Diamond Leaders: when circumstances, character and commitment combine
The closest I have ever been to real diamonds was during my days as a graduate student in France. No, my parents were not rich. They did not shower me with expensive jewelry. On the contrary, to support my studies, I worked as a security guard in nearby Geneva, Switzerland, where I would spend the night patrolling various businesses that included world-famous banks, watch factories, and well-known jewelry shops. I always knew that “diamonds are forever,” and have known from the start that my wife will probably never own one. Thus, I accepted the fact that “diamonds are forever” out of my reach.
Recently, I was again exposed to diamonds. As I read an online article about them, it occurred to me that good leaders are much like diamonds—precious, rare, attracting attention, and impacting people’s lives. And so I thought, Perhaps my wife will have a chance of owning a “diamond” after all; that is, if I can ever be what I call a “diamond leader.”
Three aspects of a diamond
Some say leaders are born; other leaders are the product of circumstances. The debate continues, and much has been written arguing that leaders are “made” or developed.1 My humble contribution to this dialogue brings no stunning new revelations. However, diamonds have taught me something significant that has helped me understand the qualities of a good leader.
First, diamonds are created under pressure. They are produced approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) underground, where the pressure registers five times greater than on the surface, and where the temperature becomes hot enough to melt iron. With carbon exposed to such conditions, the circumstances are perfect to transform carbon into a diamond.
Similarly, I believe that leaders “emerge” under pressure. Circumstances “push” true leaders to the surface. Just like diamonds, they “erupt” when circumstances demand strong leadership.
As I reflect on my life as a pastor leading a church, the president of an educational institution, and now a vice-chancellor of a university, I can clearly see that I “emerged” as a leader when circumstances forced me to address and confront challenges and to chart a path for the future. No question, circumstances play a vital role in the creation of a “diamond leader.” The more severe the circumstances, the higher the chances of an ordinary person becoming an extraordinary leader.
However, circumstances are not enough. The second major element is the readiness of the individual to respond to challenges. I call this “character.”
A diamond contains nothing but carbon, but a big difference exists between “ordinary” carbon, which is transformed into graphite or charcoal (all very useful, but not precious), and a diamond. You can buy a pencil worth 50 cents, containing graphite, or you can buy a diamond, such as the Star of the Season, a 100-carat diamond, worth more than $16.5 million.
Colorless diamonds are the most precious, and the rarest. Most diamonds are “contaminated” by yellow or brown tinting due to nitrogen or other unwanted substances. It is similar with people. When circumstances and character combine, the potential for something extraordinary emerges. The more “flawless” the character, the purer the motives, the higher the likelihood of ordinary people emerging as extraordinary.
Rough diamonds are not as valuable as those that have been polished and cut to reveal all their beauty and potential. Similarly, leaders that have the right character and have been exposed to conducive circumstances, will be of limited value unless they commit to further growth. All leaders are people who have a passion to continue developing their skills, to improve their leadership tools, and to maximize their potential influence.
Thus, all three elements, when harmoniously overlapping and working in unison, can potentially produce a “diamond leader.” However, in reality, leaders are rare, just like diamonds. Carbon is everywhere, charcoal and graphite abound, but diamonds are few.
Encarta describes the rarity of diamonds like this: “Totally colorless diamonds are very scarce; most contain varying traces of yellow or brown.”2 Even so, less than 1 percent of all diamonds produced result in polished diamonds of over one carat in size.
About 85,000 tons of rock are blasted and crushed in order to produce a handful of gems.
Leadership literature3 sounds alarm bells indicating a severe “leadership vacuum” in all vital areas—government, church, and business. Most potential leaders never make it to the diamond stage because of character flaws. This is not the time, nor the place, to start listing all the church leaders (nor to mention politicians and business leaders) who lost their positions because of character flaws. However, the vast army of unknown fallen leaders becomes even scarier—those pastors, chaplains, priests, local government leaders, corrupt politicians, and so forth, whose falls never make the front pages.
The “almost” leaders are those who have some aspects of leadership potential, but who do not allow themselves to grow or who do not become leaders of character and integrity. Instead, they often become disruptive to the organization. We’ve heard the saying, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” The “almost” leaders are unable to lead; they are not willing to follow; nor do they want to get out of the way. And so they “grind” in an abrasive manner, becoming “organizational bort.” They frustrate the vision; they become criticizers and morale killers. Their “almost” ability has an influence, but it is negative, draining enthusiasm and the positive attitude any organization needs to achieve its goals. And once they have succeeded in their efforts to frustrate the victory of others, they point out how right they were to criticize in the first place!
In contrast, “diamond leaders” are extraordinary. They have the ability to go beyond simple usefulness to the organization and become shapers of the organization’s destiny. Through their positive sparkle and sharp vision, they chart the course, determine the way, and catch the imagination of the masses. Nobody marvels at the beauty of the sandpaper which is made of inferior diamond material, but everyone is stunned by the beauty of a stone that has become precious, sparkling reflected light in amazing colors, and adding value to their owners.
There’s more. Encarta says, “Like graphite and charcoal, which is noncrystalline, diamond is an allotrope of carbon. It is the structure of its crystal lattice and the uniform bonding of the atoms within that together produce its exceptional optical and physical properties.”4
This is the secret—the internal structure and the uniform bonding of the atoms. Some individuals are “wired” for leadership. The Scriptures would call this the spiritual gift of leadership. Some are uniquely called to step up to the level of exceptional leadership. All of us have leadership abilities and potential, but some are especially gifted, called, and entrusted with the gift to influence others. Just like the spiritual gift of faith, all of us should have faith but some are especially gifted with extraordinary faith, able to move mountains. Similarly, extraordinary leaders are unique because they are gifted with the ability to move the most difficult mountains on this planet: people and organizations. They see what the future could be like; they articulate it, motivate people towards that future, and then outline the way to make the future a reality.
