Why We Have a Leadership Crisis

This is the fifth and final essay with my most current thoughts on leadership. Here were the topics of the previous four:

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust.
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.
  3. The most effective leaders cultivate their self-awareness.
  4. Leaders transform people and communities.

And now, let's add the fifth point to the list:

5. We have a modern leadership crisis.

Screen Shot 2019-09-05 at 7.59.45 AMThis is true both in and out of the church, and let's start by looking at a lengthy passage from the book of Ezekiel addressed to the leaders of Israel to understand why we have this crisis today:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LordI will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice (Ezekiel 34:1-16).

The final verse seems to summarize what the Lord expects of His leaders, both in and out of the church,  when He promised to take leadership matters into His own hands: "I will shepherd the flock with justice."

Justice is a word given to much subjective interpretation. In other words, it varies from person to person. When an athlete holds out for more money, he or she has an idea of what a "just" salary would be, while ownership may have a completely different idea. One athlete may differ from another on what a "just" pay is for his or her position. My point is that we must search for a standardized, universal definition to which we can all submit our personal, subjective interpretations to that definition. I don't know of where to find such a definition--except in the word of God.

I have made the point throughout this series that leadership is an ongoing study. Leaders never arrive nor are they able to say, I've learned enough. They must always be learning and growing because the people they are leading and the destinations to which they are going are always changing, and that requires leaders to be changing as well. Let's look back at the passage from Ezekiel to see if we can find some concepts to include in our definition of justice.

There are three themes that emerge from Ezekiel 34:1-16, which are:

  1. Leaders must take care of others and not use their power to take care of themselves.
  2. They are not to rule harshly or brutally, using their power to overpower others.
  3. Leaders must search for those who are "missing."

All three points come down to leadership power and how it is used. If it is used in the best interests of others, there will be justice. If the power is used for the benefit of the leaders, there is injustice. Jesus streamlined the definition even more when He declared, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). Paul described what love in action should look like when he wrote, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10).

Therefore, let me attempt to define justice where leadership is concerned: "The use of leadership power for the good of others and not for personal gain." If we accept this definition, we can see why I say we have a crisis, for many in the church and outside of it use their power not to empower others but to overpower them. The only antidote for this tendency is service, which is why Jesus advised His followers with these words at the Last Supper:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:24-27).

With those words, let's adjust the definition above to read as follows: "The use of leadership power motivated by love in the service of others for their good and not for the leader's personal gain." Our crisis would be solved if leaders would commit to live out that definition. Will their justice be perfect? No, it will not be perfect because some will always criticize and want more from their leaders than those leaders can produce. The leaders, however, must be comfortable with their own imperfections as they strive to achieve the perfection of our definition.

If you are a leader, no matter where or who you lead, I urge you to read Ezekiel 34:1-16 and prayerfully ask the Lord to show you how you can fulfill His expectations where you are right now. Study the definition I have provided and use it as a mission statement for your leadership. I promise if you seek the good of others that, even if they don't see or appreciate what you have done or are doing, God will see it and be pleased. After all, even though we serve others in love, God is really the only one we must please in this task called leadership. If we do that, we will then hear "Well done, good and faithful servant" at the end, and we will be have done our jobs to the glory of His name.


Leaders Transform People and Communities

Three down and two to go in our series outlining my latest thoughts on the practice of leadership. So far, we have looked at the following ideas:

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust.
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.
  3. The most effective leaders cultivate their self-awareness.

And now it's time for thought number four, which is:

4. Leaders have the power to transform people and communities—for good or bad. Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 5.45.59 PM

When I think of the leaders in the Bible, they were all involved in the lives of their followers to such an extent that the followers were changed and impacted individually and then corporately. Don't believe me? Then consider these examples:

  1. Moses led millions of people out of Egypt and established a community in the desert. Some grumbled, others followed faithfully, and eventually, the people entered the Promised Land to become the people of Israel. Before he died, he provided a code of conduct along with copious interpretation that the people followed until the time of Jesus and even to today. 
  2. David inspired great loyalty from many around him, except his family, which leads us to believe there were complicated issues preventing that from occurring. Some men risked their lives to fetch and bring David his favorite water from his home area, others were called mighty men and performed great deeds of heroism and strength in battle, and still others served David even when he was at his lowest. 
  3. Solomon was a superb builder, while at the same time he devoted much time to creativity and teaching. He had such great insight that people came from all over the world to hear his lectures on nature. Yet, Solomon took the nation his father David had established and ran it into the ground, so to speak, oppressing the people and placing heavy burdens on them they could hardly bear. After this death, the nation fractured and the tribes split. In a sense, Solomon's leadership at first united the nation but then ruined it, and in a sense he twice transformed the community—once for good and once for not-so-good. That is the power of leadership.

