So, what movie did I pick?

The movie I went with for the Leadership Development Initiative film study was Invictus. In the end, what persuaded me was the timeliness of the story as well as the tight package of leadership lessons in 135 minutes. Let me share a few of my questions I used to stir conversation after the movie.

Invictus Study Guide

There were a number of characters who demonstrated leadership. We’ll start with Nelson Mandela, but most of us can’t identify with his character, so we’ll then look at a couple of the other characters.

  1. At the beginning, there’s a headline: “He can win an election, but can he run a country?” As Mandela grants, it’s a good question. Describe the leadership insight in that headline.
  2. Describe Mandela’s leadership style. In what ways—both bold strategies and small gestures—did Mandela demonstrate servant leadership?
  3. Can you think of any times when Mandela used a different leadership style? How did he employ situational leadership?
  4. What symbols and images were used by Mandela to bring about change?
  5. What are the upsides and challenges of attempting to repurpose a symbol?
  6. Mandela sets his goal on winning the World Cup—a goal he has no direct influence over. What strategies does he deploy?
  7. What did you learn about the relationship between leadership and followership?
  8. Name some of the other leaders in this movie. Which one do you most identify with? Why?
  9. Two in particular stand out, both of which are in #2 positions. Francois Pinaar, of course. But consider his chief of staff. In what ways does she support Mandela? In what ways does she challenge and become a foil to Mandela’s goals? What can we learn from her example?
  10. From Pinaar’s example, what can we learn about leadership when you’re not in the top position? How can leaders in #2 positions contribute to carrying forward the vision?
  11. The William Ernest Henley poem Invictus became an inspiration to Nelson Mandela during his captivity, and he uses it to inspire Pinaar. It ends with the lines, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” What does Mandela’s inspiration tell us about the importance of leading yourself before you lead others?
  12. While there’s no evidence that Mandela was a follower of Jesus Christ, his life exemplifies the gospel message. Ultimately, Mandela’s modeling and message of grace is what sets him apart in human history. In what ways does he lead his country into grace and forgiveness? What were the pundits saying about South Africa when Mandela was first released, and what was the result of his counter-cultural leadership?
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Managing grace

A couple of months ago, missiologist Ed Stetzer spoke at CrossPointe Church Orlando. As he read familiar words from 1 Peter, he freely substituted the word “manager” for “steward.” It’s probably a good shift for us, because we don’t live in a world of stewards. It’s not a context we’re familiar with. Managers we understand. Let’s look at I Peter 4:10 in the NKJV, using Stetzer’s subsitution:

As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good managers of the manifold grace of God.

What Peter is saying here is that when we use our gifts in ministry, we’re managing grace. For starters, he’s referring to the personal management of the gift we’re given, but I believe Peter goes further than the individual interpretation we Westerners are used to. As there is throughout the New Testament, there’s an others-focus in Peter’s admonition. I think it’s fair to apply “managers” in an organizational sense.

Perhaps this is a good time to refresh ourselves on what management is. Drawing from Robert Banks and Bernice Ledbetter, as interpreted by Sherwood Lingenfelter, we might say managing means:

  • to organize
  • to control
  • to maintain focus
  • to allocate resources around

The point of managing is that we don’t own the resources we are responsible for. We are to have a stewardship mindset toward God’s grace. And yet, every day we have the capacity to manage badly. We have plenty of opportunity to hold back the distribution of grace in our office, church and home cultures. As it’s easy to suppress or misdirect our own gifts, we do the same within our teams — sometimes in the exercise of our own gifts. It’s an easy temptation to try to manipulate behavior in others by controlling grace, withholding approval or granting favor unequally. But Peter calls us instead to be proactive, godly, open-handed stewards of that grace.

I remember visiting another mission organization a few years ago and admiring their core value of “a culture of grace.” In Wycliffe’s own journey toward building intentional diversity among our staff, one phrase that has become part of our common lexicon is to “increase our grace capacity.” What does that look like? How do we manage grace in that kind of high-capacity culture?

  • We meet failure with forgiveness and consider it an opportunity to grow.
  • We are careful to consider strengths in building diverse teams, recognizing that God’s gifts are distributed broadly, and God doesn’t just speak to the boss.
  • We honor others by focusing, harmonizing and enhancing the gifts God has given them.
  • We treat others as we want to be treated, forgive others as we want to be forgiven and love others as we want to be loved.

Who wouldn’t want to work in an environment like that?

Romans 12 – criticism

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them…. 17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable…. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.

20 Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Criticism is one of the hardest things for a leader, in part because so many are driven by a desire for approval. This passage speaks to the very heart of that issue. I think I can sum up these verses with two main points. First, a leader’s response to criticism will reveal his heart — his faith and his character. And second, that critics have their place. We need them because they can provide contrast and excellent feedback.

