WHAT GOD DOES WHEN MEN LEAD
The Power and Potential of Regular Guys
By BILL PEEL Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008
William Carr Peel
All right reserved.
Chapter One Wanted: A New Kind of Leader
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant and a debtor. MAX DE PREE
Do you think of yourself as a leader? If an image of George Patton or Jack Welch pops into your mind when you hear the word leader, you-like most other guys-would have to say no. But at some place, every man is a leader. That includes you. Whether you think of yourself as a leader or not, if you want to please God, it is crucial for you to understand what God wants of leaders. Sadly, there is a lot of confusion about leadership.
The last half of the twentieth century marked a shift in the way people think about leadership. Prior to the 1980s, we talked about managers and managing-people who were trained and could get things done. Leadership was considered more of a personality trait than a professional skill. But in the 1980s, the idea of leadership-the ability to cast a vision for the future, to transform what is into what could be-captured our imaginations. Americans have always liked the idea of a White Knight who could ride in and deliver us from our problems. Ronald Reagan delivered us from the Evil Empire. Lee Iacocca delivered Chrysler, its shareholders, and thousands of workers from economic disaster. FedEx founder Fred Smith delivered us from waiting days for mail and late packages. Rudy Giuliani saved New York City from a soaring crime rate. We like people who give us hope. And better still, we like people who can provide what we hope for.
As more and more Americans found their investment portfolios growing in the 1980s and 90s, we inflated the value of those individuals who had the ability (or so we thought) to turn companies around and increase the return on our investments. We elevated them, along with their compensation packages, to the level of superstars. To be sure, some leaders have earned their status, performing sacrificially and with excellence to the benefit of others. Some leaders have turned around crumbling companies and saved the jobs of thousands. Others have risked their last dime and endured ridicule to build multibillion-dollar companies that make our lives better in many ways. In no way am I suggesting that these individuals deserve blame or shame.
What I am suggesting is that when we look to a single person in power to change a company, government, community, church, or even a family, we do ourselves-and those individuals-a great disservice. When we place our complete trust in those at the top to "fix things," we fall into the trap of expecting someone else to fix our lives. As a result, we become frustrated and blame others when life doesn't turn out as we expected. Ken Lay wasn't the only person responsible for Enron's shady dealings and demise. Michael Brown was not solely to blame for FEMA's sluggish response to the Katrina disaster.
When we credit one person for an outcome that required the work of many people, we also set up that person for personal defeat. The temptation to believe that an organization's success was his doing alone has ruined many a man. "[We have] a wrongheaded notion of what exactly a leader is. This misguided notion of leadership oft en results in the wrong people attaining critical leadership roles. Search committees and voters alike fall into the trap of choosing leaders for their style rather than their substance, for their image instead of their integrity. Given this way of doing business, why should we be surprised when our leaders come up short?" writes business journalist Bill George.
Media outlets can be counted on to showcase the failures of today's leaders, giving special attention to those leaders who do not hold their particular "unbiased" bias. Yet cable TV and Internet blogs were not the first to document the problems of those at the top. The Bible also records the shortfalls and outright failures of many leaders, providing powerful lessons we can apply today. Take Moses, a guy I consider to be recorded history's first world-class leader.
If ever a leader qualified for pedestal placement, it was Moses. Miraculously saved from drowning, he was raised as the darling child of Egyptian aristocracy. Moses probably knew from a young age that he was a man of destiny and purpose. But when his purpose to deliver his fellow Jews from cruel bondage became clear, he made the mistake of trusting in his own power and prowess to bring about his destiny. Without stopping to consider God's timing, Moses murdered an Egyptian middle-manager, then tried to cover up his crime by burying the victim in the sand-all in pursuit of his God-given vision and calling (see Acts 7:23-25).
Like many modern leaders, Moses had a problem with pride and self-sufficiency. He ran ahead of God, believing that the end justified the means. Moses needed to learn something that many of us need to learn: God wants us to fulfill the purpose for which He created us-but He wants us to fulfill it in His way and according to His timing.
