Give a Leader Nothing

Give a leader nothing and he will come back with something.

I had the great honour of addressing church leaders in our recent Western Canada Conference in BC and this was the topic I chose. 

First of all… preaching to preachers and leaders is kind of weird and tricky, they’re all really smart people. If anyone could be critical or picky and tear something apart it would be leaders, but the people I was speaking to passed that test a long time ago, they were just there to learn like I was. A leader’s insane drive to become better sets them apart from people who settle for things that may not be working the way they should. It’s easy to apply painful “truth” to everyone but yourself, but leaders actually do apply it to themselves, and some of the topics I covered were awkward and painful, especially to me. 

I opened with this quote: 

“Leaders ought to be the most self-aware people in the room. They lean into and lead out of their strengths. They know they have weaknesses and they know what they are…and they know that other people know. They wouldn’t have it any other way. People like that are lovely, aren’t they? Strong and lovely.”                     Nancy Ortberg

This describes the leaders I admire the most. If this doesn’t describe you yet, we have some work to do…

Someone is looking to you for guidance in your home, office, youth group, classroom, church, or business. It’s intimidating. Not only do your mistakes affect you, they directly affect your people. Very few leaders operate at a ninety percent great-decision-rate and there is a price to pay when you get things wrong, and you aren’t the only one who pays that price.

It’s easy to throw out the leadership thing altogether and do the generic “I only answer to/ for myself!” thing, but that’s not a good solution either. You will likely become just another problem to your organization or family if you start treating yourself like the world’s greatest expert at everything. No one is so relax and get back in the game.

Give a leader nothing and he will come back with something.

Leadership - something from nothing

You know that if you give a job to her she will figure it out no matter what she has to figure it out with. That’s what leaders do. They thrive in chaos and don’t expect others to bail them out when things go south. Think about it… the situations we desire that are smooth and easy are great, but you don’t need leaders if everything is awesome all the time! Anybody can thrive there.

Something young leader-types need to understand is that leaders don’t need position or resources to get the job done. Position and resources help, but leaders rise out of chaos and sort it out regardless what they started out with, or I should maybe say started out AS.

Let me explain. 
Talent doesn’t mean much in the end, results do. I’ve watched talented people my entire life, it helps to have talent but if you sit back and let situations happen TO you while thinking “If I had their advantages, I’d have success”, it is likely the person you envy would tell you they wish they had what you have right in front of you but in spite of _______ and _______ they accomplished their goals anyways. That’s what leaders do.

Dreams fuel tenacity and tenacity beats talent.

dreams fuel tenacity

Self awareness is the thing of course, but the ironic part is that we all Assume we are incredibly self aware, the problem must be with everyone else who’s not! If they could only see what we see, they could get traction. That is an immature way to look at the world because we are much more likely to miss our own blind spots. 

Do you really know your weaknesses? Can you laugh about them? Fragility and insecurity here are incredibly dangerous to a leader. It is unlikely you will push past any situation that requires brutal self awareness because the failure you realize will bury you. To be confident in who you are and the select strengths you have is crucial, but the “strong and lovely” people know their hiccups and know that you know. “They wouldn’t have it any other way” 

Results are often the thing we need for confidence. A young leader I know was upset with me for “killing her dream” one time because I had the nerve to question her plan to achieve her dream. Dreams and success are a lifetime apart from each other. An idea is only an idea but how are you actually going to get there? This process requires time and failure and resilience. And brutal honesty. When I asked her about her plan she was offended because she didn’t actually have anything that resembled a plan, she figured leadership was coming up with an idea (however ridiculous or unrealistic) and having an entire staff of people somehow make that happen for her. Needless to say, her idea never left the gate because that’s all it was. The discipline and tenacity that makes up ninety percent of the success of a dream in the end was off limits to talk about. I was the Big Meanie once again.

There used to be a time when a lecturer wasn’t allowed to speak unless they could point to what they had accomplished with their theories. As much as I love social media, the glut of information has not really made most of us any smarter. I actually think we are worse at filtering information now than we have ever been. There is an inherent desire to believe whatever we happen to be reading right then. The “fools out there” just aren’t reading the right stuff! (or more accurately the stuff we’re reading). How often do you stop and check up on the theories someone is completely convinced of? 

One of my favourite things are lectures from people who are obviously failing or, maybe even worse propounding glorious ideas they haven’t even had a chance to try yet! Inside my head I ask “you might as well throw me (a master electrician) a lecture about electricity!” Why not? You have light bulbs in your house so…ergo… you must be an expert on electricity! 

You can’t have success without a dream, but you also can’t have success without…how do I say it… SUCCESS? “You mean the result actually matters?”. It’s the only thing that does matter. Now you have to play the game by the rules, but if every time things get hard and you have unexpected setbacks you sit down on the field and quit, you might not be the leader you thought you were…. YET.

That’s the key. You have potential but so does everyone. You have to increase your capacity. You have to be torn down and made into a more mature and wise version of who you are right now or you will never be the one people look to for answers when their world is falling apart. If you can’t keep your own problems together, who would want you to help them with theirs? Overcome and focus your efforts on what’s right in front of you, promotion will come in time. Some of us have had to prove success for decades before the right people noticed, but THAT they noticed doesn’t make you a leader, you already were one weren’t you? 

You’ve already walked into impossible situations and mobilized the right people and asked for painful feedback about the gaps in your department, but in the end you won! 

evaluate method ig
It’s a mistake to evaluate principle, it’s also a mistake NOT to evaluate method.

This is what trips up a fair number of us. We swap principle and method. People always get into trouble when they start evaluating the principles of life and people and God. Gravity is a principle so just…deal with it. Nobody cares if you disagree that gravity exists. Come alongside of it and you will do well, cross it and you will pay and it will not be gravity’s fault. People who evaluate principles get weird and isolated and start blaming everyone else for why their business fails when their own dishonesty translated into people not trusting them. I could say more but there it is…

Methods are temporary and need to be altered for you to succeed. When a threat comes into your marketplace you can’t treat everything like “business as usual”, you need to adapt and improvise and deal with it. This requires brutal honesty but with a backbone of confidence. Gathering the right information is crucial. Most leaders I know have an attitude that they are only one resource away from figuring out that staffing problem, or whatever issue they are facing. This requires humility and teamwork. The leader knows they probably aren’t the smartest person in the room, but they’d better actually have smart people in the room and give them access to the problem.

The last thing I will say is the word TENSION. 

The tension between what IS and what COULD BE is not a box that can be checked off, it is the reality of every day of the rest of your life if you commit to the leadership journey. Most people simply don’t have it in them. 

Do you?

Can you hold on to your dream while you yourself are unmade and reborn into something stronger and more compassionate than you were before? 

People don’t follow know-it-alls anyways, they follow authentic flawed people who have a dream for a better world they just can’t let go of…

Leadership - something from nothing

4 thoughts on “Give a Leader Nothing

  1. This is hard hitting for me, being a leader kinda frightens me, but I know I can do it. Just have to start somewhere, and this is a good place to start 🙂 great writing!!


  2. This is great, truth-packed information. I could definitely afford to become more self aware, accepting of my weaknesses, and quicker to seek out painful knowledge. Thanks for telling it straight, pastor.


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