Understanding Others Starts with Understanding Self

I was on a video conference call with people from the other side of the world last week. People who have become friends from time that we have gotten to spend together and now work we are getting to do together. People of different cultures and countries with a common goal. Even seeing them on video and interacting in that way stirred warm feelings of friendship and appreciation for them.

As we finished our meeting, someone asked me to close our meeting with prayer. As I started to pray, the Lord stirred the story of the Tower of Babel and I prayed in agreement. In that story from Genesis 11, people were building a tower to reach the heavens. God decided to confuse their common language to prevent their understanding and stop them from accomplishing their task.

Where we can gain common understanding, we can reach heaven and heaven will reach us. Where we can break through the common and preferred way we know things to understand them from a foreign perspective, we’ll gain insight into the Kingdom of God. When we are willing to be uncomfortable and hold our preferences loosely, we can gain the eternal alternative.

Ephesians 2:22 says that God, on the cornerstone of Christ, is building His household to house His Spirit. The household is people in relationship, not institutions, buildings or programs. Where we seek common understanding relationally, we have the capacity to house the very Spirit of God among us.

When stones are arranged relationally to build a structure, they require shaping. The shaping incorporates hammers, chisels and saws. There is abrasive effort to take a stone and alter it in such a way that it can fit with other stones unto a greater purpose than any of the single stones will serve alone. We require the same shaping.

We can reach the heavens as part of the household of God. Where we seek and depend on common understanding, we come closer to heaven and invite heaven closer to earth. That understanding comes at the expense of our preferences and sacrifice of the selfishness of our soul. If we will allow the shaping, our individual purpose will be multiplied in relational agreement with others who are being shaped, as well.

We won’t really understand them until we understand us. Until we are honest about our faults and insecurities, we won’t have any true strength. Our faults will be a fault in the structure until they are recognized and compensated for by the offsetting strengths of the others. We’ll know their strengths compared to our weaknesses if we are willing to admit our weaknesses first.

Multiplying Impact and Results By Developing Culture

I was reading a post-game interview with a major college coach who has been in his current position for two years. His team was coming off of a big, program defining win. There was a particular play where a team rallied with extraordinary effort around the ball carrier.

The play had come on 3rd and 19 and there was about a 10 yard pass; well short of the first down. The receiver pushed and pulled, with the help of his teammates, another 7 yards or so and set up 4th and short. Ultimately, the team went for it on 4th down and converted the first down.

The call – the strategy and tactics – only produced about 1/2 of what was required. It was the unity of agreement towards a goal that pushed the situation to favorable. The coach had done all that he could do and he was left to simply watch as the team took matters into their own hands beyond the result of the strategy and tactic.

Immediately following the play, the coach reportedly said, “That’s a culture play right there.” The culture was changing. He inherited a program with limited success and he was trying to get them to achieve more. He was going about it by attempting to change the culture. If the culture changes, the norms change. If the norms change, people agree related to how and what to do. They already know why; it’s cultural. They agree with the why and are unified towards the what.

Culture multiplies leadership. Culture is the multiplier because it extends beyond the direct control of the leader. The leader doesn’t have to direct the specifics, but can trust that hearts are aligned towards a common goal and the extra effort, creativity and perseverance is a produce of agreement. Skills, talents, abilities and creativity are released to multiply. All the leader is left to do, at times, is watch as the team results exceeds the strategy or tactics employed.

When the leader doesn’t have to be present but the vision is “caught” in the culture, there can be exponential momentum. Ultimately, it is the test of truly outstanding leadership; how do they perform in your absence? Additionally, how do they perform in your absence when faced with unexpected challenges? Can they adapt collectively and push through the variables that weren’t planned for?

Strategy and tactics are easy by comparison. Culture is the hard, slower process of agreement towards a common goal. It’s the “why” becoming so inherent in the language and consciousness of an organization that the leader’s immediate presence isn’t necessary. It’s also the only true multiplier of the three.

Value of Consequences is Determined by Entitlement or Humility

I once watched an attorney represent a young U.S. Naval Officer in a DUI case. The officer was a Naval Academy graduate and the attorney conceded that the facts of the case supported a DUI conviction but that there was more at play. He brought in a former Naval Academy graduate to testify of the ramifications of such a conviction. That former officer testified that he was forced to pay back the value of his Naval Academy education as a result of a similar conviction.

The attorney argued that a $100,000 “fine” would be the practical result of this conviction and that such a “fine” exceeded the intent of the state legislature’s guidelines. The judge reduced the charge to reckless driving but sentenced the officer to several weekends in jail.

