In a world of never-ending corporate sell-offs, sports organization shake-ups, constant political jockeying, and increasing religious in-fighting are we losing sight of the importance of Leadership that Lasts?
I’ve been reading my dad’s book, The Resilient Pastor, and came across a quote this morning that got me thinking about the staying power of leadership in our culture today. He says,
“In life and leadership, it is not so much about the beginning as the finishing. Many begin well; too few finish well.”
I’m not a pastor and I’m not reading my dad’s book just to be a good son. What I’ve found as I’ve worked through his practical ideas for pastors to put into place in their lives to weather the storms of leading a church is that if I replace the word “pastor” with “leader” throughout the book, the lessons and guidance are universally applicable. The fact of the matter is that today’s leaders – in business, in politics, in sports, AND in the church, are facing some serious challenges to their ability to LAST for long periods of leadership. While the details that create these challenges might be different, the core factors are the same:
1) Leaders are often unprepared or underprepared for the challenges of being THE LEADER.
2) Leaders often have a weak or faulty personal foundation.
3) Leaders succumb to unrealistic or false self expectations and try to take short cuts to meet them.
4) Organizations fail to support and encourage leaders through periods of challenge which limits a leaders’ willingness to take risk.
5) We, as a culture, have become enamored with brevity in our communication, our patience, and our view of change, expecting organizational change and growth to happen in that same brief cycle.
As I look at my own life, I see places where I have fallen victim to these challenges myself.
I look back on my hopes and dreams from just 10 years ago and I am thankful that I wasn’t thrust into more visible leadership roles. It is only with the gift of time that I can look back and recognize that I didn’t have the foundation that would have made me a great leader at 30. While I do believe my foundation is still being built at 40, I also know that I am much more prepared today for formal leadership than I was 10 years ago.
In much the same way, my own leadership ability has been shaped and strengthened by personal challenges. Having kids, buying and selling homes, working through marital struggles, persevering during lean financial times, and sorting through my own personal strengths and weaknesses has made me a more stable person with a stronger personal foundation. By going through those things I’ve been able to put solid bricks into that foundation.
It is the mark of a successful leader to be driven to succeed in their chosen field. What I have recognized, however, is that I can’t do it all. I was having a laugh a few weeks ago with a good friend of mine who has taken a position that I used to have. I was sharing with him some of the stupid things I used to do in that position because I thought I could, and should, do it all. Staying at the office at all hours of the night to put together a scorecard for the next game because I had sold it that way seemed like the right thing to do at the time. In my mind, I was being a good leader by making sure that our organization did what we told the sponsor we were going to do. As I think back on that now, it seems so silly. The only reason I put those unrealistic expectations on myself was because of immaturity. Thankfully, my friend is older and wiser than I was when I had the position and understands that if you’re majoring in the minor details as a leader, you’d better look at how you’re doing things because that is a recipe for burn out.
I’ve also been a victim of organizational management that created an environment of fear for its leaders. It is important for any organization – business, political, sports, religious to remember that expectations that you STATE and the actions that you TAKE have to be in sync. A few years back I was handed the reigns of a failing, dis-functional sales organization and told to rebuild it for long term success. Too often in both sports and business, the initial expectations that we lay out for our leaders quickly change to “Just win baby,” and that is what happened to us. As soon as the organization saw early positive results from the first phases of my re-building, the expectations shifted to setting sales records. The plan was derailed because the team wasn’t stable enough yet for that kind of pressure and we ultimately failed. My confidence as a leader was shattered.
Last, but not least, I’m guilty of not taking a long view. If you look back at the picture accompanying this post, it illustrates what I’m TRYING to do in my leadership life now. That picture is of my dad and my daughter standing on the top of Stone Mountain, GA a few years ago. Just like in this picture, my dad has been holding the hand of young leaders as they go through periods of fear and excitement, looking out on their possibilities for over 40 years. Before I was born, he was forming his own leadership foundation, making his mistakes, and faithfully leading where he was instead of worrying about what was next. It is my hope and prayer that I’ve reached a point in my life that I can start holding hands as well. I’m sure there will be times that I’ll have to run back to daddy for support when I get too close to the edge or have a scary stretch, but like my daughter in this picture, I’m going to keep my head up, looking at the long view of leadership and understanding that it isn’t so much about the beginning as it is the finishing.
Thanks dad for that great reminder today.