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2 key filters for evaluating senior leaders you don’t know

Perhaps you’ve noticed, but a few people are beginning to campaign for the presidential election in 2016. Ultimately, the field will narrow to two (maybe three). I’m not a political junkie, but I try to pay attention to someone who might end up leading my country.

By Sam S. Rainer III

First, the presidential candidates are all older than me, so they are at least one life stage in front of me. Second, I don’t personally know any of the candidates. How should I assess them? They know more, have seen more, and have done more than me.

After watching the first debate a few weeks ago, I thought about how I would evaluate the candidates. I came up with two key filters. There are other important ways of assessing leaders, such as the doctrinal integrity of a pastor. But these two filters are often missed. I also believe these filters are helpful in evaluating older, senior leaders, especially those mentors or heroes that are a generation ahead of you.

1) Consider the whole of a person. Most leaders live in fishbowls, pastors included. In the digital age, the smallest tidbit can cross the ocean in a nanosecond. Leaders will make mistakes, and those mistakes are harder to hide today. Just because there were two sentences in a blog you didn’t like, or a flippant statement that rubbed you the wrong way, it doesn’t negate all of who the leader is or what the leader has accomplished.

Your mentors will disappoint you. Heroes in the older generation are not perfect. Consider the whole of a leader without micro-analyzing every mistake.

2) Stop questioning motives. Unless you have a personal relationship with a leader (and you’re in the know), it’s difficult to assign a motive to his or her decisions. Rather, focus on what the leader says and does on a regular basis. Who are they consistently? What actions and words define their regular message?

You have to be careful about what you project on leaders or assign to them. In most cases, questioning motives is speculation at best and gossip at worst.

These two filters not only apply to Presidential candidates, but other leaders as well: denominational leaders, megachurch pastors, university presidents, and business executives, to name a few. For most of us, we won’t know every leader on a personal basis, especially those who are a generation ahead. Rather than micro-analyzing that one phrase written a couple of years ago, consider the themes of everything the leader has written. Rather than questioning what motives drove a decision, critique the leader on the merits of the decision itself.


Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog,samrainer.wordpress.com.


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