blind to his human frailties. He knew that Matthew was sick and needed a divine physician, yet that did not rule out the goodness in him. Jesus could see the saint in the sinner, the disciple in the lost, the leader in the one who used his skills selfishly. It takes one with a keen eye to see the real and hidden potential of someone who is condemned and despised by the world.
Secondly, He won over him by loving and being connected with him. St Matthew must have felt Jesus’ genuine interest and concern over his welfare and happiness. Perhaps, it was for this reason that Matthew was willing to give up his lucrative business as a tax collector. Jesus could not offer him much in terms of wealth and power and status. On the contrary, he knew that he would have had to live simply and even be persecuted by following Jesus. He too would have had to sacrifice his comfort and security for Him. But he recognized that love and union with God and true friendship with Him was worth all the security of the world.
To know whom we should appoint as leaders, we must first get to know themas fellow collaborators, then as friends. We need to see how they live, what they think, how they relate with their family members, their friends, so that we know their true character. Leadership is more than just having the required skills but we need one who has character, which is revealed in a life of integrity, compassion, responsibility, fidelity and honesty. Leaders without good character will only serve themselves and bring harm to the people whom they are supposedly to serve. Unfortunately, most of the time, we are only concerned about their resume, qualifications and performance, without taking into account their personal lifestyle and character. In fact, character is what will determine whether a person with talents will be committed to the service of the people. One can be talented, but driven by ambition to fulfill his or her craze for glory, honour and power. Such a person appointed to a position of authority can eventually become a dictator.
Thirdly, we need to help those with hidden talents and potentials to come to realize their endowed gifts. Very often, people do not believe in themselves because their talents are not acknowledged. Jesus is an exemplar of a good leader and mentor who patiently groomed His apostles, helping them to recognize their weaknesses and at the same time, their inner strengths and skills. Through constant interaction with our people, eating, drinking and working with them, we, too, will be able to cultivate a true understanding of their character and bring out their hidden potentials. Without recognizing the goodness in people, we will never find any leaders, as no one is without imperfections and weaknesses. There is no such thing as a perfect leader, as no one is born perfect!
Most of all, the leader we should choose is one who is connected with God and love God above all things. Unless a leader fears God and relies on Him, he will only seek the wisdom of the world in dealing with problems. If he does not serve God, he will not be capable of serving man, but only himself. That is why it is important that we choose a leader who is prayerful, humble and respectful of God so that he would never rely on his own strength but in God alone.
All of us are called in some ways. We might think we are not worthy of leadership because we are not so capable or we might think we make great leaders because we are so gifted in many ways. What is important for us in not what we choose to do for God but rather, we must in all humility and sincerity search and discern for ourselves what God really wishes for us to do. When God calls us, He qualifies each one of us. He knows what we can do and what we can accomplish if we surrender our lives to Him. So, when we are called for leadership, not because of our desire but because of God’s desire, we can be sure that God will see us through, and supply what is lacking in us.