Not only was God less than pleased with Moses' impetuous pursuit of his purpose, when Pharaoh found out, he set out to end Moses' leadership career-permanently. Running for his life, Moses ended up in Midian, about a 150-mile hike across the desert. It was here in the wilderness that God put him through a forty-year rehab program to teach him humility. Moses was still a deliverer, but now he was delivering sheep from predators. This was a big change from his former royal life, but God was preparing him to do things His way.
By the time God summoned Moses to Mount Sinai to call him back into active service, Moses had gone from pride to humility to humiliation. During his burning-bush encounter, Moses used every possible excuse to remind God that he was not capable, not equipped, and not equal to the job of deliverer in any way, shape, or form. "Send someone else to do it" was his response.
When God wants us to do something-and He's let us know what that something is-He doesn't look too kindly on complacency. Maybe it was when "God burned with anger" that Moses realized he wasn't going to wiggle out of his assignment.
Well, you know the story. God used Moses to make Pharaoh and his kingdom so utterly miserable that his royal highness finally relented and told the Israelites to pack up, get out, and take whatever they wanted with them. But it didn't take Pharaoh long to regret his decision and call for his army and six hundred chariots to pursue the Israelites, which they did-all the way into the Red Sea.
It's amazing what performing a Red Sea miracle will do for a leader's self-esteem. I imagine Moses was once again feeling pretty good about himself after he and his two-million-plus nomadic community celebrated their victory over Pharaoh's army with songs of praise to God. But his sweet taste of success was short-lived. Three days later the people began to grumble because they were thirsty. And, once again, God used Moses-this time to provide them with water. Then they grumbled because they were hungry, selectively remembering and reminding Moses of their tasty diet back in Egypt. God instructed Moses on how to take care of this problem, too-for forty years.
I admit that by this point in the story I'm feeling sorry for Moses. After a guy has parted large bodies of water by holding out a homemade staff and acted as God's miracle broker, daily feeding a population larger than Manhattan for a really long time, it's hard for me to fault him for giving in to the temptation of thinking he could handle most anything by himself. A few weeks into their journey, Moses did just that. He was once again tempted to assume more responsibility than God intended. But this time Moses' father-in-law and wilderness mentor helped him see the danger of letting his leadership gifts run away with him.
From morning to night Jethro had watched his son-in-law take his seat as the sole judge, trying to solve everyone's problems and disputes. Thinking that one judge could preside over more than two million people may seem odd. But remember, Moses felt responsible. He was their God-appointed leader. What's more, the Israelites looked up to him as their deliverer. In their mind, he alone could lead them into a better future.
This volume of responsibility, authority, and notoriety may stroke a guy's ego, but it's dangerous for everyone involved-including the leader himself. No matter how altruistic a leader's motives may be in the beginning, the magnetism of such power can easily draw him into thinking that it is he, not God, who is master of the universe. It's embarrassing to think about how many times I've let this attitude slip in the back door of my thinking-and it wasn't pretty. I wish I'd had a Jethro in my life to knock some sense into my hard head. Here's what happened in Moses' case.
When Jethro asked Moses why he took on this gargantuan responsibility, note Moses' answer: "Because the people come to me ..." Can't you just see Jethro shaking his head as he responded with this sage advice? "Moses' father-in-law replied, 'What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone'" (Exodus 18:15, 17-18).
What was true then is just as true today. When we elevate leadership to the dizzying heights we did at the end of the twentieth century and rely on leaders to solve all our problems, we can also count on negative outcomes. Here are a few to consider.
1. We fail to give credit where credit is due, discounting the contribution of others. When we give recognition only to leaders for accomplishments that required a team or community of people to achieve, those who are really responsible for the success are deprived of the rewards and encouragement they deserve. In Moses' case, it's easy to elevate him to superhero status. After all, he had personally talked to God and done some pretty amazing things. But in focusing on Moses, we forget that Aaron, Miriam, and the tribal elders and family leaders assumed responsibility for overseeing the welfare of more than two million relatives on a long-term camping trip. Bags had to be packed, money raised, bread baked, livestock and provisions gathered. These thousands of responsible men and women were essential to getting all those people out of Egypt and on the road to the Promised Land.
