Wisdom Requires Lower Gears

I love driving in the mountains as it requires different techniques than what become routine in the city. Routine driving amounts to gas, brake and steering. Going up and down mountains requires consideration of the brakes or they will get burned up. When ascending and descending, the gas is required to get up the inclines but the brakes will smoke and turn red if you ride them to slow down on the declines too much.

The solution is changing gears. You have to drop down to a lower gear to allow the engine to do the work. The lower gear cause the engine to turn faster and, in effect, lose some of its efficiency. When going down hill in low gear, the higher revolving engine slows the car without using the brake. Then, a shift back into high gear puts you in position to go up the next incline.

I was going up and down a mountain yesterday and thinking about the dynamics of what it takes. It seemed like a good picture for where I am in the broader context. I feel like I’m traversing windy roads that go up and down and the same old habits of brake and gas are not sufficient for navigating the course. I have to be skilled and dropping into a different gear.

As I turn fifty, I’m finding that less is more. As I hit challenges and circumstances, I’m learning not to just apply the gas and press the brakes. I’m learning to throttle back. Otherwise, my brakes start smoking and you can smell the friction.

Working with people requires emotional coasting. While they are working their stuff, I can’t make it my stuff. When their perspective and intentions don’t align with mine, I need to allow for lower gears to get me down the hill as things are worked out. Lower gears, in this case, means security in my identity that affords me the calm that comes with confidence. My emotions can’t take the ride that the road suggests; they have to be governed or I’ll burn up.

Less is more and God is a better driver than me. I’m learning how to trust Him with me and others differently. I don’t always get it right and I can tell when that is the case by smelling the friction of my emotions. When I am able to trust God with my circumstances and know that He is good and for me, I can release the need to speed up and slow down where I should be coasting and letting the engine do the work.

We Don’t Get It Until We Live It

The depths of grace never cease to amaze me. Just when I think I see it that much more clearly, I’m situated to walk in it and realize my view is so limited. My accumulation of knowledge regarding grace has not yet perfected my understanding and acceptance of grace. My actions and reactions in the circumstances I experience prove that there is more.

I had a friend tell me recently that he was going through a challenging legal battle a few years ago and was called to testify in a deposition. He would face unjust accusations. His preparation wasn’t a review of the facts, it was alignment with grace. He watched a scene from “The Passion of the Christ” in which Jesus was accused. He watched it over and over for several hours. The example portrayed which Jesus set before us of what grace lived out looks like was brutal. It was Him standing in the face of completely unjust accusation and not defending Himself. With all the defense in the universe available at His command, He stood in the truth of His identity. His identity was the foundation for His freedom. He knew who He was and who His Father was.

When rooted in the security of identity, there is nothing anyone can do to us that draws a defense. They can spit in our face, call us names, get their facts wrong or whatever else but the freedom born of security rooted in identity frees us from the need to respond. That’s grace and there is no fully knowing it until the spit, accusations, and questions come. Even when we are right. Especially when we are right.

I’m just not there. Not completely. I want to be. I’m trying. Yet, not yet.

Sometimes, for some time, I can hold back when the defense or counter-argument is sitting there for the taking. Sometimes, however, I pick up my tool belt and go to work. When I was practicing law, that was good and right. As I am diving deeper into grace, that kind of work produces a loss even when I win.

My friend knew the story of Jesus before he watched the movie that day before his deposition. He knew Jesus personally as Lord and Savior, as well. The experience of picking up his own cross and following Jesus in a way that afforded him the experience of grace is what changed his soul. The experience of grace facilitated the understanding of the knowledge of grace which was incomplete without the exercise of grace.

 

Tearing Down the Important Statues

Perhaps more than the statues themselves, the opinions about statues need to be torn down. The concrete or steel or whatever they are made of when placed along a street or in a park are not nearly as offensive as the stuff that comes out of us regarding them. Keep them or preserve them, it’s all about the heart.

Things that are offensive, especially inanimate objects, don’t have to be. It’s a choice. The security that comes with knowing who you are and being grounded in that identity affords the peace of no opinion. Being grounded in who God calls you and focused on where He is calling you leaves no margin for the distraction of pigeon stands.

Rising up to defend those same objects isn’t anybody’s eternal destiny. The hearts and souls of those that are offended, separated or alienated is in the balance. Every issue is about people and how they are impacted on one side or the other of the divide. Hard stands either way prevents connection, which prevents relationship, which frustrates the point.

Again, this is for Christ followers. If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, none of what I am saying has any weight or bearing. If you are, however, then the invitation to follow Him is at the cost of your need to have opinions on everything but Him. He calls us to care about what He cares about and what He cares about is relationship. Relationship with Him, relationship with each other and relationship with a world needing His hope and grace.

It’s imperative that we maintain First things first while intentionally resisting distractions that pull us towards any seconds. Second things are an enemy of the One thing. Being right, persuasive, passionate or opinionated about second stuff at the cost of gracefully portraying First stuff forfeits relational opportunities that might have eternal implications.

We can care about second stuff, just not much. We can be right about the extras, but we can’t compete to win where there is no lasting victory. Eternal glory is available here and now as heaven and earth collide and the Kingdom of God is revealed. That revelation, however, is not in the competition surrounding issues that divide and don’t unite.

Transformative Leadership is Humble and Meek

Next level leadership is unlocked not needing the rank, control or attention that presents itself in the charismatic, dynamic personalities that we sometime envision when thinking about great leaders. I believe, as I wrote yesterday, that the invitation I face as I hit the 50 year mark is one into a greater humility to maximize leadership possibilities.

