If I were king

Steve Moore talked about the “reactive hypothetic” — a young leader with enough self awareness and contextual consciousness that he knows what he likes and doesn’t like, but isn’t willing/ready/courageous enough to be the one taking initiative. The problem is that this kind of person can end up in the peanut gallery, taking potshots at leadership.

Coming from a generation that prefers the role of critic, I see this one all the time. I’m reminded of a great moment in The Princess Bride when Andre the Giant is told he can take care of someone “his way.” “Oh, good… which way’s my way?” We know that something’s wrong with a situation, but we don’t know how we’d do it any differently. I’ve always got my eyes open for those exceptional young people who follow through with ideas to fill the void. It’s easy to point out mistakes, but are they willing to offer alternatives to replace what’s broken?

That takes courage and determination. Courage to decide you’re going to succeed with a new model. And perseverance similar to a 1-year-old learning to walk — determination that you’re going to try something, and if it fails, you’ll get up and try again.

Don’t get the wrong impression. I don’t think leaders have to have all the answers before they get started. The close of Deborah Reidy’s Reluctant Leaders paper makes a great point:

Finally, remember that leadership often begins with an uneasiness, a vague, unarticulated sense that things are not quite right but no idea what would be right or how to bring it about. As Ron Heifetz writes, ‘One may lead perhaps with no more than a question in hand.’

It’s a myth that you have to have all the answers, that you have to have it all together, that you have to have the complete package before you lead. Frankly, it’s an outright lie. The best thing for a young leader is to get in the game. You won’t develop leadership abilities in a vacuum, and you probably won’t come up with the answers until you start trying.

Anyone who is willing to combine a good question with a determination to try until they succeed is going to change the world. Ask any of the Gen-X CEOs of Google, YouTube, eBay or Amazon. Did any of them hit gold on their first attempt? Malcolm Gladwell broke down that misperception in Outliers. Kings don’t simply happen; it takes hard work to be king.

Romans 12 – patience and prayer

12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

In crisis and trouble, the second trait a leader has to have is patience. When I think about Moses — who found his 1-2 year change process extended by 38 years — leading a bunch of grumbling sentimentalists for decades, I marvel at his patience and perseverance. The Bible only reports a couple of incidents where he let his frustation show.

Leaders have to take the long view. Crises come and crises go. One way to get past them is to take a patient view, riding out the latest challenge. I’m currently reading a biography, William Pitt the Younger. Pitt was the youngest  and second-longest-serving prime minister of England. He had things he wanted to accomplish, including abolishment of slavery alongside William Wilberforce, that got put on hold year after year as new crises came up. His perseverance through year after depressing year during the war against the French sapped his health and aged him. He never lived to see the anti-slavery cause completed, just as Moses never saw his promised land, except in their visionary dreams. Both cases show there’s something solid and unwavering in a leader that might get rocked but doesn’t give up in difficult challenges.

What was Moses’ secret? Trait #3: he prayed. When I read about Moses’ discussions with God, “prayer” seems too formal a label. He spent hours in the tent talking face to face with God — to the point that his face collected and retained some of the radiance! He climbed a mountain and spent 40 days with God. When setbacks came, he dumped on God rather than the “stiffnecks” he had responsibility for.

I wish I had that kind of deep and conversational prayer life. It’s a great way to keep your head above water. But when I begin to idolize Moses, I recall that he still didn’t put all of his burdens on God. He cracked twice in very visible ways, and the second one was serious enough an error to prevent him from leading his people into Canaan.

I love the way our text says, “keep on praying.” It’s not a one-time thing, but a daily practice. It’s the only way to maintain perspective and to acknowledge that, as talented as we think we are and as many things as we think we can control, God alone is the one who is Sovereign. That realization is at the heart of a godly leader’s perseverance, confidence and identity.