Leadership For The Disoriented

As a young man I was terribly lost.

It had nothing to with the fact that I looked like an extra wandering behind David and Donna at The Peach Pit, It was mostly due to an attempt to grow up without much meaningful leadership in my life.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t appointed leaders in my life, it’s to say that those leaders weren’t capable of leading me, and I was about as interested in direction as Tracy Morgan.

My lack of direction was mostly due to terrible judgment: poor choices born of willfulness. Leaders who seemed mostly interested in controlling my behavior in turn exacerbated that willfulness by punishing the negative results of my judgment.

There was a lot of negative friction.

My life began to change when I came into contact with leaders (Christ at the forefront) who through grace chose to become responsible for me, and the growth of my character.

It wasn’t their responsibility to reach out to me yet they chose to. They spoke to me in terms of what my behavior said about who I was, and then called me towards a life that demonstrated who I was created to be.

That they met me with grace, to protect me from myself, caused me to give them authority over my life. I became their priority and they became mine. They met my needs ahead of their own. Their unselfishness drew unselfishness out of me. Their disappointment became my most powerful punishment, their approval my greatest joy.

God’s grace had changed them, and through them God’s grace changed me. They didn’t command me into the presence of Jesus; they led me there.

There was a lot of positive friction.

These people understood that meaningful leadership is equal parts responsibility AND authority. The best leaders become responsible for others, who in turn give authority over their lives to leaders.

Not coincidentally, this is how Christ led and also why he deserves to be followed. In coming to earth he became responsible for us. When we did not deserve it, he made our righteousness his responsibility. In fact, he died for it (2 Cor. 5:21). We in turn offer our lives in sacrifice to be conformed to his image.

Ironically, as leaders, many of us are hopelessly lost.

I’ve found that whether we’re functioning as spouses, ministry leaders, or pastors, conforming our leadership to the image of Christ is something that can get lost in the day-to-day living of life.

Organizationally, I’ve watched leaders take authority over people without first becoming responsible for them. This generally comes from a faulty belief that leadership is about the exercise of authority over subordinates. Maybe this is because asserting authority is so much easier than assuming responsibility.

It also causes a lot of negative friction.

The failure to become responsible for our charges puts us in a situation very much like Jonah; we want to dictate what should happen to people that we actually don’t care about. This is what God scolds Jonah for in chapter 4 of his story.

Unfortunately the majority of people who desire leadership positions aren’t approaching the job because they want more responsibility. It’s usually just the opposite; they want others to be responsible for the implementation of their desires and ideas. This is usually the type of person who presents themselves and their “big idea/amazing program” to their church leadership, hoping to get organizational approval.

This means that as we staff, or develop, any ministry the primary evaluation for potential leaders needs to be based on their desire for responsibility, not their ideas or skills. It follows that any ministry minded leader in need of leadership staff would spend a lot of time searching for the responsible while fending off the aggressively desirous.

This can cause a lot of positive friction.

While it’s hard to select leaders based primarily on the strength of their character (especially when they often appear less talented than their ambitious counterparts) it most often leads to a longer serving and much more “team-minded” team member. The good news is that when identified and trained these leaders create less negative friction because they model Christ-centered leadership to their charges, and Christ-centered leadership develops a culture of Godliness throughout the whole of a ministry.

There will always be legitimate occasions when Christ-like leaders are compelled to assert their authority. In these situations the difference between success and failure usually rests on how well the leader has taken responsibility for the people they lead. A leader who genuinely loves and husbands their community already has the authority they need to command successfully.

Even if that community is terribly lost.

4 Responses to “Leadership For The Disoriented”

  1. Tim Clark January 14, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    Well said John. I have found this to be true from my own experience working where I work. I found that by modeling Christ before assuming a n official role of leadership can be key.It is an intentional way approaching your life that just so happens to help in leadership roles. Hmmm… win, win I would say. This is especially true in organizations that are relationship driven and need influencing skills more than autocrats.

  2. Jon Furman January 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    So true Tim, it’s odd that good character usually leads to good leadership.

  3. Jordan Philips January 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Perfect food for thought as I head into a meeting about leadership later this week. Thanks Jon.

  4. student scholarships January 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

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