Scratch resistant Diamonds have another quality: “Its scratch hardness is beyond that of all other materials. On the Mohs’ scale5 of hardness, diamond measures 10.
Measured on a sclerometer,6 which moves a diamond across a surface under pressure until a scratch is produced, diamond is shown to be 140 times more scratch resistant than corundum (ruby and sapphire), regarded as the next hardest gemstone. In fact, only diamond will scratch diamond.”7
Diamond leaders can withstand pressure and will influence the environment rather than being influenced by it. By definition, leaders function in high pressure settings. Because leaders can identify problems and suggest needed changes, they create an environment of stress. Human nature prefers the status quo rather than change, and so leaders need to be “scratch resistant.” Harsh words will be spoken, criticism will be whispered, and confrontations and conflict will be a reality. How a leader handles these pressures will determine their ability to make a difference.
To be “scratch resistant” is not, however, the same as being tough. We learn from Encarta: “Another important physical property different from hardness, although often confused with it, is toughness. This is the ability to resist disruption under pressure. A diamond in a vice will withstand extreme pressure and puncture the steel jaws.”8
Adversity and challenges tend to demonstrate the true leaders. X-rays and heat are used to differentiate between real diamonds and fakes. Adversity, setbacks, apparently hopeless situations, the desire to give up or let go—these are the challenges Christian leaders need to confront. To be tough is not the same as being heartless, just as being “scratch resistant” is not the same as being emotionally untouchable and unavailable. In this environment, Christian leaders can set the standard and demonstrate an alternative to the “survival of the fittest” marketplace mentality.
Top of the game
Another significant point is that leaders need other leaders in order to stay sharp. Only other leaders can help hone the skills needed and provide the coaching and mentoring necessary to stay “on top of the game.” Therefore, it is vital that there is constant exposure to what others are doing, thinking, writing, and saying. This becomes an integral part of growing and developing the skills, attitudes, and character needed to lead effectively.
Another quality comes through: “Important optical properties of a polished diamond—other than its color—are seen in its high refractive index (2.4175), high degree of clarity, color dispersion, reflectivity, adamantine luster, and scintillation.”9
Leaders are masters of reflecting reality: they capture the present and reflect it back to their followers, thus providing reasons for change and motivating followers to something better. No individual or organization will want to change unless there is not only a clear understanding of the present but a vision of a better, preferable future.
“Many diamonds exhibit fluorescence when exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light. The color is usually light blue, but yellow, orange, green, milky-white, and red fluorescence may occur in some gems.”10 Materials that fluoresce are those that give off light after absorbing energy. Similarly, leaders absorb reality and reflect it back, but they do so in such a way so as to provide a more “fluorescent” future, a future of a different “color”— something that will excite followers into positive action.
Who are you? A “pencil leader”— soft, brittle, insignificant, half used, and discarded, or a “diamond leader”— strong, unique, rare, and making a difference?
Diamonds have always created controversy; they have never left those who see them unaffected. Some diamonds have created political upheavals; other diamonds have a reputation of being “cursed.” Most diamonds, though, add value to their owners, make this world a better place, and point to something eternal, something better than what we call the present.
Our church today needs “diamond leaders,” those who are committed, who have impeccable characters, and able to withstand any pressure for the greater good. It’s a calling, one requiring commitment and, indeed, the utmost humility.
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1 The six main theories of leadership can be (chronologically) summarized as (1) Great Man
Theory, a leader, typically male, is born with the necessary qualities for leadership; (2) Trait
Theory, an attempt to identify traits such as physical build, intelligence, etc., as instrumental
to someone becoming a leader; (3) Behavior Theory, an attempt to define what a leader does
rather than who they are; (4) Contingency Theory, explores the context and other situational
variables contributing to the development of a leader; (5) Influence Theory, focuses on the
charismatic abilities of the person to influence others; and (6) Relational Theory, leadership
is viewed as a relational process. Emerging leadership theories focus on facilitating change
in the context of an unpredictable environment. Perhaps the best summary of various theories
can be found in Richard L. Daft’s The Leadership Experience (Mason, OH: Thomson; n.p.: South-
Western, 2005). The most compelling argument for the concept of leaders being developed rather
than born has been articulated by J. Robert Clinton in his book The Making of a Leader (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988).
2 All quotes relating to diamonds are from Microsoft® Encarta® 2007. © 1993–2006 Microsoft Corporation.
3 The June 2007 issue of Christian Management Report focuses on the “leadership deficit” and
articles such as “Short Supply, Expanding Demand” by Thomas J. Tierney and “In Search
of Leaders” by Barry Swanson explore this reality. See Christian Management Report 31, no. 3, (June
4 Microsoft® Encarta® 2007.
5 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Mohs’ scale as “a scale of hardness for minerals that ranges from a value of 1 for talc to 10 for diamond.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, s.v. “Mohs’ scale,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/ dictionary/Mohs%20scale (accessed 2008).
6 An instrument used by mineralogists to measure the scratch hardness of materials. www.About.com
defines it as “an instrument for the determination of hardness by means of a scratch with a diamond
pyramid.” “Composites/Plastics,” About.com, http://composite.about.com/library/glossary/s/bldef-s4722.htm.
7 Microsoft® Encarta® 2007.