Leadership Like the Dawn

dawn-2-1504573-1280x960I stumbled across this verse and it just jumped out. Listen to it deeply especially if you are a leader of any kind. Because here is a beautiful description of what power, authority, and leadership should be. It’s poetry but that’s why it’s so inspiring:

When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light. (2 Sam 23:3-4)

I think that’s just a beautiful picture of leadership rightly exercised. That when leadership is done rightly it’s like “he dawns on them like morning light”. That when leaders are full of justice and fear of God, their leadership isn’t heavy and burdensome. It’s soft, it’s light, it’s full of future and promise like an early morning. And just as the dawn creeps up pushing away darkness, this is what it’s like when someone rules justly and in the fear of God.

When I think about my leadership if someone were to describe it like that to me, I would be honored. That’s what I hope for, that my leadership would be like the breaking of the dawn. My guess is if you are a leader you hope that too.

So what can you do today to start to live into that vision of leadership? Because it’s worth chasing after, just like the dawn chases after the night.

The Good and Bad Kind of Authority of a Leader

??????????Leadership is authority. There is no other way around that fact. But in today’s culture we don’t like authority. We don’t’ like being told what to do. We don’t like following authority or obeying authority. We like to become self-made people by each of us rebelling against the same authority (there is irony in that).

But I want to talk about the authority of a leader. Because I still believe that leadership is authority, but the type of authority really matters. Because there are different kinds of authority. There is authority that is based in power, and authority that’s based in gift (people choosing to follow and give you permission to lead).

And this distinction between the kinds of authority is so necessary. And the trouble is that most leaders haven’t consciously decided which type of authority they will rely on. The authority based in power (you have to do what I say) or the authority based in permission (you listen because you choose to).

In my role I’ve decided to never use coercive authority based in power. I could, lots of pastors do, especially when things get sticky and messy. They might say, “I am God’s anointed”, or “I’m the leader”, or even worse “I speak for God”. And the same temptation is for all leaders. That when things get tough, when stress rises, when there is crisis people reach to use power rather than authority based in grace that is given.

Parker Palmer gets at the difference when he writes this,

“The authority such a leader needs is not the same as power. Power comes to anyone who controls the tools of coercion, which ranges from grades to guns. But authority comes only to those who are granted it by others.”

So my question for you is this: what kind of leadership are you using? Is it based in power, or authority, based in grace and gift from others? Do people follow you because they “have to” or because “they want to”. And you might think that in the end the results are the same – as long as the job gets done. But it’s not – why people follow or listen to you is just as important as the outcome it produces.

So in your leadership with your authority is it power based – or people based? Because that small difference makes all the difference.

The Power of Failure in Leadership

remington-typewriter-1423223-1279x1807This will sound almost well…un-North American. But life isn’t about winning. I know that seems funny, but it’s also something we all know deep down. We all know people who seem so content, and uninterested in joining in the rat race around us and competing for life. They just seem to have…life.

And that’s what I’m interested in. Interested in finding life apart from winning.

Because here is the thing, there is always a loser when someone else is a winner. And this makes it sound like I just want to give out participation ribbons to everyone and pretend that everything is equal and everyone should get a trophy. And that’s not it at all.

I believe that there is deep value in working hard, in striving and reaching for the best. I believe pushing yourself matters deeply. But what I also know is that this world is unfair, and there are people who are working hard, striving, and losing because the deck is stacked against them. So what I am saying is that life cannot be tied directly to winning; it needs to be tied to something greater. It needs to be tied of course to Jesus, to pursuing growth.

And here is the crazy thing, for you to grow you need to fail.

I know that sounds pessimistic but it’s true. There is nothing you grow at without some learning and failing along the way. There is nothing you came out of the womb totally competent and excellent at. This is the trouble with tying life to winning. It makes life static and boring because there is no growth.