We could go on to discuss Nehemiah, Esther and Mordecai, Elijah and Elisha, and then Peter and Paul in the New Testament. When those leaders emerged, things happened and people were inspired, healed, delivered, and the nation was transformed from what it was to what it could be. 

Leaders have this power for good or bad by God's design. God ordained leadership, and laid down rules and regulations for how leaders were to behave. When bad leaders come along, God does not scrap the concept of leadership and try something else. He replaces ineffective leaders with other leaders. One of Jesus' last acts on earth before His death was to make a significant statement about leadership at the Last Supper:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:24-27).

Jesus knew that leadership power was so intoxicating that the only antidote to keep leaders from self destructing and leading their people astray was service to others in a spirit of love. This is so rare, however, that Paul wrote a testament to Timothy because of his unusual ability and proclivity to serve:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel (Philippians 2:19-22).

Paul had many leaders in his sphere of influence, but only Timothy served others with selfless intent. All the others, and that includes men like Luke, Titus, Silas, and Onesiphorus, could not measure up to Timothy's selflessness. That is the reason Paul left Timothy behind in many places when persecution would not permit Paul to stay so he could set things in order. Places were never the same after Paul and Timothy came to town because godly leaders transform the people into individuals who can then join with others to form as the American Constitution says, "a more perfect union."

We are prone to be transformed for the good because leaders, like the ones in the Bible, are a rare thing. When circumstances reveal an Apostle Paul, a Churchill, a Mandela, a Lincoln, a Pope John XXIII, a Florence Nightingale, a Sojourner Truth, a Martin Luther King Jr., or a Frederick Douglas, we study their lives because they inspire us to fly higher and farther than we thought possible. When we encounter a Mao, a Hitler, an Alexander the Great, a Mussolini, an Idi Amin, or a Pol Pot, we study them because of the damage they did and the people and nations they destroyed.

Because leaders have this power to build or destroy, we must study leadership principles to learn from the best and worst. At the same time, we must recognize that leadership is like a powerful explosive. When deployed properly, it can be a great tool with which to build and shape, but when deployed poorly, it will do great harm that may take generations to overcome. I want to be a leader that improves the lot of people and organizations, even nations, when I have the chance. That means I have to take seriously all that I have written so far, and the last article that will come next, which states my fifth thought: We have a leadership crisis in the world, especially in the church. Talk to you next week.


Leadership Self-Awareness

Here is the third of five entries containing my latest thoughts on leadership. The first two focused on: Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 4.14.57 PM

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.

This third point is summarized in the statement

    3. Leadership effectiveness is based on self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the practice of paying attention to one's feelings and surroundings, especially the people with whom the leader comes in contact. For the latter to happen, however, leaders must pay attention to what they themselves are feeling and thinking. This may sound simple, but unless that skill and practice are developed, they may never occur.

I liken it to leaders learning to have an out-of-the-body experience, where they are able to step back and examine what they did, what they are doing, and what they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes a coach or mentor can help them do these things, but they can easily learn to do it by themselves. The best example I can provide is from the life of Jesus when He was touched by an infirm woman: 

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace" (Luke 8:42b-49)

Even though Jesus was busy and on His way to an important meeting, He still felt someone touch Him. The people around Him were incredulous, for the crowd was pushing and jostling Him, but He was aware that something had happened to Him. This is important because His self-awareness led to Him being others-aware, and He was able to significantly help another woman in need simply because He paid attention.

You may dismiss that as a bad example or irrelevant, thinking that Jesus was divine and therefore had supernatural abilities to be in touch with Himself and His surroundings. If that's the case, then let's look at another example from the life of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a servant to the king, serving royalty their food and drink. After Nehemiah heard about the terrible conditions in Jerusalem, he was burdened, so he fasted and prayed even though he was on duty. Then one day the following transpired:

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire? The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time (Nehemiah 2:1-6).

If the king wasn't paying attention, he would not have noticed that Nehemiah was sad. What's more, even when he noticed, why did he care? He was the king, the most powerful man in the kingdom. Everyone's job was to make him happy and not use his power to help others--or so traditional leadership thinking has gone. The king could have been angry that one of his servants came into his presence with a sad countenance (that is perhaps why Nehemiah was afraid). The king was an effective leader whom God used because the king had trained himself to pay attention to his own feelings and thoughts, and that caused him to be empathetic and sensitive to those of others. 

