Context Is Key To Great Leadership: Here’s Why

3 Things You Need To Know And Apply

What’s the recipe for great leadership? Given there are 8 general theories of leadership, common sense alone would tell us there isn’t one. I think our personal experience and that of others would lead us to that conclusion as well.

Yet we are all aware that great leaders exist. Furthermore, many of us have been privileged to serve with some really exceptional leaders and perhaps a handful of us can say they’ve served with some great ones. So what’s the key to understanding great leadership and what it takes to be a great leader?

Just as there isn’t a single recipe, there probably isn’t a single key either. However, I do think there is one important key when it comes to great leadership and leadership success: context.

Context refers to the circumstances that form the setting for an event, situation or occasion in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed. In many ways, it’s a key ingredient in any recipe for great leadership.

We can learn something about the importance of context by looking at a few great leaders of the past. Take Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill for example. Both men were great leaders during times of war and hardship. The leadership of both also failed when it came to peace time politics and governance. They had a masterful understanding of human nature in the context of war that didn’t translate to a peace time setting.  George Washington, on the other hand, was a great leader in part because he understood human nature across the contexts of both war and peacetime political and domestic pursuits.

Scripture speaks to the importance of context as well.  In 1st Chronicles 12:32 it says that 200 men from the tribe of Issachar were chosen to lead because they “….had an understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”

What makes context so important to great leadership and why are some leaders effective across contexts while others are not ? First, great leaders are aware that context is important.  Great leaders are also able to read context, which allows them to apply their leadership styles and characteristics with regard to:

  1. Which need to be brought to bear
  2. What amounts are needed
  3. When to bring them

Just as you wouldn’t expect to bake a great cake by just dumping all the ingredients, flipping on the oven and taking it out when you feel like it, so it is with great leadership. No matter who you are or what your leadership track record, you can’t just “show-up” and expect success to follow. If you want to be a consistently great leader, you have to understand the importance of context and know how to read it well.

How has context affected your leadership in the past?  By paying attention to context, what adjustments could you make now or going forward that could make you a better leader….perhaps even a great one?

Please leave a comment, in context, so we can all learn.