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BE A MOTIVATIONAL LEADER
LASTING LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES
By LEROY EIMS
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 LeRoy Eims
All rights reserved.
BE A RESPONSIBLE LEADER
On April 25, 1980, when 52 Americans had already been held hostage in Iran for 173 days, President Carter appeared on television. In a solemn voice, he disclosed to the American people that a United States military team had failed in its attempt to rescue the 52 Americans held hostage in the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran. After the president described the events that led to the aborted mission, he stated, "It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed.... The responsibility is fully my own."
President Carter realized that where the interests of the United States are concerned, the buck stops at the president's desk.
Whatever the enterprise, the leader is responsible for the success or failure of the mission. But how hard it is for most leaders to accept the responsibility for what happens in their organizations!
In the summer of 1979, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had a problem. NASA was held responsible for something over which it had little control: Skylab, one of the first space stations NASA had built, was failing, going into a deteriorating orbit. NASA had built Skylab, bragged about it, and launched it, and now it was in trouble. Tons of metal would soon come tumbling down. But where? On somebody's head? On somebody's house? No one was quite sure. So the world and NASA waited. To some, the idea of a hunk of metal, 9 stories tall and weighing 77.5 tons, crashing to earth was greeted with humor and light-hearted jokes. Chicken Little was paraphrased: "The Skylab is falling! The Skylab is falling!" Parties were given to which guests wore feathers and chicken beaks. Some people wore T-shirts displaying a bull's-eye and the words "I'm an official Skylab target."
But there was a serious side as well. Many people felt themselves at the mercy of a force over which nobody had control. Some were fearful. Some were angry. Others grew resentful because the people who were responsible had let the situation get out of hand. They complained that NASA should have thought about this eventuality and made proper plans to bring Skylab back safely.
NASA claimed that although there were some probabilities, they could not predict with any degree of accuracy where the thing would come down. Although NASA was responsible for placing Skylab in orbit, it did not accept responsibility for where it would land.
MOTIVATION AND MORALE
Let's think for a moment how that event relates to motivation and morale. If a group gets the feeling that its leader is not doing his or her job—or is not taking full responsibility for what is happening in the enterprise—the members will often become resentful, cynical, or fearful. As they grow dissatisfied with their leadership, motivation and morale will plummet. An incident that occurred in an American corporation dramatically illustrates this truth. The administration was in the midst of a personnel problem of tremendous proportions, and the leader adamantly refused to be involved in the solution. By his actions he communicated to his top people that he felt no sense of responsibility for the cause of the problem, nor did he have any interest in leading them through it. The men and women closest to him became frustrated, angry, and despondent. Finally, they confronted the man and told him that because of his failure to lead, they were ready to quit. After a lengthy and heated discussion, the leader was jolted into the world of reality and promised to do all within his power to resolve the situation. And when the leader accepted his responsibility, the people could unite with him and, as a team, begin to work together.
Although several factors affect motivation and morale, one of the key factors is responsible leadership. The leaders who take full responsibility for their own actions, and for the people over whom God has placed them, will command loyalty and respect.
The week after the United States' abortive attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, I was speaking to a group of servicemen and women at a conference in Virginia. One of the officers told me of a speech given in the Pentagon by a high-ranking general. This general said that the sense of guilt he felt over the failure of the mission was more than offset by the sense of pride he felt toward his commander in chief for publicly taking full responsibility for the decisions that had been made. The officer who told me that story said that he and the rest of the men and women who served with him at the Pentagon were also greatly moved to rally behind the president. The fact that the president had accepted responsibility commanded their loyalty and respect.
But all too often the leader is tempted to pass the buck—to squirm out of taking the responsibility for something bad and unpleasant. We all have this tendency. It's part of our nature. For example, if I put on a few inches around my middle, I can easily blame my dad. I can rationalize, "He was a big, heavy man, and I take right after him. If I had had a skinny dad, things would be different. But because my dad was overweight, I am doomed to put on weight. It's all his fault."
I ignore the fact that I eat ice cream, popcorn, and chocolate-covered peanuts. Somehow that's immaterial. I rationalize that I inherited my proneness to gain weight easily and so can place the blame squarely where it belongs—on my dad.