Now, even if Jesus was sensitive to the woman's need because He was God, that indicates He can help us have that same sensitivity--but only if we want it. If we want it, then we will do the work necessary to have the skill to more often than not read situations and people accurately so we can lead effectively--just like Nehemiah's king did. We will cooperate with His work in our lives to put us more in touch with the needs and humanity of others as we recognize our own frailty and need. 

The goal in this self-awareness is empathy and not sympathy, for the latter is feeling for someone when they feel badly. Empathy is feeling what others feel, sometimes before they tell us, because we want to know and because we have been where they are, and can identify. Empathy can only be felt when someone has paid attention to their own journey and pain along the way, and has a heart and desire to help others who are on the same journey. 

Many say that feelings are not to be trusted, that we must not be led by our feelings. I disagree. God uses feelings to lead and guide us, and paying attention to them is vital to hearing God's voice, which is the epitome of leadership effectiveness. Heeding the messages of our heart is important if we are going to lead and guide others, for we cannot take them where we haven't gone ourselves, and God will use something as simple as paying attention to get us where He wants us to be--and to be who He wants us to be, which is effective leaders. 


Leadership Development

A few weeks ago, I began sharing five concepts from my Price of Leadership seminar that are not in my Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 11.02.42 AM book version. These five represent my latest thoughts on leadership, and we covered point one in the first post, which is 1) Leadership is a sacred trust. Now let's move on to point two:

2. Effective leaders are always developing themselves.

No one disagrees with this general principle, but as leaders get busier, usually the first things to disappear from their calendar are disciplines to help them develop and grow as individuals, which will increase their capacity to lead. What's more, there is a subtle attitude that assumes the wisdom and ability to lead will magically appear when leaders are promoted. Leaders may also think that what got them promoted to leadership is sufficient for them to lead. All these practices (the absence of training and the assumption that they are already smart and empowered enough to lead) are harmful to leadership effectiveness, and the church in particular is paying a price because its leaders have not grown in their capacity to manage and lead more.

The concept of "more" can be a controversial one in leadership circles. Some believe that more is not better, and at times they are correct. Business or church growth can become an end unto themselves, and increase can be pursued relentlessly or even held out as the one and only measure for success. At the same time, however, God's expectation for increase from his leaders is well documented throughout the Bible. 

Proverbs 14:28 states, "A growing population is a king’s glory; a prince without subjects has nothing" (NLT). One other translation reads, "A king's greatness depends on how many people he rules; without them he is nothing" (GNT). The proverb does not condemn growth, increase, or size. In fact, it seems to endorse it, as does Paul when he wrote,

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of Godbeing strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:9-12, emphasis added).

Paul wanted the saints at Colossae to grow in the knowledge of God, which indicates their knowledge was to increase. By implication, the bearing fruit and being strengthened mentioned in that passage are in the context of growth or increase.

Jesus told a parable about talents (which was a measure for wealth, not natural gifts or abilities) in Matthew 25:14-30. The person who had five talents earned five more and the person with two also doubled his amount, but the one with one talent had no increase. It was this person who was condemned in the story as unworthy because he produced no increase. He did not desire more, and therefore did not grow to manage more.

A man named Lord Acton once said, "There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it." He summarized a problem I mentioned earlier, and that is the attitude that somehow when a person gains a leadership position, he or she will automatically, and somehow magically, be qualified and sufficient for the work at hand. Yet, if there is to be increase, which we have seen that God expects, then that leader must work to increase his or her ability to manage and lead more. That "more" is new territory for the leader, and will require greater skill and wisdom if they are to be effective.

What are you doing to develop yourself and your ability to handle more? Here are some things I do that may be of help:

  1. I read or listen to books almost every day. That also includes updates from my favorite authors in the form of their regular blogs and podcasts.
  2. Reading and listening are part of my written, daily to-do list. I do not leave it to chance.
  3. I don't watch much TV, but when I do, I try to include documentaries and other programs of interest that will stimulate my mind and add to my body of general knowledge.
  4. I attend at least one leadership seminar or workshop every year.
  5. I walk two miles to start each day.
  6. I play word games on my smart phone.
  7. I write daily and I teach university classes regularly, especially classes I have never taught before. That forces me into new areas of learning and growth.
  8. I have my favorite leaders who I study for clues and patterns of their success, and I teach or write about them as much as possible.

