Legitimate Leadership is Born Within Everyone that Chooses to Be Made

There is a timeless question regarding the production of leadership that asks, “are leaders born or made?” The answer has to be “yes,” leaders are born and then made. Further examination of the question would reveal that leadership potential is more universal than it is exclusive because the essence of true leadership is deeper than the qualities we may initially identify. We are all born with leadership potential and our impact is dependent largely on our development but our development is unto different qualities than we often associate with leadership.

Regardless of your faith or belief, few could argue that Jesus has to be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. He initiated a movement that has spanned centuries and changed cultures. His leadership has reached far beyond his tangible touch or span of years on earth. Within the context of the faith He invited, we are told “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20). In other words, He was born for His destiny.

As difficult as it is to fully grasp, He also developed into it. Specifically, we know, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). While His destiny preceded creation, His capacity was developed by experience. In other words, He grew into His destiny.

While a study of His life would reveal great knowledge, discipline, influence and an extraordinary ability to communicate, the impact of His leadership if dependent on His character much more than it is attributable to the effect of His skills. Ultimately, the unleashing of centuries worth of global impact hinged on His humility which is grounded in the security of His identity. Humility and security are not necessarily natural in any of us no matter what we believe we may be born for. Humility and security have to be developed.

People follow leaders that sacrifice for their benefit. In fact, the very definition of legitimate authority depends on sacrifice for the benefit of others. “Leadership” that falls short of that isn’t leadership at all, and often it is manipulation or even abuse. The ability to lead which is born within each of us is unleashed by the development of our character and inherent understanding of that identity more than it is our skill at doing things or getting people to do things.

The production of a legitimate leader is the reduction of an aspiring leader. Those that will become less will be positioned for more. Willingness to embrace demotion will increase capacity for promotion. We are all born with the ability to sacrifice and decrease, but the making of our character dictates the extent to which we will influence others along the way and after we are gone.

Laying Down Celebrity Leadership

When Jim Collins wrote his book “Good to Great,” he unexpectedly found a common trait among excellent organizations. Where he thought he might find charismatic, bigger-than-life leaders, he found the opposite. He found leaders that were willing to not be the center of attention. He calls them “Level 5” leaders and defines their  primary characteristics as “a blend of personal humility and professional willpower.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which comes first among leaders that reject the deference of a Level 5 leader; were they arrogant before they were in a certain position or did the position foster the arrogance? Do they need attention and that drove them to a leadership role or did the leadership role nurture their need for attention? In either case, the celebrity of leadership is a trap that defeats potential personally and organizationally.

When Judas betrayed Jesus, he did so by kissing Him on the cheek to identify Him for the soldiers to know to arrest Him. There is no account of Judas then testifying against Jesus before the authorities to make the case against Him. There is no Scripture of Judas affirming before Pilot or Herod that Jesus had claimed to be God, King or anything else. There is simply the identification.

This is curious because Judas had been given money to betray Jesus. Apparently, what Judas offered was of value to those that wanted to crucify Jesus but it wasn’t testimony they wanted. It was identification. This means that identification had value and this means that they weren’t certain of the exact identity of Jesus. That means Jesus wasn’t a celebrity.

I realize that there was no social media to popularize Jesus or His ministry and I realize that Jesus had clearly attracted a crowd throughout His ministry. Yet, when it was near the end, the ruling authority needed confirmation of who this alleged threat was.

Our impact in and beyond our lives is not dependent on our celebrity and our ministry is not one that needs to put us in a place of recognition. The power of our leadership is in our humility, not our ability. When they don’t know who we are, we are starting to smell like Level 5 and beginning to look like Jesus.

 

Leaders Launch While Managers Maintain

Security is the whole shooting match. Remembering the truth of identity is the constant to realization of freedom. Where we decide that things aren’t good enough, safe enough, abundant enough or noticeable enough, we scramble against our peace and into control, anxiety, fear and manipulation.

Leadership is influence; management is control. The ability to make it appealing and inviting to agree comes at the cost of the desire to control all the variables. Leadership is a multiplying effect that comes with release and empowerment. Management is insulation to maintain desired status quo and it sets a ceiling on the potential of people and places.

The influence of leadership is much more challenging, messy and dependent than the controls of management. The release which comes through leadership is scary and it will be impossible to endure the fear where there is no internal security. Personal insecurities hijack organizational empowerment.

Management is easier to reward, promote and codify but it will never go viral. There will be no impact beyond the immediate touch and the legacy of a leader is not determined except for in their absence. Until and unless they can do it without you, the jury is out regarding the methods and motives of the relationship. Myles Munroe said, “The greatest act of leadership is what happens in your absence. If everything you’ve done died with you, you are a failure. True leadership is measured by what happens after you die.”

“For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” – 1 Corinthians 4:15

There are plenty of guides; those that will serve as task masters and rule enforcers. It’s those that will lead like a father leads that are scarce. Those that will sacrifice and step aside even when the beneficiaries are immature and/or inept, leaders will believe in them and encourage them and afford them the next opportunities. The security that affords fathers the freedom to release others is only available through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Without identity rooted in the gospel of Jesus, the potential leader will susceptible to the threat of embarrassment via the failures that come as those they are raising up figure things out. Security is fed not from results of the leader or the follower, but the truth of who Jesus says they are. Security is before, during and after the growing pains of succession and is the fuel that results in legacy.

