Tuesday, September 09, 2014


What is the key to Leadership?

What is the Key to Leadership? Honestly, based on my experiences in 2013 and 2014, I now have an answer but it isn’t what you are probably expecting to hear. I would urge anyone seeking instruction on leadership to look first to the Bible before any of the self-help books that have been written.  I'm going to share my answer at the end of this blog. But first, I have a few observations.

I've been reading a lot of content recently about leadership and leading change. I often get to the end of the article or book feeling a little empty. I mean there are good points and observations but seldom a "hard and fast" rule and never a silver bullet that works in all situations. At least I’m not finding a solution in books or one-day classes. Books and conferences provide good principles and take away sentences that make people feel good but normally they are things that are difficult to do on your own or in your own power. Most of us have constraints on what we can do either due to finances, supervisors, or other time demands on our life.


Take Bill Hybel's book "Simplify" for example. From the cover of the book: "When we spend our lives doing things that keep us busy but don’t really matter, we sacrifice the things that do. ... If you crave a simpler life anchored by the priorities that matter most, roll up your sleeves: Simplified living requires more than just cleaning out your closets or reorganizing your desk drawer. It requires uncluttering your soul. By eradicating the stuff that leaves your spirit drained, you can stop doing what doesn’t matter—and start doing what does."

Hybels basically says we must live with "margin" in our lives so we can respond to needs when they arise but also have time to rest. Well, that is easy to say if you are the CEO of a very large organization with lots of staff doing work you tell them to do, hired help at your house, and grown children. Sort of reminds me of politicians who tell us "I feel your pain, I understand your needs," and then they leave the rally in a limo with a speakers check for $500,000 and go back to an $18 million dollar home with a maid. They don’t understand the challenges my wife and I face with both of us working jobs that are more than 9 to 5 jobs just to make ends meet, teenage children that are busy with activities and need us to drive them around and help with homework, all while juggling church and family responsibilities that are important. Giving as advice to “simplify” is, well, a little too simple.

I’ll admit that living with “margin” is a great goal but when your child needs to be driven to band practice and you have to wait to pick him up after school and you are the only person available to do that … your “margin” gets eaten up sitting in your car. Typically, I spend that type of “margin” time thinking about things I need to get done and expanding my “to do” list.


Then there are plenty of secular leadership programs and books that talk about leading change, leading people, and rallying people to pull together as a team. The marketing for these leadership events sound like a silver bullet. Here is a recent example I received by email: “Using experiential learning exercises as a metaphor for what it takes to lead a high performing team, this professional development workshop will help you explore the interpersonal and organizational advantages of working together. You will leave the class understanding the need for organizational change, able to identify leadership strategies that create a thriving culture for change, better able to adopt and accept change, able to understand the needs of those faced with adopting change, and equipped to use communication strategies that create awareness, acceptance, adopting and advocacy of change initiatives.” Whew, I’ll be ready to change the world after this class!

As with any conference or program, there are many fine examples of training that has helped and you can even find people who will give you a success story or two about their leadership success. But often times, these success stories come at the expense of a wife and/or children. They also often have a lot of “I” in them and statements that suggest that if you can just dream it work hard enough, it will happen.


Let me suggest that there is really only one thing that matters more than all of the other studies and suggestions: prayer to enlist God’s help. That is it. That is the key to leadership.

Without it, we are just people tossing around ideas and theories that sometimes work but often do not. We can have good ideas of course. We can even find success that merits patting ourselves on the back (and allowing others to do the same). But the fact is, God is the author of our successes. God sees the big picture, God knows what is coming next and God does speak to us (through the Holy Spirit).

I discovered this past year while serving my church in a leadership role that every team presents a different challenge. No list of ideas for building consensus in a team or even running focused meetings works in every situation. In fact, I found that when I was more dependent on God and less dependent on me, things worked out better. Therefore, I should add that a second key to plugging in to prayer and allowing God to take the lead is humility. We have to admit we don’t have the answers and we have to admit that we need God’s help. We have to admit that we can’t and shouldn’t make decisions based solely on our own muscle or brain power.

Without prayer, without seeking God in leadership moments, we are just like a squirrel gathering nuts in the fall. We scurry around, hides nuts, bury nuts and eat nuts in a flurry of activity but lacking foresight in regards to what winter has in store, unable to influence any of it, and really unable to impact it. Yes, as a leader we do have to do the work and get others to join in the fun but if we are not humble and seeking God in prayer, we are just wasting our time.

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