Nothing exposes a leader like a good critic. People who get under our skin, who persecute us or who find fault with every attempt to move an organization forward can fester like nothing else. They try us most because they are immune from all of our skills of influence and persuasion. They therefore quickly expose our foundations. Do we really have faith in God’s sovereignty? Do we really believe that God will deal with them? And what is our character made of? Are we really honorable, kind and full of grace? Or are we vengeful and vindictive, impatient and short-tempered?

I got a recent insight on this topic from Shepherding a Child’s Heart. When kids are bullied at school, what do parents teach them? Tedd Tripp’s response draws straight from Romans 12:

It doesn’t take grace from God to ignore the oppressor. It doesn’t take supernatural grace to stand up for your rights. To do good to oppressors, however, to pray for those who mistreat you, to entrust yourself to the just Judge, requires a child to come face-to-face with the poverty of his own spirit and his need of the transforming power of the gospel.

So, whether we’re a leader or a child, God calls us to a higher standard that cannot be achieved apart from His supernatural grace at work in our own lives. What’s the condition of our own hearts?

Since I’ve taken so long composing this post, I’m going to go ahead and publish part 1.

Romans 12 – moral authority

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning… (NLT)

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you… (NIV)

Two versions of the same verse cast slightly different light on the subject of authority. In my July post on authority, I named two kinds of non-positional authority. Paul refers to both here. There’s a reason Paul can speak into the lives of the Church in Rome — because he has spiritual and moral authority in their lives. I think it’s noteworthy that he doesn’t say, “Because of my position as apostle…” There are a couple of times when Paul took a lot of space in his epistles defending his role as an apostle. Apparently, there was some question as to his position since he did not spend any time with Jesus himself. But here he’s not referring to any positional kind of power.

Paul has authority because of two reasons. First, because of his investment in the Roman church, they have given him moral authority in their lives. Second, because God has given authority to him. It’s by God’s grace — what Christ did to pull him out of the life he was in — that he has the privilege and authority of influencing this group. He can therefore teach, encourage, cajole and rebuke the Church in the most powerful city in the world.

Mind you, Paul didn’t necessarily shy away from titles. He regularly identifed himself as “bond slave of Christ” and “chief of sinners.” A position of genuine humility can go a long way to building authority.

Romans 12 – self awareness

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

It happens every year. A young lady shows up on American Idol, sings her heart out… and the judges cringe. When someone informs her that she’s bad, she appears genuinely shocked.* Why? Because her entire life, she’s been told that she can sing. She has never received honest feedback until Simon Cowell.

* Go with me here. I know it’s all rigged.

Do you have a Simon Cowell in your life? Okay, bad example. Do you have someone in your life who has the privilege and authority in your life to tell you the truth? Paul had the ability to say this to the Roman church because of his role as spiritual father and apostle. Perhaps for you it’s a pastor or mentor or Proverbs-worthy friend, but you need people to give you an honest assessment, particularly as you move up in leadership.

What if you’re not really as good a leader as you think you are? This is a tough question, so take a minute to think about it.

I’ve read many times that when a superstar executive is plucked from a team by headhunters to fill a new leadership position in another company, they can’t reach the same success in the new setting. Why? It’s the drumbeat I’ve been saying for some time now: leadership is contextual. You are likely only as good as the team you’re surrounded by and the ideal match of your abilities to the challenges and opportunities you’re facing. Before you take credit for things that God has given you, read Daniel 4 as a warning from King Nebuchadnezzar.

I believe self-management is the first requirement of leadership. The Bible is clear that if you can’t lead yourself, you can’t lead others. The first step, then, is to know yourself. Know what you’re good at and what you’re not. Leaders have as few blindspots as possible and know their weaknesses well so they can lead to their strengths and staff to their weaknesses. But it’s true that the higher you move up in leadership, the more difficult it is to keep from living in a coccoon. There’s no one to tell you the truth, and it’s difficult to stop believing your own press.

The sticking point in these verses to me is that line, “measuring yourself by the faith God has given us.” What does that mean? For starters, if faith is the assurance of things unseen, then our plum line is not anything readily apparent to us. It’s not the media or our kiss-up friends. Our plum line is how God sees us. He’s the one who can see our insecurities and our coping mechanisms. He’s the one who sees past our false bravado. He’s the one who sees how our “courageous decision” was really just a guess, and this time it worked. He knows all that… and more.

Yet he also knows our full operating potential, because he’s the manufacturer. I think God believes in us. When we consider others better than ourselves and are quick to give credit to others for the success we enjoy, I think we’ll uncover a lot of the potential he built in.

Matthew Henry has a great admonition to sum up my last two posts (and this is a nice counterpoint to my recent posts on ambition):

We must not say, I am nothing, therefore I will sit still, and do nothing; but, I am nothing in myself, and therefore I will lay out myself to the utmost, in the strength of the grace of Christ.