Fifteen hundred years later, the apostle Paul confronted the church at Corinth for their similar tendency to elevate certain people with out-front gifts.
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 1 Corinthians 12:14-20
No one is expendable in the body of Christ. Everyone is essential. Moving a family, community, church, or business toward legitimate achievement of any sort always involves a team of people who take on responsibility. Leaders of every variety must recognize the important part they play, while at the same time giving other responsible people the authority, resources, and affirmation they need and deserve. In other words, a good leader encourages leadership at all levels.
As we move toward the close of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the definition of effective leadership is already morphing from an overemphasis on decisive individual leaders to an approach that is more inclusive of a multitude of gifts. People around the world are realizing that one leader, no matter how gifted, can't possibly have all the skills needed to effectively lead an organization today. In fact, one leader has never had all the skills needed.
Heads of companies make a big mistake when they don't honor and recognize the people who did the work to make their company successful. Recently a guy told me how he and a number of other high-performing individuals had added millions of dollars to their company's bottom line. The president of the company couldn't bring himself to acknowledge their contribution in any significant way. The top-notch sales team who had worked their tails off grew weary of the president taking all the credit for the company's growth when interviewed by the press. And they really got tired of him raising their sales goals without raising their compensation. They finally decided that enough was enough and left en masse to work for another competitor. Today the original company is struggling to survive.
History makes a pretty good case that if there is any expendable group in God's Kingdom work, it may be the standout leaders. Think about it: When the early church was persecuted, church leaders were forced into hiding in Jerusalem while the other believers scattered, so that the power of the gospel roared across the Mediterranean world like a giant tsunami (see Acts 8:1-2). The message of Christ had to be carried forth by ordinary followers of Jesus. A similar phenomenon happened in twentieth-century China. In the late 1940s, when missionaries were run out of the country and church leaders were forced underground, the Chinese church exploded numerically.
2. Potential for God's Kingdom work is lost. When we idolize leaders and place too much stock in their leadership, we begin believing that anything of value must come down from above, according to the chain of command. As for Moses, he came precariously close to taking God's place in the people's eyes. The Israelites acted as if everything depended upon their leader, and they refused initially to go to their tribal leaders instead of Moses to solve their problems-a problem in and of itself.
Overdependence on one person at the top stifles leadership initiative and resourcefulness at all levels. People become selfishly apathetic and think, Why should I put myself out, take a risk, or exercise initiative? That's the leader's job. Surrendering freedom can seem harmless and even attractive when security, a powerful opiate, is offered in its place. And like a narcotic, dependence on leadership is poisonous and addictive to an organization.
Initiative, responsibility, and ownership by all employees are needed for any organization to reach its potential. Yet when a company depends too much on its leader, these essentials are replaced by control, dependence, and an environment in which everyone is looking out for his or her own interests. Valuable talents that God placed within each individual are held in check by the belief that leadership at the top is what makes for success, not the contribution of those lower on the organizational chart.
It's rather disturbing to think that we die for freedom and democracy and celebrate the fall of communism, yet when it comes to our businesses, churches, and communities, we willingly grant leadership power that demands compliance. Looking for leaders who will tell us what to do, give us direction, and set standards for obedience, we oft en mirror a totalitarian state more than a democracy.
It is unrealistic to think that people will flourish in an organization run in this manner any more than they will flourish in the drab, hopeless mediocrity produced by communist cultures. Leadership goals in command-and-control settings rarely rise above the self-interests of those in charge, and rank-and-file citizens become pawns for achieving them.
Jesus turned this concept of leadership on its head when He responded to James and John's request for positions of leadership and authority in His kingdom.
Excerpted from WHAT GOD DOES WHEN MEN LEAD by BILL PEEL Copyright © 2008 by William Carr Peel. Excerpted by permission.
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