If you would have asked me as a young armor officer what the picture of a great leader was, I would have told you George Patton. He was brash and audacious. His ability and tactics moved armies across continents as he seemingly willed soldiers to exceed their perceived abilities. He was a force of a leader.

While I still recognize him as a great military leader, the opportunity to transcend that level of leadership lies in less, not more. The willpower of George Patton is needed to push through the challenges, but the humility that Jim Collins found in “Level 5” leaders is the multiplier. Patton’s armies were only going to perform for as long as his willpower was applied to their apparent limitations. The humility of a leader is what will multiply the impact of their influence.

Jesus didn’t unleash the greatest movement in the history of man with the assertion of His will. He multiplied His Kingdom through the laying down of His life. His Kingdom is available by invitation; not compulsion.

Invitation is the mechanism that multiplies. Choice is evidence of love and love awakens passion. Passion transcends.

In our search for significance, we are invited into the continuation of His story. His story, however, is executed in His methods. We can’t mandate, legislate or insist on the acceptance of the values and beliefs of Jesus; we can invite others by our service, humility and sacrifice.

I can’t will myself into Level 5 leadership. I can only pray and die. In the death of my need to be noticed, celebrated, credited or any other form of elevation, I can pray that I am transformed internally. I can trust Jesus to take what I offer and transform it into His purpose and increasingly into His image.

This is different from I thought it was going to look like and I don’t have it figured out yet. I am on a journey of purpose and the destiny that is available in the Kingdom of God comes through the same tactics employed by the King Himself. Unlike Patton’s audacious persona, the Greatest Leader harnesses His strength with a meekness that empowers others. Then they are invited to do the same.

Next Level Leadership Needs No Insignia

The first leadership position that I remember was in the Boy Scouts. I remember organizing, planning, delegating and communicating to get a couple of dozen other young men from one place to the other. Those places included Italy, Austria and all over Germany (we lived in Germany for a few years when I was growing up).

At 18, I was promoted into a supervisor’s position as an assistant warehouse manager ahead of 30-somethings and candidates that had been to college. Later, I went to college and became the president of my fraternity, cadet commander of the school’s ROTC detachment, and a Resident Assistant. From there, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant and led soldiers as a tank platoon leader, eventually as a company commander. Along the way, I became a corporate manager with responsibility for subordinate supervisors and teams of employees.

There were other leadership experiences that have led me to where I am today. Almost 50, I have believed that I am well positioned to hit my stride. I have felt equipped, called and suited to lead in the places where I currently have responsibility. What I am finding as I hit the half-century mark is different from I had expected. Hitting stride is different from I thought.

The tactics, impact and ability to get things done as a leader shift. The shift is from control to influence. The direct cause and effect of my effort is no longer the plan. The shift I am being invited into, I believe, is into the next level of leadership. It’s what Jim Collins calls “Level 5” leadership. Level 5 leadership is described as a “paradoxical blend of humility and willpower.”

The “x” factor is in the humility. While I have battled pride over the years, the Lord has done a work. I am not the man who I was, by His grace. Yet, there is more. There is a depth of humility that calls out to my soul which holds the unlocking of the power of maximized leadership.

I don’t know exactly what it is or what it means, just yet. I am interested, but still a bit ignorant. The best picture I have so far is a picture of a military officer. A military officer is adorned with rank that is worn on their collar. I see the invitation being encapsulated in the taking off of the rank and laying it on the table. It doesn’t change the leader; it reflects their lack of a need for any adornment.

The best picture I have of who that person of authority looks like is Jesus.

The Universal Benefit of Calling Out Identity

I volunteered as a mentor in a youth prison for several years and worked with boys, ages 14-17, as they worked towards a greater chance once they were released. What I found was that they are normal people; regular kids. Obviously, they had problems but the problems they had are not as unfamiliar to most of us as we might initially believe.

We never asked them why they were in jail or what they had done. The things that they had done to get them into this situation did not define who they were and I didn’t want to reinforce it as their identity. They didn’t steal because they were blessed by God with gifting as a thief (in fact, they couldn’t have been too good at it since they were obviously caught). It was a manifestation of junk inside of them leading to an act of rebellion, greed, laziness, desperation, etc.

The gifts and abilities that these young men did have had been hijacked to be applied in negative ways with negative consequences. Some of these boys were quite accomplished as drug dealers or gang leaders While that is both illegal and wrong, there are some leadership, marketing, entrepreneurial and organizational skills that were evident in those endeavors. They weren’t drug dealers or gang leaders by their design, but they were quite possibly destined to be great business owners, salesmen or leaders with the proper nurturing and application of their abilities. Instead of dwelling on what got them into prison, we would call out those gifts which were evident in them to help them see themselves for who they were actually were.

With the simple power of an affirming word, we would call them who they actually were instead of labeling them with the twisted mis-application of their abilities. We would very directly compliment them on their strength, leadership, intellect, etc. How do you feel when you get a compliment? These guys liked it, too; they would literally change right in front of your eyes, pulling their shoulders back, looking up, smiling and even gaining clarity in their eyes and expressions.

Most of us know when we mess up and don’t actually need much of a reminder from those around us that love us. We will face the consequences of our mistakes willingly or otherwise but a word of encouragement will help us move beyond that failure and into the truth of who we really are much more than reminders of our failures.

This is true for boys in prison, teenagers in the suburbs, middle-aged professionals, employees, church people and any other types of people who make mistakes but need to know that mistake does not define them. Those boys aren’t that much different than most of the people reading this blog or the guy writing it.