The Bible has something to say about this kind of phony rationalization. God holds people responsible for their actions. God holds a leader responsible for what takes place in the ranks. The leader is a prime means God uses to keep His people moving in the right direction and doing the right thing. The one who leads the band must face the music.
We can see a vivid picture of this principle in the giving of manna to the children of Israel. The Lord had been clear in His instructions. They were to gather manna six days of the week but not on the Sabbath. However, some disobeyed. "Some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, 'How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?'" (Ex. 16:27–28).
Amazing! Had Moses broken the commandments and laws of God? No! Some of the people had, but not Moses. But look whom the Lord held responsible! The leader! God wanted Moses to be ever on the alert, so that the sins of the people would not be due to neglect or sloth on his part. He wanted the man He put in charge to be on top of the situation; for in the final analysis, Moses would be held responsible.
Because of our natural tendency to rationalize, we need to recognize this weakness and then battle against it.
"Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city" (Prov. 16:32). It is better to conquer yourself than to conquer others. But conquering yourself is difficult, because you are dealing with your own corrupt, unruly, compromising spirit that so easily justifies its actions and tries to wriggle out of assuming the responsibility for them. Just as allowing yourself the luxury of losing your temper, wallowing in self-pity, or indulging your fleshly appetites is sin, so trying to shift the blame for your actions is also sin.
When you as the leader fail to deal with sin in your own life, the people who work with you will soon lose confidence in you. If you are the leader, you must arm yourself for a lifetime of fighting against your natural tendencies toward self-indulgence and your proneness to blame others when you should assume responsibility.
The heart is the field in which these battles are fought. And that is an unnerving thought. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). One mighty truth surfaces in the context of this passage—I am a fool to depend on the strength of my own nature instead of depending on the wisdom and power of God. The heart, being sinister and deceptive, declares evil to be good and good to be evil. We all imagine our hearts to be better than they are. In fact, the human heart will allow us to vindicate ourselves in self-deception. The heart will be the ringleader to camouflage the path to ruin.
But if we turn to God and ask Him to cast light on our darkness and show us the truth, He will do it. David's prayer is our model. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:23–24). God knows us. We flatter and justify ourselves and march blindly toward the brink of disaster; but God in His mercy brings the light of truth to jolt us to our senses.
The application is plain. Whenever I am tempted to succumb to the devious shenanigans of my deceitful heart, I can meet them head-on and triumph over them in the strength of the Lord. If I am responsible for something that goes awry, I must acknowledge my responsibility and set it right. This is not an easy thing to do. The "taking of the city" in physical conflict is child's play compared with the daily, unceasing conflict with my unknowable, deceitful heart. The US Navy has a saying: "It didn't happen on my watch." It means, "I wasn't to blame. It was not my fault." But when God speaks to me and shows me my sin, I had better listen. My heart is always deceitful. God is always true. The choice is mine: I can follow truth or deceit.
If I ignore what God tells me, I am the one responsible, and I will suffer the consequences. "If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer" (Prov. 9:12). The aftermath of my actions comes back to roost on my own head. If I behave falsely toward myself or toward the people God has placed in my oversight, I wrong my own soul (Prov. 8:36). I cannot pass the buck to someone else to avoid my responsibility.
When God confronted Adam with his sin, Adam could have said, "Yes, God, You're right." But he didn't. He tried to pass the buck to Eve, but it didn't work. Eve, in turn, tried to blame the Serpent, but that didn't work. Trying to weasel out of responsibility is as old as the garden of Eden.
But chickens do come home to roost. The evil results of poor performance eventually overtake us. The frightening thing is that these results may plague an enterprise for years, decades, even centuries! We are still smarting under the results of Adam's sin.
There are numerous areas in which a leader needs to accept responsibility. Solomon addressed five important responsibilities that belong to the leader.
1. Rebuke or correct. Leaders must accept responsibility to rebuke sin in the ranks or to correct an improper course of action taken by someone under their charge. At times leaders see an improper course of action and refuse to correct it because they are afraid of losing the favor of the people. "He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue" (Prov. 28:23).
2. Act decisively. When the opportunity arises to do something of noble worth and profound consequence, leaders must accept the responsibility to act decisively. Solomon said that if a person excuses unjust behavior by saying he didn't know about it, he would still answer to God, who weighs the heart and repays every man according to his works.