I am not suggesting that you do what I do, but if you don't know where or how to start, imitating some of my practices may not be a bad idea. The bottom line is, however, that growth must be an important value for you, or else you will coast through your leadership opportunities, relying on your power, title, or authority to get things done. All those will work in the short run, but none of them will help you grow and develop. Only concerted effort to do so will produce the necessary results, and that effort will need to be maintained for the rest of your life--if you want to be an effective leader and not simply one holding a title.


Leadership Is a Sacred Trust

Recently I was teaching on The Price of Leadership at a conference in South Africa, and much of the Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 9.16.46 AMmaterial is from my book by the same title. There is some new material, however, that I have introduced while teaching this in Kenya and I realized I have never written about it. Therefore, I will share in five parts what I call my current understanding of leadership, starting with the first point this week.

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust.

The Lord expressed His dissatisfaction with the leaders of His people in Jeremiah, and His words indicate what He expects from His leaders:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 23:1-4).

Let's examine what these verses tell us about the Lord's expectations for shepherds and leaders:

  1. Leaders are to gather the people, not be a source of division.
  2. Leaders are to care for the people, which means attend to their needs and carry affection for their condition.
  3. Leaders are to contribute to the welfare of their followers.
  4. The Lord considered their behavior not just irresponsible but evil.

And what is it that leaders are to facilitate in the lives of those who follow His leaders?

  1. The people are to be fruitful.
  2. Their fear and terror should be lessened.
  3. They are to be present and accounted for.

While the terminology of shepherd and sheep is more common in a church setting, it is clear that God holds al leaders to the same standards, whether they are politicians, business people, civic leaders, pastors, or parents. This is obvious because the prophets addressed the leaders of the nations around His people on God's behalf, and it was clear that God had appointed them and held them accountable.

The psalmist made it clear that no one is in leadership by their own will or ambition: "No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another" (Psalm 75:6-7). That is why leadership is a sacred trust. God bestows the opportunity to lead but then judges every leader's performance, regardless of the field in which they lead.

Jesus was quite hard on the leaders of His day, who felt they were sufficient if not good leaders because they understood the Law and the things of God. They did not care for the people, and Jesus addressed them as the Lord had done through Jeremiah, expressing seven "woes" in Matthew 23:13-39. Here is just one of His seven woes: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." Notice the similarity to what is in Jeremiah 23, which is a subtle indication that Jesus was not speaking on behalf of the prophets, but He was speaking to the leaders as God Himself.

The church has historically not done a good job of training and equipping leaders for growth and increase. The thinking is that once God promotes leaders, they will then somehow receive everything they need to be effective. That is a flawed concept and the church is paying the price of lost opportunities and scattered sheep, but the same is true for almost every area of human endeavor. People have "checked out" because the leaders have not done their job. In the next essay, we will look at the second point, which is related to this matter of leadership development.


Achieving Greatness

Someone just wrote me to ask, What  must I do to achieve greatness? Here was my response:

develop yourself to be able to handle what you will need to do to achieve it = effective time management; find a message and learn how to deliver it; don't be limited to only Christian mentors/teachers; determine that your greatness will be to serve the needs of others and not your own.

Then he wrote back: Kindly explain this "develop yourself to be able to handle what you will need to do to achieve it"

I wrote back:

education/self-discipline/ongoing learning/grow in your capacity to handle more responsibility
 
never rely on your title or what you have done in the past; don't insist that people honor or recognize you; be content to influence and not control people
 
I finished with the passage from Philippians 2:19-23 in which Paul described what made Timothy great:

But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me.

I asked the writer,  "Paul only saw one who did in his lifetime; can you be the one that others discover in theirs?"
 
The same question applies to you

 

 

 

 


It's Not a Chinese Thing

Much has been made of late of the concept of white supremacy in the United States. This article will not discuss or debate the impact of that issue, for there is a host of material on the subject, and it often leads to contentious and acrimonious arguments and hurt feelings. What I want to focus on is the recent XiJinpingconstitutional amendment that removed the two-term limit of service for the party general secretary and chairmanship of the party’s Central Military Commission. In other words, the man who holds those positions is free to rule for life, although Xi Jinping has said he is personally opposed to lifetime rule. We shall see, for it was not unusual for two-term limits in African nations to be challenged when the ruler approached the end of his second term. It was once said in an American comedy movie, "It's good to be the king."

