On Choosing Leaders: The Butterfly Principle

You can tell a lot about those who are out front by the type of people they attract
4 min read

Then the Spirit came upon Amasai, the leader of the Thirty, and he said, ‘We are yours, David! We are on your side, son of Jesse…’

1 Chronicles 12 :18

You can tell a lot about the qualities (or lack thereof) of leaders by the type of people they attract. Since we all have to make regular evaluations of leaders – our spiritual leaders, political leaders, organizational leaders – it is good to have more than one reference point.

I give you the butterfly principle.

The butterfly principle is different from the butterfly effect, which basically says that small things can have big impact. The butterfly principle refers to the idea that just as flowers attract beautiful butterflies, so exceptional leadership will bring out the best in people.

Simply put, the butterfly principle works like this: To evaluate whether a particular leader is the kind of person you want to support and follow, look at the type of people that are drawn to that leader. In other words, what kind of people do they attract? Who is flying that leader’s flag? Who is under that leader’s banner?

Are they principled?

Are they courageous?

Are they kind?

Or, not so much?

As we know, flowers will attract butterflies, but other not-so-pleasant things will attract flies. Unfortunately, the same goes for leaders: unwholesome leadership will attract an unwholesome following. It’s just the way it works.

David the leader

David was a leader who passed the attractional test with flying colors. Read his story and you’ll notice that he consistently attracted the most fierce and loyal warriors in the land. In spite of David’s imperfections, good men were always gathering around him to fight with him and for him.

Not that these guys were without their problems. In fact, here’s a description of their profile:

And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him [David]. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men. 1 Samuel 22:2

David’s was a motley crue, to be sure. Like David, the warriors that gathered around him struggled. They were rough on the edges and works in progress.

But here’s the thing. In terms of character, they had some substance. They were God-fearing men who put others before themselves. And they were willing to put their lives on the line for sake of something bigger than their own personal success. That’s the kind of person that David consistently attracted, beautiful butterflies drawn out from a harsh and desperate landscape.

Warren Wiersbe explains the phenomenon this way: True leaders attract the best people who see in the leader those qualities of character that they most admire. In other words, David attracted courageous people because he was courageous. He attracted loyal people because he was loyal. He attracted kind people because he himself was kind.

The same applies to Jesus

Think about the original disciples that took Jesus up on his invitation. Much has been written about how these were ordinary men. Peter, James, John and the rest – not to mention Mary Magdalene and others – were just local people making a living when they met Jesus. They all had their hang-ups and limitations.

But at least they knew they needed help. And they recognized it when it was standing in front of them. When Jesus called their names, they dropped what they were doing and went – no hesitation, no negotiation, no cost/benefit analysis.

We know that Jesus repelled the pretentious, self-righteous crowd. They hated him. But who did He attract? He attracted those who were looking outside of themselves for the answers, for true righteousness. He attracted those who could not hide behind wealth or status. He attracted those who wanted to believe in something or someone greater than themselves. Jesus attracted broken people who had hope that no matter how broken they were, there was One who could redeem them.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why we are drawn to Jesus. Because the people that He attracts are people just like us.

Evaluating leaders has become more complicated than ever. May the butterfly principle help us to choose leaders that will bring out the best in us.

It’s a new day with God. Run with it.

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