Competition for Credit vs. Collaboration for Kingdom

It hasn’t even happened yet and credit is being debated. There is apparently the potential for peace on the Korean peninsula for the first time in years and the jockeying for recognition might even jeopardize the resolution. Politicians, pundits and pro athletes (Dennis Rodman) have been in the mix as personalities play out publicly.

This is the norm in politics and unfortunately it’s become the norm among faith-based and church circles, as well. It’s become a competition for attendance, giving, recognition and followers. It’s a platform producing endeavor as much or more than it’s a disciple making endeavor. There’s no difference between us and them; just a different target audience.

I’ve enjoyed a unique journey to this point in life in which I find myself engaged in full-time, vocational ministry. I was a corporate middle-manager, a business owner and a practicing attorney prior to being a pastor. I actually did compete for market share, revenues and profits as a legitimate measure of business viability. There were times when it was reasonably lucrative and there were times when it was catastrophically not. Be careful what you wish for; competition has a variety of outcomes.

There is no competition in the Kingdom of God. Only one Person gets the credit and honor for success in the endeavors that are truly of His Kingdom. His glory is not to be manipulated, leveraged or hijacked to afford personal gain for any that seek to advance His purposes.

The opportunities that will exist to agree with God in the advancement of His Kingdom in the coming years will be conditioned by the requirement of collaboration. Those that will agree to agree will be conduits of His life, light, breath and glory. Because they can share and trust, they can be trusted to share.

Others will continue to exist outside of the Church even if they call themselves a church. They will build their kingdoms and perfect their marketing and the show will go on but the smoke will eventually fade. Ministries and churches that choose to go it alone will may grow, but they won’t be alive.

Promotions in business and retainers in law came as a result of marketing, ability, relationships and persistence. Promotions in the Kingdom come purely by grace and favor. Grace and favor are given where there is humility and submission. Humility and submission are evidence of security and trust. Where we are truly trusting God, we will truly trust each other. Where we can do that, He can trust us and we’ll get to be a part of the Kingdom without settling for the cheap substitute of an inferior attempt at our well-meaning own kingdom.

Avoiding an Ambush

Years ago, when I was still single, I began to want more. I was living pretty fast, from one weekend to the next, and began to question where there might be more. I ducked into churches figuring that there would likely be some answers there.

At the time, I felt very inadequate by comparison to all the nice people who were there. After all, I figured, they were closer to figuring it out than I was since they were there before I arrived. My life and their lives had to be drastically different and I was sure they would disapprove of me if they knew more about me. I would sit on the back row and try to not engage with anyone, for fear of exposure.

At one of my visits to one of the churches, there was a powerful speaker and from what I could tell he was talking of things that were true. It felt like God was in it and the “more” that I was seeking was somewhere in or around this deal. Towards the end, with every head bowed and every eye closed, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we thought or felt or decided something, although I truly don’t remember what that something was. In any case, I raised my hand from my seat in the back row.

The next thing I knew, there was somebody sitting next to me with a clipboard and a pen to get my information and ask me some questions. I was shocked at how efficiently they saw my hand that had been up for a few seconds and dispatched someone to close the deal, whatever the deal was. I felt tricked and ambushed and I never returned to that church.

Years later, what I know is that I am just as jacked up as the most confused seeker even though I’m there most weeks. I know that I speak and teach and minister and I am just as messed up as every regular attendee, seeker or critic. Whatever they are still figuring out, likely so am I as I still want to sit on the back row sometimes and just slip my hand up in the air without anyone converging on me with a clipboard.

We are all figuring it out and we don’t need to be tricked to take another step. We need to be loved. We need grace that displays itself as transparent honesty regarding our struggles and limitations. We need a knowing look of affirmation and encouragement more than we need our information captured. At least that’s what I need and I figure that I’m not alone.

Allowing for the Growing Whisper of Your Greatness

I saw the new Winston Churchill movie not too long ago and considered the perspective of greatness. He has statues of him, books about him, roads and buildings and towns and other stuff named after him. He is seen as a great leader in a pivotal time. The declaration he has received is mostly retrospective.

At the time when his greatness was unfolding he was crass and offensive and drank an awful lot. He was largely a mediocre politician leading up to WWII, it appeared, yet he was afforded an opportunity in an extraordinary intersection of time and circumstances. In the middle of his unfolding, he was criticized by others and battled the doubt born of insecurities. As soon as the war was over, despite his leadership in a time of victory, he was voted out of office.

Greatness about you can’t be declared by you, it can only be declared by others of you. That declaration likely won’t come in the middle of the story as your humanity will almost always be a distraction. The stuff about you that isn’t so great will scream at some while the whisper of greatness grows in a subtle and secondary manner.

The necessary ingredient for greatness is grace, then. You’ll need, first and foremost, to receive grace from the Source of grace. Jesus sees you as righteous by His sacrifice, even when the evidence against you is significant. You’ve got to receive it if you hope to step into the building roar of your greatness. You’ve got to like you even before your statue is built.

Receiving grace from the Source of grace affords you the chance to withstand the doubts within your soul as well as the accusations from the friends and enemies that articulate your flaws. Their insecurities will want company so they’ll attempt to call out yours. It’s OK; they don’t like themselves too much in those times and they need grace, too. Since you’re tapped into the Source, you’ll have grace to give.

Greatness is the material for a eulogy, not an auto-biography. You’ve got to wait on it. You’ve got to realize that you won’t realize it.

You are, in fact, designed for great and glorious things. You are fashioned to reign in life. The position of rule, however, is less not more. When you are positioned to receive grace, you are positioned to be declared great. Later.