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.

Shades of Comparison Leave Us in the Dark

My path to vocational ministry is non-traditional.  Leading up to this transition in my occupation, I worked previously as an Army officer, business manager and owner as well as an attorney at law.  When I first practiced law, my primary focus was in the sphere of criminal defense.  The bulk of that criminal defense practice was representing court-appointed clients.  These were folks charged with a crime who couldn’t afford an attorney.

In those days when I talked about work or now when I tell stories about that time, some people have a noticeable reaction.  They make a face, however subtle, that indicates they can’t pay attention to the details because they are distracted by the arrangement.  “How could you represent those people? They aren’t Christians, and you are, so how could you represent them?”  Many times, it’s just the look, but sometimes it’s explicitly asked.  Church polite, of course, but asked just the same.

By contrast, one day walking out of the courthouse I called my wife and told her, “I can’t believe more Christians don’t choose the practice of law as their place of calling.”  After all, I reasoned, where else are you in a position where broken, desperate people come to you asking for your counsel and assistance?  Where else is light so necessary than in the darkest places of society?

Working closely with those whose lives were in peril of being consumed by darkness gave me a greater appreciation for light.  We all need some realization of darkness to remind us of the Light within.  We also need some realization of darkness to remind us of the darkness within.  The degree of separation between “them” and “us” is less than you might imagine.  A twist here and a turn there in life’s circumstances can lead people into situations both unplanned for and undesired.

The overlap in working with “church folks” and court-appointed folks is more similar than you might think, as well.  Sure, most of the church folks in the relatively privileged suburbs present themselves better than the accused of the court-appointed criminal justice system.  The underlying human condition, however, is just as dark.  People are people.

Here, however, is the biggest difference: Those accused and convicted of crimes realize the urgency and near hopelessness of their condition.  They know they need help.  They know they’re messed up and more often than not are desperate for any glimmer of hope.  The socially acceptable, comfortable Christians often think they have things figured out.  They rationalize that Jesus loves them regardless, and nobody (they hope) knows about their “indiscretions.”  And after all, their flaws aren’t as “bad” as the indigent criminal; likely not even perceived to be as bad as the rumors they’ve heard – and helped spread – about the guy across the pew.

Dark is dark and pretending it’s light by shades of comparison cheapens the grace of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die for us to be judgmental by comparison or dismissive of the heart in need of redemption.  He wants to transform us from glory to glory, but we can’t go to the next glory believing the glory we’ve already experienced somehow jumped us ahead to a place of superiority.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here

The Fullness of Freedom

I met a new friend the other day who is a lawyer. He used to be a prosecuting attorney and now he has a private practice that is focused on civil disputes. As we talked, the reality of the difference between those practices came up. Once you have stood in a courtroom and been involved in the decision that impacts someone’s freedom, arguments regarding money damages just don’t seem as important.

Criminal cases often mean someone is either walking out of the courtroom in handcuffs to jail, or not. They are either reaching across the bar to hand their spouse their wallet before the deputies take them through the back exit, or they are buying that same spouse lunch after they walk out together. A dollar amount, in most cases, fails to have the same emotion or weight attached to it.

Freedom is more valuable than we typically consider as we enjoy it without reservation. Freedom isn’t free, however, as the freedoms that this nation has enjoyed are bought and paid for with lives. Lives were dedicated and lost as they stood in the gap and bought the liberty we might otherwise take for granted.

We are afforded the incredible privilege of freedom as citizens of a nation that holds freedom as a core value to the extent that we practically take it for granted. For those that are followers of Jesus Christ, a more eternal expression of freedom is available within. The freedom from within was bought and paid for by Jesus, to release us from the bondage of being slaves to depravity or the law. Depravity is our default condition without Him and the law is a reminder of it.

