Random Thoughts On Leadership

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death. (Ex. 16:3-4).

This wasn’t the first time the Israelites complained — nor would this be their last– in their journey through the wilderness.
What strikes me is how they recall their past. In Egypt, at least we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted. True. But they completely negate to mention that they were slaves in Egypt.

I am learning when we are confronted with the unknown and uncertainty of the future — we tend to cling onto –not even the present — but the past. Even if the past had you in shackles and longing for freedom. At least you knew the enemy you were fighting. That may be more comforting than the excitement of what may come — especially if what may come isn’t coming fast enough.

So, how do you lead people through the fears of the unknown and the desire to cling onto what was? How do you keep the people you’re leading focused on the vision and the countless possibilities of the things that-can-be and not focused on the things that were?
How do you keep the people fixed on Jesus beckoning them to come towards him on the water and not have them fixate on the storm and waves all around them?

Sheer force of will is one way. As football coaches have preached, “IMPOSE YOUR WILL ON THEM!”, tell the people, “It’s my way or the high way.”
And yea. It’ll work. It’ll bring results. But that’s a short-term fix. You’ll be like Paul, who was a church-planter but never a pastor.
You’ll burn through people who want to help. Those teammates of yours will get burned out; will get resentful; but will continue to stick with you until you are no longer “winning.”
Many of Michael Jordan’s teammates despised him. Some physically threatened MJ. MJ clocked Steve Kerr in his face during practice. But, because MJ kept winning, his personality was easier to swallow. But never doubt — MJ lead through fear and intimidation. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it ruined people’s confidences and ultimately their career (Kwame Brown, anyone?).

You could be the consummate cheerleader telling everyone everything’s okay.
“You’re doing a swell job!” “Keep doing what you’re doing!”
But doing what they’ve been doing is what got them here. In order to get out; in order for a brighter future, you can’t keep doing what you’re doing.

Or you can take a page out of the Exodus story and just wait for the current generation to die before heading to the promised land.
But you’ll have another generation on hand that was so accustomed to the wilderness, when they’re confronted with civilization and the great things that that civilization can bring, all they can see is structure; form; laws; and will long for the days where they were free to roam the land.

I truly believe in balance — in the ying and yang of things. And it goes far beyond me being Asian. It’s one of the things that draws me towards the Wesleyan theology (particularly the Wesleyan Quadrilateral).
There are times where you need to “impose your will.” (Quick side note, I never understood what that meant. Why not just just tell me to hit someone hard and knock ’em down?)
But too much of that, you’ll have no one left to bruise.
There are moments when you need to be that cheerleader. To raise morale. To let people know we’re moving and making progress. Too much of that, then you move nowhere; you become static. Why move forward when everything we’re doing right now is hunky-dory?

I guess a key to good leadership is knowing when to be Paul and when to be Barnabas.
I guess another key is to continue pounding the vision of the future into the minds and hearts of the people. As Andy Stanley preached, “Vision leaks.”
The Israelites kept forgetting the miraculous ways God provided for them (uh… parting of the Red Sea?) and the promise of the promised land where milk and honey flowed was quickly (and often) forgotten. Because vision leaks. Sometimes, even the leaders forget the vision — as Aaron so painfully demonstrated when he helped mold the golden calf (then completely lied about it. It wasn’t me! I just threw the gold in there and voilà! Out comes this calf!)

Also, we have to remember we can’t please everyone. And we’re not there to please everyone. That’s not our purpose. Someone will always be upset with you. It may cause people to leave. Some people that leave will have you sighing “good riddance” in relief and secretly joyful over their leaving while publicly mourning. Other folks leaving will require a lot of time to process and to get over.

I guess another important key to good leadership is that leaders must be willing to be led. Which also means that a leader should always be willing to learn.
Someone said that a key to good leadership is to make sure you’re never the smartest person in the room to which I replied, “I’m already good at that! I’m rarely the smartest person in any room.”
“That’s a good one,” he responded.
… only I wasn’t making a joke.
But once you think you know it all, that is a quick and one-way path to downfall.
And besides, no one (not nary a soul) likes a know-it-all, regardless of what your mother may have told you.

Oh. And we should celebrate “wins.” Acknowledge our progress. Celebrate those who’ve set the path and celebrate those who are walking on it and celebrate those who will take over.

Anyway, to all those who have the task of leading, I share with you a quote from “A Bug’s Life”: *First rule of leadership: everything is your fault.*
Blessings to you as God continues to use you to lead God’s people.

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