One of the most interesting things to note about leadership, in my opinion, is that we discuss leadership as if it is inherently good. When we say someone is a leader, we are paying them a compliment. Even our working definition of leadership – leadership is influence – assumes that leadership is always a good thing.

But if the story recounted in Numbers 13 and 14 tells us anything, it is that leadership is not always good, or at least the results it produces are not always good.

If leadership is influence, then the 10 leaders who convinced the people of Israel to call for a return to Egypt rather than enter the Promised Land, demonstrated effective leadership. They did not demonstrate good leadership.

What’s the difference?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “effective” as “producing a result that is wanted, having an intended effect”. The 10 leaders were certainly effective. Their fear, doubt, and unbelief caused them to want to return to Egypt. When the children of Israel desired to do the same, those leaders had produced their intended result.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “good” as “of a favorable character or tendency.” Rebelling against God and wandering in the desert for 40 years was not a favorable result.

While “effective leadership” and “good leadership” are not always the same neither are they mutually exclusive. The best leadership is both “effective” and “good”. For example, 40 years after the children of Israel rebelled against God, Joshua led them into the Promised Land despite the presence of many of the same obstacles that confronted them previously.

A great modern example of such leadership is Nelson Mandela, who was very effective in preventing civil war in post-apartheid South Africa (most certainly a favorable, and in some circles an unexpected, result).

The point is, if leadership is influence (and I believe it is) then it is not enough to be an effective influencer, one must also be an influencer of good.

– Greg Wallace

The Wallace Group