“I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw” (Pro. 24:32).
We are observing many tragic leadership decisions in our time. The author of this proverb urges us to apply our hearts to what we observe and to learn a lesson from it. Though this blog post was sparked by a couple of heartbreaking events in our city and in our country, I am trying to take wisdom from them. Though I am frustrated with the leadership of our time, I am in pursuit of the lessons that we can learn from these moments.
I believe that we are living in a time in which we as a society are desperate for men and women who are willing to embrace the call to leadership. We need to reclaim leadership in a massive way. And though the circumstances may be desperate, there is also hope.
HOW DO WE RECOVER LEADERSHIP?
I married my wife in her entirety, the good and the bad. I love her and enjoy all of the many benefits of our marriage, but it comes at a cost, a level of sacrifice to the self. The same is true of leadership. People love to lead, but to be a true leader you must marry the call.
“I, Martin Luther King, take thee, non-violence, to be my wedded wife…” Dr. King said these vows in a Southern Christian Leadership Conference retreat in 1967. He married his mission, both the triumphs and the casualties.
As leaders, we can no longer embrace the platforms, influence, prestige or power without also accepting the criticism, responsibility, accountability and higher standards that come with leadership.
We want to be seen as leaders, but we also want to be held to the same qualifications as those we lead – like politicians who don’t want to follow a higher moral code, coaches who don’t want to be criticized or CEOs who don’t want to be held accountable for their decisions. But leadership is not something in which we can just pick and choose the parts we get to experience and the parts we cast aside. We must marry it all.
If you walk up to my 11-year-old son and say, “Choices,” he will respond without skipping a beat, “Matter!” This is a conversation I have with him constantly. I tell him that although he can dictate the choices he makes, he must be prepared to embrace the consequences.
Leaders are not allowed to dismiss the results of their choices. Too often, those in positions of power do this in an effort to maintain their place. But in order to set an example of true leadership, leaders must do their best to make right decisions and stand firm in their consequences if they do not. Leadership means choosing to act accordingly when one does make a mistake.
If I make a mistake discrediting me from being a biblically qualified pastor, as a leader responsible for exemplifying true leadership, I would accept the consequences and step down for some time, if not permanently. Easing realities only weakens the position of a leader and how others perceive such a role.
When I first started my business, a mentor of mine told me that I needed to grow thick skin. At the time, I was easily offended and often wanted to retaliate against anyone who held opposing views on what I was doing or how I was running my company. I needed thicker skin.
The same was, and is still, true about the church I pastor. In my position, I am required to have thick skin against not only people who oppose me, but those who flatter me.
John Wooden once said, “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” Both criticism and praise can poison leaders and stunt growth. They can distract us from the important matters and make us focus on retaliation, or they can lead us to become so inflated that we overreach our leadership and operate out of a distorted perspective.
Having a thicker skin is even more crucial in our modern age. There was a time when if someone said something about you, it would take a while for the message to reach you. Maybe you’d read it in the local paper, hear it through the grapevine or were told face-to-face. Today, social media renders the message instantaneous, making it incredibly easy to react and respond right away without time to process or place things into proper perspective.
One of the, if not the, most important aspects of leadership is servitude.
“So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron” (John 13:4-5). Jesus was the greatest leader who ever lived. He is known for embracing the role of a servant leader, even unto the point of a disgraceful death on a cross.
Many leaders begin with the aspiration of advancing a mission or a calling. However, there sometimes comes a point when that organization, church or position begins to shift, changing our lifestyles so much we become more connected to what our platforms give us and begin focusing on advancing that over the actual mission. Instead of the leader serving the call, the call is serving the leader.
When this happens, many leaders refuse to step down, even at the expense of those who follow them or at the risk of the cause itself.
My encouragement today is for all of us to examine the call of leadership. If you are currently leading, take a moment to be honest with yourself. How are you leading? What aspects of leadership do you thrive in? What parts do you need to grow in?
I hope we would listen to the wise sage in Proverbs and “apply our hearts.”