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Taylor Swift’s leadership

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Singer Taylor Swift attends the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special in New York, February 15, 2015 (Credit: AP/Evan Agostini)

Taylor Swift may not pop into your mind when you think about prominent leaders, but few possess the level of influence she has culturally and within the music industry. She recently took on Apple, the largest and most valuable company in the world, with a simple blog post, and forced them to change.

Her blog post brings up fascinating principles about how leaders can use their influence, but I think we would be amiss to simply make the most direct correlation to leadership without looking at the deeper aspects of what her actions reveal about her motivations. Simply put, most people do not have the level of influence she has, and if all we did with this story was look at it from the level of “use your influence like Taylor Swift”, I think we’d be missing the subtler and more powerful lessons it provides.

Taylor Swift was praised for her action, but the action was brought about by something inside her that motivated her to act. Her blog post gets all the attention, but I’m more interested in what motivated her to act.  

We can get a glimpse into her motivations as we read this particular part of her post: “These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call.” It’s impossible to get inside Taylor’s head, but it seems fairly easy to believe that she decided to act because of conversations with her friends in the music industry. Conversations motivated her to action.

Our fascination as a culture with action reveals our deficiency with understanding and valuing our motives. The leadership industry is no different than all other facets of popular American life in this regard. We tend to focus on what we can do as leaders rather than who we should be, how we should think, and what should motivate us.

Leadership action, like Taylor Swift’s blog post, comes from hidden motives in the heart of the leader, and if there is anything Christianity should be screaming from the rooftops about regarding leadership, it is that Christian leadership is a call to die to self and follow Jesus.

This call to follow Jesus demands that leaders look to him as Lord, Savior, and King rather than advisor, consultant, and co-pilot. He wants more than our actions, he wants our hearts as well. “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” (Abraham Kuyper).

What is your prayer life like? Proverbs 4:23 warns: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Prayer is where our hearts connect to God’s heart. Before you step out in leadership, make sure that your heart is submitted to God.

If there is anything Christian leaders need to be reminded of, it is that we need to be called every day to deepen our prayer lives with God. You will probably never be praised for the hours that you spend praying in the same way that you are praised for your company’s financial success, but just because something isn’t valued publicly doesn’t mean it isn’t important. The valuable things are often the hidden things.

Don’t make the mistake that so many leaders make, which is to overvalue what you can do rather than what God can do in a situation.

“The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking Him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, He will be in the last place the remainder of the day.” (E.M. Bounds)