Leadership: A Simple Perspective

One of Aesop’s Fables tells of a community of frogs who wanted a leader. They bothered Jupiter so much that he finally dropped a log into a pond and told them this was their leader. They loved the log- they could jump on it and bounce up and down and it never complained. Pretty soon, however, they got tired of their leader because it didn’t do anything except float back and forth on the pond. So they once again complained to Jupiter that they wanted stronger leadership. So Jupiter replaced the log with a stork. It was stately and tall, and strutted back and forth making all kinds of noise. The frogs loved it, but were horrified when the stork began eating them.

Leadership is often viewed in terms of one of these two extremes—wishy-washy or tyrant, with the ideal being somewhere in the middle. However, my understanding of leadership is much simpler. A leader is someone who has followers and has an influence over them (for good or ill). By that definition, just about everyone is a leader. This might sound crazy, but while I was changing my little granddaughter’s diapers one day, the  thought came to me, “I’m a leader and my granddaughter is a follower, and I am having a significant influence over her for good.” Believe it or not, the thought dignified an undignified task.

However, I have had  a few other leadership positions over the years (other than diaper-changing) and thought I would distill a few simple things that I have learned about developing as a person of influence:

  • Continue to develop a healthy and godly interior life. Just as most of an iceberg is submerged, so most of what makes a person of influence lies beneath the surface. Daily times in prayer and in God’s Word, keeping short accounts by confession and repentance, and being a person of character. Persona is what you look like on Facebook and in your resume, but character is what you are in private as well as in public. To put it in the words of Will Rogers, “Live your life in such a way that when you die they can give your pet parrot to the town gossip.”
  • Surround yourself with strong and gifted associates. As Captain Dick Winters of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Band of Brothers) said, “Delegate real responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs.” Some of them will do so well that you might feel intimidated and even struggle a bit with jealously, but your leadership will be demonstrated by forming these gifted individuals into a great team and making them into better leaders than you. Andrew Carnegie wanted his epitaph to read: “Here lies a man who attracted better people into his service than he was himself.”  I have had some incredible associates on my staff teams over the years and have had pangs of jealousy. However, there was also a deeper commitment in my heart to making these younger folks better pastors than me.
  • See yourself as a servant- not a log or a stork, but someone who wants to help others grow and accomplish certain goals. When Jesus heard his disciples arguing which of them was the greatest and in Luke 22 he said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over the people…but you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.” Haven’t you been influenced most by people who have taken an interest in you, cared for you, and imparted vision to you? These are people who have humbled themselves to listen to you, affirm you, and encourage you. These are also the kind of people who lead and motivate others.  Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer who led 3 expeditions to the Antarctic. While he was never successful at being the first to reach the South Pole, his reputation as a leader of teams which overcame unimaginable odds became the major contribution of his life. His leadership focused on relationship and not power, and he was able to take the greatest malcontent and make him a valuable team member by spending time with him and encouraging him.
  • Practice MBWA- a term coined way back in 1982, in a book by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. It means “Manage By Wandering Around.” It was one of the key leadership principles of Abe Lincoln. It was said he spent 75% of his time meeting with people; he has visibility and availability. Lincoln once relieved Gen. John Fremont from his command because, “his cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him, and does not know what is going on around him.” This is essential to being a person of influence- you must be around your people and know them.

One final thought: care for yourself spiritually (as we have already stated), but also physically. Since my cancer diagnosis in April 2017 and resultant surgery to remove the tumor in October 2017, I have been dramatically reminded how important it is to exercise regularly and to be careful what I eat. It is also important to take time away, to read widely, to build a Sabbath rest into your schedule, and to establish spiritual disciplines in your life that nurture your own spirit. As they always say on the airplane—”put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then on your loved one.” It sounds selfish, but it is a necessity if you want to be around long enough to serve others.

Robert Murray McCheyne, a very famous and powerful Scottish preacher lay dying at the age of 29. He confided to a friend, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse (referring to his physical health) and now I cannot deliver the message.” No one is irreplaceable, but God has made us instruments of his influence. The more in tune the instrument, the more profound and lasting the influence. But that is just my opinion.

May God bless you as you lead today!

The Presidential Campaign: God Have Mercy upon Us!

If the following post seems familiar, it is because I am reblogging a post written 3 months ago. I think that much of the content is relevant to the upcoming election and that is why I changed only the title.

This past July 4th, I was re-reading the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution written eleven years later; amazing documents. While many consider them to be “inspired,” they are not inerrant; the 28 amendments to the Constitution are witness to that. Also the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments in particular prove that the Constitution has blind spots and must supported by something more if it going to provide the foundation for continuing freedom.

Os Guiness has written in A Free Peoples Suicide that there are many people in America today who scorn religious fundamentalism but are hard at work creating “a constitutional fundamentalism. It is being done through lawyers and judges rather than rabbis, priests, and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical.”  First amendment rights are being argued as the basis for opposing agendas and the interpretation of the Constitution itself is at the whim of political bias. Thus this incredible document alone cannot form the foundation for sustainable freedom. It needs to be supported by something else.

Guinness offers; “What the framers believed should complement and reinforce the Constitution and its separation of powers is the distinctive moral ecology that is at the heart of liberty.” Tocqueville called this moral ecology the “habits of the heart.” Guinness calls it “the golden triangle of freedom…freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom.”

What resonates with me, mostly because we have been assaulted by months of political campaigning and debates, is the diminishing importance of virtue (character) that we see in our nation. We stress a written Constitution over the moral constitution of our nation’s citizenry and leadership. Unfortunately, examples of this are not hard to find.

