Are You An Elemental Leader?

by | Dec 7, 2018 | Church Leadership, Coaching

Like most people on the planet, I’ve had some good bosses and some not-so-good bosses. And conversely, in my leadership history, at times I was a good leader and other times a not-so-good leader.

But after years of observation, study, and reflection, it seemed to me there were four elemental but straightforward factors balanced in every great, long-term leader:

  1. Integrity
  2. Passion
  3. Servanthood
  4. Imagination

What’s more, these leaders ensured that those same traits were reflected in the organizations and teams they led. They may have been doing it in non-articulated, intuitive ways, but it was evident those factors were the major players in their effectiveness as well as their organization.

For the sake of simplicity and retention, I use the foundational elements the ancient Greeks reduced the world to—Earth, Fire, Water, and Air—to represent those four essential traits as explored in my book Elemental Leaders.


The earth element connoted something solid, rooted and grounded in the elemental leader’s character. What’s more, they build a similar integrity in the organizations they lead. They are driven by principles and values and a deep desire for praxis in their personal lives, their teams, their organizations, and their work.


This catalytic element fuels inspiration and energy; elemental leaders bring heat to others and situations to enable things to combust. They make stuff happen. Every successful leader I’ve known had a fire in their belly for a mission or cause that ignited in others a sense of empowerment and accomplishment.


Elemental leaders deeply understand that the organization (or family or team) is not about them—as a matter of fact, it’s more important than oneself. Elemental leaders innately grasp that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. They shake off any sense of entitlement. They’re outward-focused and feel as though they are being poured out for others.


There’s a certain amount of blue sky-ing elemental leaders enjoy with their teams and leaders. They have no problem grilling up sacred cows or questioning organizational methodologies. There’s a “what-if” factor that fires their neurons regularly and a certain amount of calculated risk that cultivates organizational “room-to-breathe.”

Of course, no leader is perpetually functional in all four areas, but learn to recognize and compensate for the gaps.

They exercise the weak muscles. Highly functioning leaders learn to balance all four in ways that feel semi-predictable yet surprisingly fresh to their organizations and followers. They learn to recognize why and when one of the elements needs to be amped up.

I’ll bet you may already have a sense that one of those elements is currently atrophied in you or in whatever context you lead. Is there a lack of passion or fire in your organization…your family…your team? Or does it seem like it’s been a long time since creativity played any part in the strategy, structure, or processes of your company or ministry? Or has a cancerous negativity or unhealthy entitlement crept into your staff, co-workers, or team? The good news is: you can turn it around once you identify it.

Although geared toward church leaders (I believe the principles apply to any organization), the Elemental Churches website at has a free personal assessment to help you discover your primary element…and identify weaker ones.


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Dave Workman

Dave Workman serves as president of Partnership Advisors. He is the author of The Outward-Focused Life: Becoming a Servant in a Serve-Me World (Baker Books) and the upcoming Elemental Leader: Four Essentials Every Leader Needs…And Every Organization Must Have.

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