Day after day, week after week, I was pedal to the floor.
It was twenty-five years ago, during my second year of college, when I worked as a resident assistant in the men’s dormitory at Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon.
In addition to being an R.A., I carried 19 credit hours of coursework each semester (full time was anything over 12 hours).
I was also editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, an active part of student government, and at night a janitor for an office-cleaning company in downtown Portland. In the few moments I ever found free, I tried to carry on a semblance of a social life.
Repeat after me: don’t live this way.
One day my schedule finally caught up with me. The night before I’d pulled an all-nighter, cramming for some test.
The next morning I stumbled to my first class and took the test, then headed up Glisan Street to the cavernous auditorium where thrice-weekly chapel services were held.
One thing was on my mind just then—and it certainly wasn’t listening to that morning’s chapel speaker, whoever he was.
In those days Multnomah had mandated chapel attendance. You were allowed to skip a few each semester, but I’d already skipped my allotment.
So I did the next best thing. I checked in with the attendance taker, grabbed a seat near the back of the auditorium, lay down with a smile on my face, and closed my eyes.
The auditorium had long padded pews, not chairs, and I was a long way from the front of the room. Sleeping in chapel was a first for me, yet I found the new experience very comfortable that morning, thank you just the same.
Only one problem.
Immediately after I lay down, several of the young men in my dorm section sat in the row right behind me. These were the young men I was supposed to be setting an example for.
I could recognize their voices. And I was certain they saw me. But I didn’t care. I was bushed, and I stayed lying down.
The chapel service began. Everyone in the auditorium except me stood for the singing of a song.
Then I heard another familiar voice behind me. This voice was clear and firm, and when I heard it, my eyes flew open.
It was the resident director—my supervisor, the guy in charge of all the R.A.s.
He was also sitting in the row behind me, although I hadn’t noticed him come in. He bent forward and whispered in my ear one simple line, which I remember to this day—
Your actions discount your leadership.
Think about that a moment.
As hard as that comment is to hear, I wonder if any of us culpable of the same thing today. Not for sleeping in chapel, but in the way we conduct ourselves at work, at home, or in the community.
I don’t slight the resident director for his stern comment. Today I thank him for it. He was right and I was wrong, no matter how tired I may have been.
How might our actions discount our leadership today?
It happens anytime we say or do something that’s out of character with who we are or what we support.
- With our families—do we tell our kids to mind their manners, but then forget our own?
- At work—is there one set of rules that applies to everyone else, but then another we think applies only to us?
- In the community—are we guarded with our impulses, speech, and conduct? Or do we do and say whatever we feel? (This is also important during anonymous times such as driving and posting comments online.)
We are all vulnerable—at every stage of life.
About 10 years ago when I worked as a newspaper reporter, I covered a city meeting one evening where a prominent public figure stood and made some comments that were out of line with what he was known for.
The man was angry, and he let his heated emotions get the best of him. That night he lambasted some people who didn’t deserve to be talked to in the manner he did.
People in the room weren’t agreeing with him. They weren’t sympathetic with his cause. He was acting like a blow-hard, and you could almost hear their inner thoughts. Yeesh. Calm down, Crazy.
What’s the solution?
It’s not that we walk on eggshells.
It’s not that we never make mistakes.
Rather, it’s that we recognize how easy it is to lose our credibility as leaders. And, because of this, we’re continually on our guard.
That means we continually examine our lives to make sure we stand firm for what we believe in.
We make it our aim to be strong men of courage who aren’t afraid of taking an honest look at our impulses, speech, and conduct and making adjustments whenever necessary.
Did you catch that?
Be on your guard.
Be men of courage.
Trust, integrity, credibility, and a sound reputation take a lifetime to build. But only a few moments to damage or destroy.
May we as leaders never lie down on the job.
Question: what do you do to ensure your actions don’t discount your leadership?
‘I love this book.’ –Jim Burns, PhD