The freedom that is available is the freedom to be. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” means that we don’t have to hide, strive or pretend. We get to be us; the good, the bad and the ugly. Jesus releases us to be honest about our imperfections as He was willing to stand in the gap with His life dedicated and lost for the holiness and righteousness we needed to be restored to the Father’s love.

The only way to go on to new glory and realization of greater maturity is to embrace the flaws and limitations of our present condition. There is freedom in confession that we are who we are, but that He is doing a work from within us that will present eternal fruit even here and now.

Walking Out Is Permissible, but Not Beneficial

Some students at Notre Dame exercised their First Amendment rights and walked out of their commencement ceremony a few days ago when the Vice President of the United States began his speech. While I certainly would (and have) defend their Constitutional right to leave in protest, I challenge their judgement in choosing to do so. For any courage they may have displayed, their lack of honor and maturity was that much more glaring.

These young people, while accomplished in the sense that they have earned degrees from such a fine institution as Notre Dame, haven’t really done much of anything yet. Their lives are just getting started and they have much to learn as they endeavor to accomplish things they have only dreamed of. By contrast, Vice President Pence has graduated from undergrad and law school in addition to serving as a U.S. Congressman and the Governor of Indiana prior to his election as Vice President.

They presumably walked out over disagreements with his policies. He is a staunch conservative who undoubtedly offends their beliefs. Now that they are out of school, they can do something about it. They can organize, write, volunteer or run for office, among other things. They can enter the conversation with greater focus and commitment now that they aren’t distracted by their studies. They can get in the game, but the game requires that you stay in the room. Not walk out.

The idea of ideas requires dialogue. Those young people don’t have things figured out solely from their own perspective any more than Mike Pence does. To sharpen, refine, develop and deploy their fledgling beliefs, they have to stay in the room. They have to hear the other guy(s) out if they want to actually be heard. It goes both ways. There may even be things that he, or others that they disagree with, say that they learn and/or grow from. If they stay in the room for long enough, they may get to share something that challenges or develops the belief of their antagonists, whoever they turn out to be.

Honor is not solely a reflection of the other person; it’s a reflection of the character of the one that is offering it. You give honor because your have honor to give, not just because they earned it. Honor given where there is disagreement isn’t agreement, it’s a reflection of the maturity of your character. It’s evidence of the humility required to serve and credibility required to be heard. Honor stays in the room.

Broken Bread Today Feeds Us Tomorrow

We can sit where we are or accept the invitation into more that comes at the cost of the comfort we enjoy in the predictability of the present. Where we will step into the discomfort of the new, we will have to rely on Him for comfort as well as faithfulness in the most recent expressions of our developing faith. In other words, when He puts in a position to depend on Him, we get to choose. The idea of new and dependence can sound just fine until the reality of the discomfort is tangible and not theoretical.

When we get to the next boundaries of our control, we’ll need to depend on Jesus like we did the last time it felt like this. Thankfully, because there was a last time, we can lean on that experience for assurance that He did it before and He’ll do it again. He’ll get us through this and if we’ll endure just a little longer, the promise of His glory always follows the discomfort of His invitations. Joy comes in the morning.

The original disciples were invited to follow Jesus and they gave up everything to do so. They walked with Him for three years, witnessing and participating in miracles and challenges as He increasingly equipped and released them. Then He was crucified and they didn’t get it. He rose from the dead and made Himself known to them, but they didn’t recognize Him until they remembered the last time.

Luke 24:30-31 says “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

He had done this before on the night before He died. By doing this again, He reminded them of the thing before. They were together and enjoying a meal. He used the bread to tell of what was going to happen to Him and now He uses the bread to quicken their senses to new belief. He uses the previous experience to get them through the current reality.

Following Jesus is intended as a life of experiences with HIm. In the experiences, reminders are born that will be useful for the next time. We go from glory to glory, leaving one to get to the next at the cost of the comfort that we have grown accustomed to in the former. Along the way, He’ll break bread with us to remind us that He is Who He says He is and He’ll do what He says He’ll do. Just like the last time.