February 2009


One of the other things Perry Noble asked young leaders pierced pretty deeply.

Are you more interested in being discovered or being developed?

Ouch. I had to do some self evaluation. Here are a few random follow up questions.

Do I feel deep down that I deserve that next step? If I arrive at the wrong conclusion, the result of my pride will be bitterness… and jealousy when others don’t notice my abilities. I recently started compiling a list of people who used to work for me but are now in higher positions than me. It was a good discipline, because it exposes my sin nature! I had to remind myself that those are successes. Perhaps I played a part in their development, even if the best thing I did was get out of the way and not hold them back.

Do I have a realistic picture of myself? I completed a 360 review last summer that even looked back on some previous jobs. My memories of my abilities and acomplishments in Canada were dashed as I read the feedback of two colleagues who pointed out some real flaws. Amazing to think that these two were among my biggest encouragers and supporters. When they looked at me, they obviously saw my potential more than my abilities. Thank God I’ve grown a lot since those days.

Am I a lifelong learner? Many have said that the first step of leadership is leading yourself. After all, the first and easiest thing I can control is myself. As I mentioned in a previous post, even those at the top don’t have it all figured out. I pray that when I’m 60, I’m just as devoted to trying new things. I pray that I continue to read and listen to things that challenge me and disagree with me. I pray that I still learn from others — even those with less experience than me.

At the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta a few months ago, Perry Noble pointed out that some of Moses’ best work was done in the wilderness, where no one saw his brilliance.

That thought launched me on a study of some of the young leaders in the Bible and how they developed. One of my observations is that there are a number of leadership development programs in the Bible. The leaders who deliberately looked for and developed young people with leadership potential were not exactly hallmarks of exemplary leadership themselves: King Saul and Nebuchadnezzar. The former included spear dodging as part of his program and the latter recruited by kidnapping and tested via a fiery furnace.

My wife says that Esther was singled out in a development program. Not sure that was exactly the same kind of program.

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage: an expert is someone far from home who carries a briefcase. It’s human nature to put more trust in an outsider who tells you the same thing as the people close to you. But do they really know more about the subject, or do they just fake it and no one really knows any better?

People love experts. There’s something comforting in knowing the person in charge or the highly-paid consultant is an expert.

I used to think that anyone who made it to the top had to be an expert. CEOs and presidents obviously came from special stock and knew exactly what to do in every situation. But the more time I spend in administration, I know it’s all untrue. The leader at the top has just as many insecurities as the next guy and faces new challenges every day that he has never faced before. Sure, he usually has a longer list of experiences to fall back on, but it still comes down to well-educated guesses and gut calls. All he can do is run his new challenges through the grid he’s built as he moved up the ladder.

I remember the first time I was part of a wedding party and discovered that the well-produced, flawless weddings I’d attended before were very likely the result of people like me reacting to the setbacks and making it up as they went along. By all appearances, the result was a beautiful wedding, but I had seen the truth: a groomsman hiding severe poison oak rash after an outing to clip ivy vines for the trellis, breadsticks and water subbing for communion elements, and ushers who got the job done — even if not quite according to plan or schedule.

Perhaps leadership comes down to well-prepared “winging it.”

One more thought on this subject. Evangelical Christians are particularly fond of experts. We have an expert to speak for the family. One to speak for money issues. One to speak for mass evangelism, and another to speak for one-on-one evangelism. Evangelicals only seem to have room for one spokesperson at a time, and anyone who comes up with an opposing idea is greeted with suspicion at best.

But what if there are no experts? What if there was room for others to apply their experiences and their grid and come up with new ideas for the family, for dealing with money and for evangelism? What if leaders could come from anywhere?