Leading toward a Difference

Some new household rhythms have recently created a podcast-listening habit for this fellow.  One of my early finds has been the Andy Stanley Leadership podcast.  After two episodes (about 20 minutes each), I can only say, “Wow! Thank you, Andy.”

Concise, intelligent, well-balanced, insightful, and more.

I confess to possessing a measured cynicism toward anyone claiming to be an expert on leadership. That may be a result of having witnessed leadership styles that I have no desire to imitate; it may be a result of having witnessed leadership styles that I have no hope of imitating.  Whether excess of caution or shortage of confidence, it is never the wise move to shut one’s ears or close one’s mind.  Two brief podcasts have re-ignited my fire of desire to learn and grow.

Am I the leader I wish I was? Not today.

Have I maxed out my potential? Not a chance.

Will I take a step today to move from here toward there? I had better.

What might that step be? For this moment, keeping Andy’s podcast on my regular rotation is one easy move to make.

Here are some of the take-home chunks from a recent listen, entitled, “Making a Difference”  It began with talk of American politics and the polarizing force they often seem to exert among Christians in that country. I wondered if this podcast would be largely irrelevant to this Canadian.

And then the gems on leadership started flowing:

“It is more important to make a difference than to make a point.”

There is a weak form of leadership that is easily entered; it revolves around making a point rather than making a difference.  It is rooted in the desire to be right, and it typically revolves around words rather than actions.  To be sure, there are times when a point must be made.  But toward what end?  That answer better be “toward making a difference”, or we’re just playing games in our God-given roles.

“A leader should never risk his/her ability to make a difference by making an unnecessary point.”

Influence is too slowly gained and too quickly lost to make every issue a “go to the wall” item.  Some things matter greatly; others matter hardly at all.  The unwise leader can be sucked into making a statement about a second-rate issue (often at the prodding of critics OR those hoping a leader will agree with THEM) that goes on to undercut his/her from the big-ticket items he/she dreamed of impacting in the first place.

The churches in which I’ve grown up have often spoken of “majoring in the majors and minoring in the minors”.  This language displayed our awareness of this dynamic, but much of our history has betrayed our unawareness of just how much influence can be lost when we fail to live out this advice.

Organizationally or individually, influence is maximized (and guarded) when we release the desire to pound on unnecessary points.

“Don’t fear guilt by association.”

We cannot influence people that we refuse to associate with.  Whatever issue or movement I desire to move forward will be minimized if my ultimate objective is to guard my reputation.  Sprite may have overstated it in their “Image is Nothing” campaign some years back; however, the wise leader must be driven by forces far greater than image.  The difference he/she desires to make will determine the bridges that need building and the relationships that require cultivating, and within our fragmented world, bridge-building is a messy work, demanding feet to be planted in unfamiliar, sometimes downright uncomfortable, settings.

Jesus knew this, and his critics served him regular helpings of guilt by association.  Yet Jesus remained aware and convicted of the need for fences to come down and lines to be crossed, and leaders will be the first doers of such tasks.  But not leaders who are afraid of guilt by association.

“Influence is a stewardship.”

The responsible leader asks, “Why have I been given influence?” Surely, it isn’t to protect my number of church members or constituents.  At some point, the leader is required to risk his/her credibility for a purpose greater than maintaining that credibility.  Every competent leader will move from a state of less (say, influence, power) toward a state of more (say, influence, power).  It is sign of fear when the “days of more” are lived out in a protective manner, where that role of say, influence, and power is guarded rather than leveraged.

It may take wisdom and discernment to identify the cause or issue upon which one will stake everything.  Or it may be quite clear, as the reason one entered leadership in the first place.  Regardless, every leader needs to be governed by an awareness that we do not gather influence and build trust for our own sakes or satisfaction.  How does God expect you to steward it?  That’s a money question there.

“Don’t attempt to police the behaviour of people who don’t believe what you believe, to begin with.”

While this point may tie most fully into a discussion of how Christians should or shouldn’t attempt to wield political power in the shaping of their nations, it quickly transfers to discussions of how churches (even those with no deep political desires) carry and execute their desires to shape society as well.

Attempting to guilt people into behaviours based upon assumptions that are ours but not theirs–how do you see that working out? Yet Christian history is filled with examples of God’s people compromising their influence in this fashion.  If we’re feeling fired up about morality and purity, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:12 would guide us well:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?

How many sermons have you heard on that passage?  For some reason, those within religious circles feel a strong temptation to take their evaluative skills outside the loop.  Paul’s advice?  Stay at home.  If people of faith took the policing of their own lives and their own communities as first priorities, we might be surprised to realize the weight of influence that could be had in our larger contexts as well.

And all that came from a twenty-minute podcast.  Again, I say, “Well done, Andy.  Thanks for sharing.”

YOUR TURN: Which point particularly resonates with your leadership journey?  Which idea do you “amen” or wish you’d discovered earlier?

Comment below, and become part of the conversation.

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