Monday, February 07, 2005


The Leader Spirit

On Leadership, in a review of two movies, Simon writes:

"But controversy aside, the principle I get from both these movies is that before there is action, there must be awareness, an awakening to the problem that you were born to solve.

"Melodramatic? Okay, try this version: Before you act, assess the situation, assess the resources already in place to help that situation, and assess your own ability to help."

I've been thinking a lot about leadership for a long time. It started one day when I was in a pool of prospective jurors. Twelve were called and then examined. One of the questions in the standard suite was "Do you consider yourself a leader or a follower?" Every one of the jurors empaneled said he or she was a leader. This is an interesting look at statistics. How did the State of Colorado manage to call so many leaders? You figure leaders are a fairly small number in the general population, and here they all were.

Naturally, I got to thinking how I'd answer. It's too bad I never got called because the dialogue with the lawyer would have been interesting.
"Do you consider yourself a leader or a follower?"
The lawyer does a double take, pen poised over the checkbox. "Could you clarify that? You have to be one or the other."
"Well, in order to be a leader, you have to have people behind you, following. I don't have any of those. There's also no one in front of me. I'm making my own path, alone."
"Thank you, Mr. Nelson. Your Honor, the defense excuses this juror."

We are in a society whose every member thinks they can lead. Most of them can't do it. Partly because of the competition from people second-guessing their leadership, and partly because the leaders themselves have no idea how to lead. They come up with a plan, figure out how to implement it, then try to drag everyone else along. Fairly soon the whole thing blows up because..

Well, I never really knew why. I just knew that most ventures fail, and I could trace the failure back to the way the thing was organized and operated, but what makes one venture succeed and others fail? Why do some leaders get people to work together, while others just cause friction and heat?

Over the 30 years since that jury event I've learned quite a bit. One is the idea of overlays. If you want people to change, you can force them to but the new practice will be an overlay on top of the old, sort of like thin asphalt over an old road. The weeds soon start poking through again. You can't pave a human heart.

Today's response is balkanization. Everyone is a leader of one, and woe betide anyone who steps over the boundary. Community is a dream.

So, how do you do it? You do what's implied in the quotes above: groundwork. Instead of presenting everyone in the group with a plan accomplished. You go and talk to them and get their ideas. You also talk with others who've tried similar ventures. You find out what worked and what didn't, and then you think long and hard about why those things worked the way they did. Did the earlier venture fail because of outside circumstances, or because of a leader committed to the wrong idea? Did it succeed because of good construction, or because the leader is so charismatic that anyone who dropped out because of intolerable strain was instantly replaced by another groupie eager to rub up against the Master?

This gets into questions of what success really is. You can't know a leader until you know success.

If you look at Jesus' life you see someone who'd have flunked out of modern management courses. He was broke when he came on the scene, he worked for three years and then got killed. In all that time he rounded up a few guys who stuck around, but they all bailed when the going got rough. Jesus came, and then he was gone. If you'd have been standing there, watching the disciples carry away the mutilated body, you could quite logically have asked yourself what Jesus had accomplished in his time on earth.

He knew exactly what he was doing. He was an exemplary leader because he planted a seed that's still growing. He worked with his people to build them up so they could carry his message all over the world after his own death.

Today we expect people to become instant Christians. They get saved and immediately are told all the things they need to be doing, but are not told anything about how to do it Classic bad leadership, this is, being lots of responsibility with no authority.

Authority comes from the Holy Spirit. Only with him participating in a person's life can that person become a good leader, and it's still easy for the leader to sort of take the bit in his teeth and forget the Spirit. Good ideas inflame others, a group forms and then the whole bunch runs screaming over a cliff.

Human factors. People are people and God made us as such. There are ways to lead that work with the way people are, but there are many other ways that go against those ideas. It's much like petting a cat the wrong way: all you get is irritation and sparks.

Christians, we're told, are supposed to be able to do anything. Denying basic human nature isn't on the list; what the Holy Spirit does is transform human nature, returning it to what God intended when he made us. Dying to ourselves is never easy, but this is the point. To become flexible in God's hands so that our natures enhance what he's doing. A leader that ignores what people are like has only failure to look forward to.

Hey Larry...

You should really post a comment on the Leadership blog sometime. Simon's a great, great guy and the two of you I think could start some insane dialogue.

He's a fan of your sculpture, too.
Larry - amen to Sandra's comment! :) Some good writing in your post too ("You can't pave human hearts" - Mm! Fantastic!)
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