To see a fellow human being in imminent danger, on the brink of disaster, and to do nothing is a crime in the sight of God and humanity. The people will look upon such leaders as heartless and uncaring or as cowards. However, if leaders spot a need, roll up their sleeves, step in, and do whatever they can, their followers will be motivated to join in as well.
When I was in a city in the American Southwest, I heard a man pouring out his heart for the men and women across the sea in Southeast Asia. These people were starving and being brutalized, but their borders were closed to any kind of humanitarian aid and relief. Moved by the need, this man got involved. He called representatives in the United Nations, the Red Cross, various ambassadors of nearby countries, Christian relief agencies, and so on. Everyone said the same thing. "There is nothing we can do. The oppressors are in control. They will allow no one to bring comfort and aid."
But John did not stop. He began to mobilize a great prayer effort among Christians. I listened to him in a home meeting. The next day his pastor permitted him to lay the burden before the congregation at the Sunday morning worship service. He was on the phone to friends across America and around the world. His plea was that people would pray.
Everyone who heard John was challenged and motivated. And many got behind him and helped him in his effort. He was a leader who commanded love and respect. He saw an opportunity to do something of noble worth and profound consequence and did it. He motivated thousands of people to pray that God might open ways to send relief to needy people.
3. Listen to criticism. Leaders should accept responsibility to listen to criticism from the ranks. "Whoever heeds correction shows prudence" (Prov. 15:5), but "he who hates correction will die" (v. 10). There is hope for people who take their medicine. But if people are sick, visit the doctor, get medicine, and then refuse to take it, they might as well have avoided the whole process. Solomon went on to say, "Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise" (Prov. 19:20).
Throughout the Bible we see the value of an eager learner's spirit on the part of the leader. But all too often we see the picture of people closed to counsel and on their way to ruin. If we see this in a leader, we may desert him or her, and rightly so. God has not given us life to be spent heading in the wrong direction, doing the wrong things, under the leadership of a person who will not listen to wise, constructive criticism.
4. Be honest. Leaders should accept responsibility to keep things open and aboveboard. Over the years on the international scene, we have seen giant corporations taken to task for bribery. We see the same problems on the national level, as the sins of leaders are exposed. Solomon spoke to this: "A fool's mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul" (Prov. 18:7). A leader should tell the truth. One of the great kings of France is reported to have said, "If truth be banished from all the rest of the world, it ought to be found in the breast of princes."
If leaders are not honest, their deception will soon be discovered, and the morale and motivation of the people will plummet. No one likes to be led by a liar. The person in the ranks hates to be deceived. To be known as a member of a group being led by a liar is humiliating. The lies of the leader reflect on the integrity of every person on the team. A leader is often tempted to lie to cover up a mistake or failure. However, to do so is madness, for the lie will eventually come to light. A leader's best course of action is to face up to the problem immediately, ask forgiveness of the people, and enlist their aid in setting things right. This is clear evidence that the leader is taking responsibility for his or her actions.
5. Be fair. Leaders should accept responsibility to deal fairly with their people. "The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight" (Prov. 11:1). Apparently, there was a widespread custom of having different weights and means of measurement for buying and selling—one stone too heavy and another too light. To take advantage of the unsuspecting is an abomination to God and a crime against humanity.
An auto repair shop owner once told me of a woman who had brought her car to him for repairs. For many years she had relied on a certain mechanic to keep her car in good running order. One day this man deliberately did something to the engine to make it run improperly. He then told her she needed major engine repairs. Through a series of circumstances, the woman discovered what he had done. She was angry that he had tried to cheat her out of her money, but more than that she was deeply hurt that the man whom she had trusted for years had attempted to deceive her. The confidence she had placed in him had been violated. She had trusted his judgment and had believed his word. And he had deliberately taken advantage of her trust to use it for his own gain. People rely on a leader in the same way as this woman had relied on the mechanic. And like this woman, when their confidence is betrayed, followers will often turn to another leader.
Excerpted from BE A MOTIVATIONAL LEADER by LEROY EIMS. Copyright © 2012 LeRoy Eims. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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