A younger person wrote me last week asking about leadership.  They’ve been invited to take a leadership position and though willing and anxious to do it, they are also self aware enough to realize their limitations in stepping into it.  So, they are reaching out to people they know who they perceive a few more km on their engines and asking some good questions.

Their questions were stellar but what impressed me most was the willingness to admit initial inexperience and willingness to ask for help.  Arguably, one of the strengths of human growth is the realization “we are not there yet” and “to ask for help” for the journey.  Well played my friend, well played.

But the questions were good.  They wanted to know “how did you get started, and how do you keep going?”  As I think about it, I realize I do what I do in leading a national organization because “I recognize the need and want to step in and help”.   If you don’t want to lead, then you are hooped at the outset because leadership demands internal juvenation.  It’s a draining passage to follow.  The Scripture speaks of desire when Paul writes to young Timothy “if a man desires the office of an overseer, he desires a good thing…”.  I take the first step of leadership is to determine the internal volition–do you really want to do it.

But why do you step in?  What’s the driving force?  I think it is because you see an opportunity to make a difference and bring something better out of the situation.  Leadership is about trying to bring about better in the organization or the situation.  Once you lose your hope of “better” it becomes drudgery even slavery.

The next question was “who have been your influencers along the way?”  In my experience, I’ve had a couple of sources.  Live individuals have been very helpful at key times.  I have tried to have 2 or 3 trusted folk in my life to whom I can turn for sake of feedback (feedback is the breakfast of champions in my world).  I say “trusted” because there is no shortage of people willing to give you opinions, but who do you trust that will speak not only “truth” but with “compassion” for you?  But I have also had “literary mentors” who have spoken into my life by virtue of their writings.  In the 80’s/90’s Gordon MacDonald has spoken to me many times.  I spent time with a friend last week who chooses to read and understand CS Lewis.  The point is, you can read widely but if you want to make progress–adopt one writer and let them become your instructor.

A third question was “how have you progressed in your leadership journey?”   I kind of smiled at that one because it assumes a hierarchy of leadership. I may have misinterpreted the question but it made me think that “you’ve ridden up the ladder over the years”.  To me, leadership is firstly and foremostly a call to servanthood.  The only thing that changes along the way is the zone of servant hood.  I find people who seem to promote themselves are not my cup of tea.  If you have to push a door down or smash through a window—well, that’s just not my style.  I have made changes of location and application of my leadership over the years but it’s been a case of realizing I was “done” in situation A, and needed to pay attention to situation B coming down the river.  But the general application hasn’t changed—I am firstly and foremostly a servant.

The last question was arguably the most poignant to me–“how do you sustain your energy in leadership?”   That’s a constant challenge.  As I reflect on it I have to be honest—it’s a battle.  Leadership is inherently draining.  So, if you can’t do appropriate self-renewal it’s only a matter of time til you run out of gas, get burned out, turn to cynicism and despair, or even collapse.  I am teaching a course on this question over the next few months…I’ll fire up a few more posts to share some things I am presently calcifying.

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