Look at the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 when he was the sitting president. He was not convicted by the Senate of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”(Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution), and the overall consensus to the whole “affair” was that the character of the president was irrelevant as a public issue. What really matters to our society is competence– not character.  Look at the unrestrained greed and unfettered capitalism  of the Wall Street crisis and the recession of 2008. Look at the present political scenario and the upcoming election that will boil down to which untrustworthy candidate America trusts more. Our nation has sown the wind by making faith and virtue a private matter; it is now reaping the whirlwind of having two presidential candidates with serious personality flaws.

George Reedy, special assistant to Lyndon Johnson looked back on his experience in the halls of power and said, “in the White House, character and personality are extremely important because there are no other limitations…. Restraint must come from within the presidential soul and prudence from the presidential mind. The adversary forces which temper the action of others do not come into play until it is too late to change course.”(The Twilight of the Presidency, 1970, p. 20)

In spite of their importance, experience and competence are not the most important ingredients to what we should look for in a leader. We need a person of character who has demonstrated trustworthiness in his/her private world as well as in the public square. It is not the rhetoric or the promises for the future, but it is what they have done about keeping their promises in the past, both privately and publicly.

I think Os Guinness borders on the profound when he says, “Externally character is the bridge that provides the point of trust that links leaders with their followers. Internally, character is the part-gyroscope, part-brake that provides a leader’s deepest source of bearings and strongest source of restraint when the dizzy heights of leadership mean there are no other limitations.”

Our Constitution is a magnificent document and we can be thankful for it. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that our nation can be sustained by a document alone without the virtue of its leaders and citizenry. “A good government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual and slavery will ensue.” (John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.)

Vote your conscience and may God have mercy on America!

The Illusion of Character

I recently read a quote by British writer and politician Thomas Macauly (1800-1859) who said, “The measure of a man’s character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.” In Leadership From The Inside Out,  Kevin Cashman provides a helpful distinction between character, the essence of who we are, and persona, the external personality we have created. In fact, the very definition of the word character contains both of these thoughts: 1. the mental and moral qualities of an individual; the essence of a person, 2. the persona, role, part in a play.

Thus when it comes to leadership, we want a person of the first definition. Someone who is guided by authenticity and not one who is playing a role. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” My public persona is what I project and what others think of me (my carefully crafted Facebook or Linked-In profile), which may or may not be true, but my character is who I really am.  This is why we stress integrity; a person who is integrated is the same on the inside as on the outside. Who I am in private should be the same person I am in public. To put it in the words of Will Rogers, “Live your life in such a way that when you die they can give your pet parrot to the town gossip.”

And so, as we evaluate people who are leading our churches, corporations, or running for political office, we must discern as well as demand that they do not act one way when the security camera is on and another way when they have moved out of range. Like the minister, who after giving a wonderful children’s sermon en mufti (ordinary clothes) went back stage to change and forgot to turn off his lapel mic. He was heard by the entire congregation saying, “I hate those little brats!” Humorous perhaps, but sad and dangerous at the same time. What if the pastor felt that way about the whole congregation? Could you trust him? What if a political candidate had a public persona that created questions as to what he/she was really like or really believed?

How many stories have we heard (after the fact) about the private lives of pastors and presidents that make us shudder to think we trusted them with our lives and our country? We might dismiss these things as peccadillos or idiosyncrasies, but at the very heart they were character issues brought as baggage into their sacred office.  The leader who leads through character will be characterized by a clear set of values (not the shifting sand of public sentiment), will always speak the truth (not just what people want to hear), will not take short-cuts to get the job done (Henry Ford said, “quality means doing the right thing when no one is looking”), will be consistent (not a flip-flopper), and will be a leader who will regularly take inventory of his motives and actions. Such a leader will engender trust and compassion (not fear and self-interest), and will create an atmosphere of openness and inclusion (not control and exclusion).

In the Old Testament, Boaz, speaking about Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, said she was a woman of “noble character” (Ruth 3:11). We learn many character lessons from Ruth’s relationship with her mother-in-law. Ruth shows herself to be faithful, kind, merciful, steadfast, industrious, and humble. Ruth for President!

On the other hand, Saul, although he looked like the right choice as a king had some serious character flaws. He had the image but not the substance. He was driven by fear. In one of the first accounts about him “…he did not tell his uncle what Samuel had said about the kingship” and then later “…he has hidden himself among the baggage” (1 Sam. 10:16 and 22). Saul’s failure to address this deep issue of fear continued to show up throughout his royal career, resulting in numerous acts of disobedience, murder, deceit, and pride.

One of the great lessons Jesus taught his followers is that our character is always a matter of the heart. This is why God tells us that we are to guard our hearts, to protect them with the greatest of care. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” Proverbs 4:23. When I lie, cheat, or steal, it is because these things have bubbled up from the inside. They are what I have fostered and nurtured in my heart. I may choose not to actually commit a wrong, but my external “purity” may only be because the evil in the heart lacks the opportunity to express itself. This is why Jesus told his disciples that adultery was defined by lust in the heart.

Jesus also said it this way,But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” Matthew 15:18, 19. Jesus nailed the character issue here. Every action can be traced back beneath the surface to the character.

We may fool a lot of people most of the time in the process of getting what we want, but our character will ultimately be revealed. “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” 1 Timothy 5:24.

So, what are the things you are nurturing in your heart that you would never want anyone to know about? These are issues of character. They will eventually affect those around you (your family, your congregation, your business) even though you feel you are keeping the lid on.  By the way, what are you looking for in a political candidate? Someone who mirrors your own character flaws and prejudice, or a person of character? Just thought I’d ask…