Joan Chittister puts it this way,

“We need failure to learn that we don’t need to win to justify the reason for our existence. Wining is part of life, yes, but human beings can live healthy, happy lives without it. We are not born to win; we are born to grow, to develop, to become the best of ourselves – and to enjoy life…No life is not about winning. It is about trying, about participating, about striving, about becoming the best we can be, not by the best by someone else’s measure.”

And I just believe that is true. We are not born to win, but to grow. And that’s part about what following Jesus is all about. It’s about being “re-born” to learn to continue to grow in a way that requires failing, faltering steps, and striving for his Kingdom and his best.

So I write this all to say, that if you’ve been failing lately – that might just be okay. Don’t give up because life isn’t about the winning, but the trying.

The Expectation Gap in Leadership

mind-the-gap-1484157-1280x960I want to talk about something in leadership I call the “expectation gap”.

The truth is that all leaders are always looking forward, and see “where we could be”. That’s inherent in being a leader, seeing the goal, the vision, and the hope.

But that creates an “expectation gap”. The “gap” between where we are at, and where we hope to be. And this gap exists for leaders in all sorts of areas in business, church, or even in relationships. We see where we hope to be, where we are working towards, but we aren’t there yet.

The trouble is that this “gap” can cause discouragement easily and quickly, because we have never “arrived”. We are never able to be content, and at ease because there is always more to do. This is inherent in any leader to drive for continual progress, growth, and excellence. But what do we do with the “gap”? How do we not let it discourage us, nor also create in us a sense of apathy?

Well to ensure that I don’t get discouraged, or apathetic I ask myself one question: is the gap shrinking or growing? Are we getting closer to the goal? Are we making progress? Because that’s what really matters to me – progress and movement. This helps me not to be discouraged that we’re not there yet, but also not apathetic that the journey is never completed. That question focuses me on the things that I think matters for leaders: movement, progress, and growth. Because the gap will always exist; so the point isn’t to get rid of the gap but continually shrink the gap.

Abusive Authority, Good Leadership, and The Inner Life of Leaders

change-is-childsplay-5-1056964-1599x1066This quote by Derek Flood really speaks to me, and also challenges me.

Of all sins, the sin of abusive authority is particularly dangerous because it masquerades as righteousness, claiming to speak for God.

It challenges me because I am a leader, and because I lead I have a certain “authority”. Which means I can fall prey to a specific sin of leaders: abusing authority. And nothing will wreck a community faster or deeper than abusive authority.

We’ve all seen some leadership and authority go sideways. Where it goes bad, where they hurt someone (maybe you), where unquestioned obedience is the rule, where it’s just plain unhealthy.

But the answer to bad leadership, isn’t no leadership, but good leadership. 

And to have that we have to recognize the fact that if we are a leader our inner life is crucial. If we want to ensure that we never abuse our authority our inner journey must be a priority.

What I mean by this statement is this: that if as a leader your inner life is in turmoil, unclear, or unknown you cannot lead well. Those who end up abusing authority, who try to “speak for God”, who masquerade as righteous have an inner life that is a mess, unknown, or hidden.

The truth is that if you want to lead well it isn’t about knowing how to inspire people, move people, or set goals. If you want to lead well you need to know yourself and God well. That’s the central starting point of leadership. If you don’t know who you are, you will be tempted to find yourself in power, accolades, or success and fall to the sin of abusive authority. Abusive authority can be prevented, but not without deep inner work of prayer, identity formation, and understanding of who you are wired to be.

I write all of this for two reasons. First, if you are a leader, and want to avoid the sin of abusive authority spend time to know yourself and know God. The inner journey is more difficult than the outward journey of leading. And let me say this, it’s also less cool. It’s way “cooler” to be leading a massive group of people. It’s less glamorous to be sitting in prayer processing why that little comment someone said really cut you deeply. But the process and inner work is true leadership.

