The Leadership Files: Dr. Bruce Winston of Regent University

Leadership is one of the most talked about topics today, and good leadership skills are some of the most desired attributes.

According to Dr. Bruce Winston, Dean of the School of Leadership Studies at Regent University, “Leadership is about dealing with people, whereas management is about dealing with process.”

“In leadership you're dealing with influence, recognition of gifts and talents in people, helping them be all they are capable of being,” he adds.

Regent University, a Christian university based in Virginia Beach, Va., offers a bachelor's degree in Organizational Leadership and Management. The course is involved in transforming the areas of law, business, communication, education, and psychology by teaching leadership. The course is one of only a handful like it in the nation.

The Christian Post interviewed Winston to get his academic perspective on what are the leadership problems that plague the Church today.

What are some of the problems of leadership in the Church today?

There's a general sense that pastors tend to leave the pastorate not because they're not good at delivering the sermon, but because they're not trained to get things done in an organization. There's not much in our seminaries on leadership, but that's what pastors spend a lot of time doing. The staff really consists of the pastor and a couple of volunteers. We tend not to see the Church as an organization. We tend to over-spiritualize the Church, and say, “It's God's Church and everything will happen well.”

Also, people come into the Church with different directions. Pretty soon you have a lot of conflict going on. Leaders have to make hard questions about who gets on the bus and who gets off the bus. The other thing is that the pastor has to realize the organization may not be about the pastor. They tend to see themselves as higher leaders. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus used intrapersonal conflict to get people to rethink what they believe.

What are some of the principles that Jesus taught?

He was a very good leader. If you look at the parables that he presented to his disciples, there's a lot of leadership lessons. The Beatitudes are all about leadership. There are seven basic core values, and they're in a perfect sequence. I keep finding that the common leadership problems are addressed by the Beatitudes in that order. In other words, the first one beatitude corresponds to the most common leadership problem, and the second one, the second most common problem.

”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

The first one, poor in spirit, means to be teachable. Recognize that you don't know everything, and create a sense of humility. If you just recognize that you don’t know that much, then when you have a problem, you can say, “We have a problem, and I don’t know what to do with it.” We don’t see a lot of leaders do that. They are afraid to say they don’t know anything.

”Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Then you move into a sense of caring for people deeply with enough intensity as if mourning for the dead. When you look around your organization as a leader, you have to ask yourself what do folks need? What can I do to make life better? It's not that the leaders ignore the organization and simply go around doing stuff for people. The focus of the servant leader is on the people.

If you get a leader, who is willing to say, “I don’t know,” and spend more time caring for the people – just those two – a lot of the organizational problems go away.

”Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

“Meek” in Greek context means very different things. It means controlled discipline like a domesticated animal. It doesn't mean that leaders are horses, but that they recognize how to control themselves. So if there is a problem, rather than the leader flying off the handle, they can say, “Before I do anything, let's take a look at this.”

Leaders who have begun to work on this realize that most problems were caused because people were trying to do something right or didn’t know how to do something right. That's the fault of the leader – lack of training, etc. There are those employees that are just not good, but many times, it’s not that.

”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

Another beatitude is seeking what's right and holy – the correct thing to do for other people. They may not be treated equally because they need something different. Treat each one differently.

”Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Blessed are the merciful. That translates pretty easily. There are three concepts that go together – justice, mercy, and grace. Justice says you get what you deserve. Mercy is you might not get what you deserve. Leaders are really not interested in it. If somebody does something wrong, they have to pay for it. They're more into retribution. But grace is when you get what you don't deserve. A lot of people want justice for everybody, but mercy for themselves. A leader needs to balance it out. If there's a problem, many times, something is really going wrong with the person. It may require taking the person out of the job function for a while.

”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

Then there's this sense of being pure in heart, being very focused. When you look at this concept in the Greek, “pure in heart” means to be highly focused not having other things in the way. A lot of leaders don't do that. They tend to move from one idea to another. They are never quite sure what they're talking about.

”Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Blessed are the peacemakers. You have to get the other six working if you want peace. Peace is the absence of conflict. Leaders will say the wrong thing, deny saying something, or create problems. But this [scripture] is the opportunity to work in conflict and resolve conflict.

The Book of Philippians

We're also looking at the Philippians book, where you learn about emptying yourself. How can you empty yourself? The text talks about Jesus being God, and giving up everything to be human. Good leaders do that too. They will not focus on themselves, but on others around them. This is a key factor in the area of leadership.

We see a lot of leaders in the Church who get puffed up because they tend to believe their own press. Followers want leaders to have the trappings of leadership, a nice office, invited to speak at places, to be recognized, and that's fine until the leader begins to believe it and expects to see it.

It's this concept of an open hand. God puts them in our hands, and we tend to close our fingers around what He's given us. When God wants to take it back, it hurts.

All the virtues are a balance between two vices. Humility is in between lowliness – “I am nothing” – and self-aggrandizement – saying, “I am everything.”

Poor leadership prevents the kind of performance we want and does not allow the people to feel that they are contributing to a greater good. People spend 8-10 hours a day to get a couple hours of life. Good leaders make the organization a place where life exists. You can create a working organization at which people are so happy that they wouldn't want to leave.


Followership is equally important. It’s underplayed but it’s just as important if not more important. According to Robert Kelly’s “The Power of Followership,” only 20 percent of an organization’s success can be attributed to the leader. The rest can be attributed to the followers. People only do what they want to do, if they want to do it. They either do the minimum to get by, or they will commit the level and energy to doing something.

Dr. Bruce Winston has been a part of Regent University since 1991, both with the School of Business and the School of Leadership Studies. Currently, he is the dean for the School of Leadership Studies.

Dr. Winston's research interests include servant leadership, organizational development and transformation, leadership development, distance education and technology in higher education.