My point is that the tendency, perhaps even the drive, to dominate others is not a Caucasian trait, or a Chinese thing, or an African weakness. While it has often revealed itself as an expression of racism (Caucasian against black, Caucasian against Aboriginal people, tribe against tribe in Africa), it is a human trait that goes beyond race to cast its ugly shadow over every age, culture, nation, or tribe. The source of this tendency is explained in only one place and that is the Bible in Genesis 3:16 when the Lord said to Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The result of the fall is that Adam would want to "rule over" Eve.

We have seen this play out again and again in male and female relationships, but this desire to "rule over you" immediately expressed itself when Cain killed Abel (see Genesis 4) and when Nimrod established kingdoms that included Babylon, and used his warrior skills to conquer and keep everyone in line, using weapons to do so. From that point in history, we learn that every nation and people has had a tendency to find someone it could dominate and rule. (Lest you think that this tendency to dominate is only a male trait, consider the millions of women who have expressed their domination over their fetus through abortions that had nothing to do with the health of the mother or condition of the fetus.)

Then along came Jesus, whose purpose is explained in Colossians 1:19-20, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Jesus came to restore order as it was meant to be in the Garden before the Fall, and part of that is to reverse the tendency to abuse power that clings to all human beings. Jesus' recommended antidote for leadership power is service to others, and even that can become an exercise in dominating others as we do things for them that they do not want because those good deeds are in their "best interests."

LambonthronepicIt is interesting that one metaphor for Jesus is the Lamb. In Revelation, we behold the Lamb seated on the throne, which represents power and authority (see Revelation 4:13). If people were choosing something to epitomize power on a throne, we would choose the lion, tiger, bear, or something equally as intimidating. Yet God chose a Lamb, and then asks us to emulate the model He chose as Jesus taught in Luke 22:24-28:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials."

So don't believe the lie that the propensity to abuse power resides in any one people group. It resides in us all, and while Jesus provided the cure, it has seldom been applied, even among those who follow Him and call on His name. Something tells me this problem is going to be with us until He returns again, so in the meantime, I need to look to myself to see not if but where this abuse-of-power tendency is present in my own life.


Leadership Lessons from the Black Panther

By now, I think most of the world has seen the movie Black Panther, which has garnered critical acclaim and gained financial success. I won't critique the plot or make comments about the movie's BlackPantherPicsocial significance, for there are others more qualified to do that than I. Of the many things that impressed me as I watched the movie, however, there was one theme to which I do feel qualified to speak and that is the issue of leadership. Don't worry, if you have not seen the movie, I am not about to reveal any of the plot. If you have seen the movie, let's go back and look at three of the main characters: King T'Chaka, his son T'Challa, and T'Chaka's nephew and T'Challa's cousin named Erik, who assumed the name Killmonger after he ascended the throne.

NOT PREPARED FOR POWER

Let's start with the man who became the Black Panther after a duel with his cousin T'Challa. Erik or Killmonger was a military operative who was trained by the U.S. government to kill and destroy. When Killmonger became Wakanda's leader, he was the epitome of a leader who was not prepared for leadership. For him, power was to be used for revenge and domination. He became intoxicated with his position and the authority that came with it, and was determined to wipe out his enemies and reward his friends, who would in a matter of time become his enemies.

KillmongerPicThat is because leaders who use their power for personal gain or to further their selfish ends, even if those ends will benefit some people, have no friends. They cannot trust anyone, and history bears this out that those who operate from a power base are suspicious of anyone who may siphon away any portion of their power.

Consider Herod the Great of biblical fame. He was said to have killed his wife and two sons, and then mourned them for the rest of his life. Why did he kill them? He did so because he perceived them to be "against" him and a threat to his power. Why did Herod have all the male children killed in Bethlehem after he learned of Jesus' birth? Even though he was old and near the end of his life, Herod could not bear the thought of someone in his land who would have a claim to his power, the power he had gained and preserved through deceit, bribery, and brute force.

PREPARED FOR POWER

In the movie, we learn that both T'Chaka and T'Challa were royalty and had prepared to handle power all their lives. They had a royal mindset and used their power to serve the best interests of their nation and their people. Yet, both of them had to face difficult situations for which their were no guidebooks or directions. T'Challa came to find out what his father had done that helped create the Killmonger persona and he was shocked and dismayed, telling his father in a vision that he had failed as a king and leader.

Yet, when T'Challa woke up from his vision, he embarked on a plan to try and wrest the throne away BlackPantherPic2from his cousin the Killmonger and ended up committing the same act against his cousin that his king father had carried out against his own brother, T'Challa's uncle. In the end, T'Challa announced that there would be changes in the kingdom of Wakanda and that their technology and knowledge would no longer be hidden or hoarded, but would be used to help others.

