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I was teaching at Mars Hill Graduate School, which was, at that time, a satellite school of Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. We were, however, in the process of moving the school toward independence, and six of us who were on the faculty were involved in this transition. At one point, about three years into the process, we were required to complete and sign an accreditation document. And one of the blanks on that form required an answer to this question: Who is the president?
I'll never forget that meeting. When it got to the point where someone had to consent to list their name as the president, the room got very quiet. As we looked around at one another, it became clear no one was going to speak. We were all testing each other, waiting to see who would be foolish enough to agree to such a thing.
Eventually, we reached a consensus that because I was the oldest, I would take on that position-although no one, including me, expected that Iwould ever really act as the president.
That assumption continued until the moment when, about four months later, we faced our first dismissal of an employee. And with that responsibility, I may have become the only human being in history ever to fire the same person three times in less than twenty-four hours.
I fired him, providing due cause and asking him to think and pray about our conversation. At the end of our forty-five minutes of interaction, I said we would speak again the next day, never imagining he would go home and create an entire plan as to how he could enhance his performance and revise his job description. He came back eager for the opportunity to present his plan-and it was clear the firing had not taken effect.
I gathered enough wisdom and strength to fire him again. At that juncture, he asked, because of certain things he was doing, if he could stay another week to ten days to finish those projects. I considered that an enormously gracious suggestion on his part. "How reasonable," I thought. So he went back to work.
Later that day, our receptionist-who had previously worked for a large corporation-asked me, "Is he still employed?" "Yes," I said, "but just for another week to ten days."
At that point, she began to enumerate all the things this person had access to and explained how this could be very problematic if he harbored any kind of ill spirit toward the school. Well, I hadn't even thought of an ill spirit, much less the complications that could occur. She told me that in her previous job, when employees were asked to leave, the company allowed them an hour or so to go to their desks and gather all of their personal belongings. Then they were escorted out of the building.
It made sense! Which meant I had to fire him for the third time.
And that was only the beginning. In the years that followed, I made every classic mistake a leader can possibly make. Then I invented some I don't believe ever before existed on the face of the earth.
But every mistake became a lesson learned. And very often these hard-earned lessons prompted valuable conversations with other leaders. I began to see that certain patterns surround outstanding leadership. I noted, for example, how often the leaders I most admired are each widely known for their strong, highly regarded character. That is not to say that they are stodgy, unimaginative, play-it-by-the-book kinds of people. In fact, most are quite honest about their struggles in ministry and with the wars of leadership.
Yes, they have impeccable integrity, but they also make me laugh. They not only wow me with their individuality and spontaneity, they impress me with their meticulous honesty and forthrightness. They struggle and worry about their kids. While they are committed to their marriages, at times they feel lonely and need more support from their spouses. They are real, human, fully alive, and beautiful people.
Too often, leaders suppress such openness. What they are allowed to say from the platform or in conversations with others is narrowed down to the "expected and tolerated," and all else must be hidden or denied. Such limitations create a degree of being two-faced-one face public, the other private.
At times that hypocrisy is even internalized. When this happens-when we deny the parts of ourselves that would cause disruption if they were seen or acknowledged in polite company-we are on shaky ground. Because no one can live long with such disparity without a loss of integrity.
Excerpted from Leading Character by Dan B. Allender Copyright © 2008by Dan B. Allender.Excerpted by permission.
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