And secondly, I write this as a caution for everyone of us. All of us are following someone, all of us (even if we are leaders) are influenced by others and their leadership. But we should be cautious of whom we let influence us. If who we are following who doesn’t’ seem to know themselves or God, simply be cautious, be wise, and be prudent. Because if someone doesn’t know who they are called to be, they cannot help you become who you are called to be.

So my main point from all of this – is this: leaders know yourself well so you can lead well. Take time to do the hard inner work. Because good leaders move to being great leaders not by bigger crowds, but by deeper inner work.

Failing in Leadership, and Why Its Necessary

1133804_47640439If you listen to truly gifted leaders you will almost always hear some paradoxical: they will talk about their failures. 

They will talk about the tough times, and what they learned deeply. The leaders we most respect and follow when they talk about leadership are more likely to point to their failures than their successes.

And of course there are the arrogant leaders, who talk about how they are God’s amazing gift to the world.

But the truly gifted leaders I respect, have a humility, that comes from failure. 

I say that this is paradoxical because we think of the best leaders as the ones who don’t fail, who press forward, and chart their own path. But I think this is the myth of leadership that we create in our minds. True leaders have failed, and more importantly, have learned from their failure.

The beauty of this is that if you have failed it doesn’t exclude you from being a leader. The question then is what can you learn from your failings and falternigs? What has failing, hurting, or going through that tough time given you to offer the world? Because some of our most profound offerings to the world don’t come out of our success but our struggles.

So if you are leading, struggling, and maybe even failing – be encouraged because you might just be on the path to better leadership as long as you keep learning, and keep pressing forward.

Testing the Waters with Both Feet

1445490_31979296I want to talk a little bit about launching things. Because we all launch things all the time. You might not think about it that way but you do. For sure some people launch businesses, new enterprises, or new ventures in their careers. But “launching” applies to so much more than just entrepreneurs. You might be launching a small group, a ministry, or what about a new plan for your life. What about a plan to potty train your kids? What about teaching yourself a new skill, or leading in your kids’ sports teams?

These are all simple but real examples of launching something. Whenever we take a new step we are launching something. But I’ve learned a lot from a little African Proverb that helps us when we launch something. It’s this:

Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

And isn’t that true?

What I love about this proverb is that it reminds us of two things.

First, this proverb reminds us to try new things. Change is a part of life, we should be launching things, trying new things, jumping into new waters. Why not try a new business, why not build a new team, why not try something new with your kids? This stuff matters and we shouldn’t let fear tell us to just stay put.

But the second thing this little proverb reminds us of is to be wise. To test the waters with one foot before launching with two feet. All it’s saying is that if you are able to try something, to test it small scale, to get your hands dirty before cutting your safety net – why not test and try? I’m all for audacious crazy big goals. We should be launching, reaching, and trying new things. But all this little proverb reminds us is that there is a difference between being courageous and also well…silly or stupid.

So what are you maybe pondering or dreaming about starting? Is there a way to test the waters, and get going?

Here is the brilliance of the proverb. Most of us don’t actually have problems with jumping in with both feet because we don’t ever jump into new waters at all. But if you test the water a bit, try it out, it might just give you enough courage to jump…

You Have Something to Offer The World

A gift for youToday I want to talk about a connection between leadership, Jesus, and life.

James Kouzes, and Barry Posner write this in their book The Truth about Leadership.

Everything you will ever do as a leader is based on one audacious assumption. It’s the assumption that you matter. Before you can lead others, you  have to lead yourself and believe that you can have a positive impact on others.

And this is so true. If you want to be a leader, you need to start to learn and believe that you can be. You need to believe that not only do you matter, but that you have something to offer.

And this type of belief in yourself isn’t either arrogance, or shameless self-promotion. It’s not a belief that you’re amazing and everyone should listen to you. Instead, it’s a belief that you have something to offer, something positive to give. And I think Kouzes and Posner are right.