I asked the attorney how his client reacted to such a relatively favorable result and the attorney told me that he wasn’t happy about it. He said there was a sense of entitlement that left the officer dissatisfied with the fact that he have to go to jail for a number of weekends.

Similarly, I once represented a client for a felony that I was able to help get reduced to a misdemeanor but he had to go to jail for a couple of weekends. He wasn’t happy; he didn’t want to go to jail. Going to jail for two weekends with a misdemeanor vs. going to jail for months/years with a felony is a huge win. Yet, not a happy client.

Each of the defendants that I referenced was given a bit of a legal gift. The Naval Officer was afforded mercy to avoid a large bill to the government. The felony defendant benefited from a bit of legal maneuvering. In both cases, they did the thing they were convicted of but didn’t want to embrace the stark reality of some time in jail. They were above that, but they weren’t above the abhorrent behaviors that resulted in the scrutiny they were under.

When we are entitled and believe that our intentions supersede our behaviors and our beliefs justify our choices, we simply won’t grow. We’ll be stuck in our immaturity for as long as we aren’t willing to embrace the limitations of our soul. The limitations of our soul are reflected in our choices and our choices have consequences.

I wrote the other day about the value of my depravity. There is grace available where we will seek redemption. For as long as we embrace our “good-guy” status, we’ll miss the exchange. Consequences are graceful as they highlight the goodness of God and the opportunity for transformation if we will change our mind. Otherwise, it’s just a few weekends in jail and the embarrassment without the benefit to our soul.

The Target of Greater Peace

Don’t you hate it when you have them right where you want them but there’s nothing you can do? Well, you can, but you know better and you want more. They are wrong, you are right and you can win the argument but the opportunity is for peace. Peace externally and peace internally.

I’ve been asking God to change me on the inside. I have disciplined myself to react in a mature and controlled manner most of the time. Not all of the time, as I am a work in progress, but generally I can stay the course even when inside I am churning. I’m asking God to exchange that churn for His peace. I don’t want to just act right; I want to be right.

The shift from problem solving and process working to relational connection and graceful submission is challenging. Being OK to let the other person be right even when they are wrong is challenging. Preserving the possibility of relationship even when you’d prefer to walk away is transformative.

God is doing what I’ve asked Him to do, slowly but surely, at the cost of me. I am finding the shift is through pain, frustration, justice denied and other realities that reveal stuff to be redeemed within me. Every time that I am wrong and don’t have to be, or not right when I could be, my soul grows in its capacity for peace. That peace is born internally from discomfort externally to then be played out and offered externally.

Discomfort for the benefit of transformation is a good idea but difficult reality. Our transformation will cost us our preferences but the exchange is that our preferences are ultimately matured and developed. We move from immature us to increasingly reflect Him through us. That’s simple but not easy and worth it but not cheap.

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.

Anxiety Presents an Opportunity for Greater Glory

Every time we accept invitations into new opportunities, we step into a new version of discomfort. We go from a known to an unknown because we believe that it will be better in the new place even if there is a cost to getting there. There are times that we experience discomfort in new circumstances that we didn’t choose but that were forced on us. In either case, the opportunity in the discomfort is the same.

When we get to this new place of unknown challenges and uncertain outcomes, we often (if not always) can recognize insecurities within us if we will pay attention. In that place where we are no longer comfortable, we are likely to feel a sense of threat. Often we will be anxious surrounding our protection, provision or promotion/place. If we aren’t careful, we may very well be offended or suspicious of people in this new environment as we view them through our lens of anxiety as we guess at their motives or overreact to their interactions.

In these new places where we are tempted to envy, judge, compete, be offended, etc. because we are afraid as we experience lack of control, we are presented an eternal opportunity. The insecurities that are driving the anxiety and mental gymnastics were there prior to their exposure via this new set of circumstances. They are simply ripe at this particular time for redemption.

Where God shows us the ugliness of us in the middle of our discomfort or suffering, we get to choose. We can agree with fear or come home to His love. We can foster the temporal anxiety or run home to the comfort and certainty of eternity. His love dwells within us by the grace of Jesus (if we want it to and receive the sacrifice of Jesus for the restoration of relationship with the Father) so the peace that relieves the anxiety is in Him within us.

It’s at this point that we are granted repentance. We are given the gift of getting to exchange the insecurity of an orphan which wasn’t yet redeemed and trading it in for the security of a legitimate child of God. When we feel the ugly stuff, we can own our part of the emotions instead of blaming people and circumstances for our discomfort and exchange our crud for God’s glory. He will be put on display from within us when we choose to submit the temporal fear for His eternal love.