The point is that even though T'Chaka and T'Challa were prepared to lead and handle the power that comes with it, they still struggled to know how to use that power. They left themselves open to be second-guessed, as all leaders must do, because leadership power is neutral until leaders apply their leadership and personal values systems to that power and utilize it. Then, peoples' lives are impacted and they will deploy their own personal values system to evaluate what the leaders have done. 

That is why newly-elected officials have the goodwill of the people until they make decisions. Those decisions will please some and displease others, and those leaders then find what the father-and-son duo in Black Panther discovered: Even if one has prepared to lead all his or her life, it's a tough job that involves decisions and judgments about how to use power.

In the end, the Black Panther made the right decision, for the most appropriate and the safest thing to do with leadership power is to give it away in the service of others so they can be empowered. Yet even that decision is fraught with danger and controversy, for then people will question the way or the speed with which the power is used or distributed. I came away from the movie desiring to use my leadership power effectively, while realizing that goal is subject to my own limitations, which is why leadership preparation is a lifetime pursuit one never fully achieves.


Leadership is No Guarantee

"There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it." - Sir J. E. E. Dalberg.

It is dangerous for leaders to assume that just because they hold the title or office of leader, it somehow LeaderFollowerPic makes them smarter, wiser, or more talented than their followers. That is the essence of the warning in today's quote. When you begin to believe you are special and that holding a title gives you some unique insight or edge simply because you hold the title, you are in danger of becoming an ineffective leader.

The leaders in Jesus' day fell into this trap, and it caused them to miss the Lord because they thought they were smarter and wiser than everyone else. Look at these two examples of what I mean:

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet) (Mark 11:29-32).

In the case of John's ministry, the people knew that John was a prophet while the leaders did not - or knew but refused to acknowledge his leadership. In another instance,

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet (Matthew 21:45-46).

Once again, the people had better and more accurate spiritual insight than their leaders.

Unless a leader has regular and consistent inputs, and by that I mean education, a mentor's voice, or a leadership development program, that leader will eventually begin to rely on his or her title or position or authority. When that happens, the leader will cease to lead and begin to exercise control over his or her followers to maintain his or her leadership position - and that is true whether we are talking about a business or a church.

If you are a leader, what are you doing to continue to develop and grow as a leader? You cannot answer that you are leading, for that will give you experience but not necessarily develop you, unless you ruthlessly and regularly evaluate (and have others evaluate) your leadership style and decisions.

If you are a follower, do you dismiss what you sense and think because your leaders don't agree? As we saw in today's two examples, leadership is not correct just because they are the leaders. You should not surrender your wisdom or insight simply because your leaders disagree, for there is no guarantee they are any more accurate than you are.

The next time you insist you are correct simply because you are the leader or  you back down from a position only because your leaders disagree, remember that leadership is no guarantee of correctness or superiority.


I Need Feedback

I am working on a revision of my book I wrote in 1999, So Many Leaders, So Little Leadership:  Beyond the Power of Position Lies the Price of Leadership.  I have matured in my view of leadership in the last eleven years and it's time I spelled that out in this book.  I want to define three concepts in the revised version - leadership, purpose and team - and I want to run these definitions (with some simple notes and verses without much explanation) by you to get your feedback.  Feel free to agree, disagree, recommend changes and additions or to tell me I am just off base, at the site where this entry is posted.  Here goes:

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Leadership – discovering, perfecting and fulfilling your God-assigned life purpose, which causes you to joyfully influence others and to serve in your sphere of giftedness, insight and experience.

  • The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil (Proverbs 16:4 NAS)
  • He who tills his land will have plenty of food, but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty (Proverbs 28:19 NAS).
  • A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.  Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:24-27 NIV).

Your sphere of leadership is determined by any or all of the following:

  1. Expertise/skill
  2. Burden/passion
  3. Geographic placement
  4. Occupational domain, such as:
    • Education
    • Church
    • Business
    • Government
    • Military
    • Social
    • Relationships
    • Sports/recreation
    • Food
    • Fashion/beauty
    • Entertainment

Purpose – whatever you consistently do, with whomever and wherever you do it, that gives you joy and serves some basic need in or for others

Effective team – comprised of members who know one another’s purpose and strengths and who agree to join together to achieve team goals and objectives based on synergies available as members express, pursue and perfect their gifts, passions and capabilities.