What is interesting to me is that their statement seems a little like Jesus’ statement, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”. Jesus’ point is that you can’t actually love your neighbour if you don’t love yourself. If you hate yourself, the hate will pour out all over and you wont’ be able to love your neighbour.

And here is the connection between both Jesus and the quote above: that to be able to lead, or love ~ you need to believe in yourself and that you have something to offer. You need to love yourself, and who you are to best love others. To lead others, you need to believe that you have something – big or small – to contribute to the world. This isn’t about listing all the reasons you are amazing, but instead thinking through:

  • What do I have to offer?
  • What has God gifted me with to gift to others?
  • What positive contribution can I give? What do I love about who I am, that I can share with others?

I think those are good questions to not only help us become better leaders, but better followers of God.

Creativity, Leadership, and Learning to Launch

1439539_30967932I want to begin by talking a little bit about creativity. Creativity is this weird thing. It’s something that we all have, but something most of us don’t capitalize on. And here is why: creativity always begins with unfinished, unpolished, and imperfect creations.

The truth is if you want to create, the first draft, step, or program will not be great. It will not be perfect, or flawless. Most likely it will be full of holes, and faults, and failures. And we hate that. We don’t like creating something that isn’t perfect, that isn’t a guaranteed success.

But here is the thing then: our fear is more controlling our destiny.

If you resist creating that book, that song, that new idea, that event, whatever it is – because it might not be perfect – you will never end up creating anything.

Tony Bronsink writes,

“Sometimes the first step of creating is the most awkward one. It’s an unfinished product, embarrassingly short of what we dreamed it would be, yet something more than we had before.”

And that is true and that is necessary. The first step in creating something is never perfect, but it is the first step that can lead to something life-giving and successful. If you wait to create that piece of art, that business, that new thing you want – until it’s perfect and guaranteed you’ll be waiting forever.

And here is the tie-in to leadership too. When we lead we love to lead to successes, and that should be the goal. But if the first step is often imperfect, embarrassingly short of what we dreamed, yet necessary, here’s the point: we should be okay with imperfection when we are striving forward. Imperfection shouldn’t stop us from taking the first step, and we shouldn’t just stop with a first step either, but we need to step out and try.

That’s my main point with this post. All of us have these things I think that we’d love to start. Maybe it’s a blog, a book, a neighborhood group, a Bible study, a new business, a piece of art, a new hobby – or whatever. But often what stops is isn’t a lack of ability or creativity – it’s a lack of courage in the face of fear that our first step won’t be perfect or a guaranteed success. Well here is the liberating truth: the first step is never perfect or a guaranteed success…so what’s stopping you from taking it?

Leadership Limits: The Art of Knowing When You’re Done

877270_52065388 Here is the truth: God created us all with limits.

This is just a simple fact, but one that so many of us don’t realize or accept. In fact, if you read through the creation accounts in early Genesis you’ll start to see that God created Adam and Eve with limits too. Limits remind us of something – that we need each other. We can’t do it alone.

And here is how this relates to leadership.

Leaders are often reluctant to embrace their limits. They push harder, they work longer, and dig deeper. None of this is bad in the short-term, but in the long-term it’s disastrous. To pretend that you can lead and push through and not acknowledge your limits will kill your leadership. It might not today, and it might not tomorrow, but it will happen.

When you refuse to admit you’re tapped out, you are actually denying part of the essence of leadership: relying on and empowering others. Pretending you don’t need anyone or don’t have any limits doesn’t help you, and it certainly doesn’t help your organization, business, or team. Limits are inherent to who we are, and knowing them helps us to lead better and longer.

Of course self-discipline, drive, and a strong work ethic are crucial to leadership. But so too is knowing when you start to run dry.

So here are two questions I ask myself at least once a month. And I think they are good questions for anyone in leadership to ask. It’s this:

  • Have I not asked for help this month when I needed it? 
  • Have I embraced both my limitation and my responsibilities?

These two question help me stay on track and I hope they help you too.