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5 Provocative Leadership Points

You know the story: James and John come to Jesus and ask to be seated on his right and left when he comes into power. The other disciples catch wind of it and start to grumble among themselves (office politics). Jesus says to all of them that worldly kings and masters will rule with tyranny over their people, then he adds, “But among you it will be different.” (Mark 10:42-43 NLT – emphasis added).

This difference is the foundation of my book, Leadership RE:Vision. It isn’t about changing your goals or objectives. It’s about challenging the conventional wisdom and long-held premises of what it means to be a leader. It’s about looking at your leadership habits not as the world teaches, but from a new perspective and using a different set of standards to measure the success of your efforts.

I intend to rattle your assumptions and challenge the status quo, but these aren’t new ideas. In fact, the foundations for Leadership RE:Vision are as old as time itself. The Bible is packed with lessons on leadership. God filled the pages of his book with examples of leaders—good and bad. Somewhere along the line, our ideas of what it means to be an effective leader have been tweaked and disjointed into a style that is out-of-kilter with what I think God intended. So Leadership RE:Vision is my attempt to help you put on a new set of glasses and to see things from a whole new perspective.

Ignore the Scoundrels

A group of men whose hearts God had touched went with [Saul]. But there were some scoundrels who complained, “How can this man save us?” And they scorned him and refused to bring him gifts. But Saul ignored them.

1 Samuel 10:26-27 NLT

One of my favorite leadership stories from the Bible happened when Saul was the newly appointed first king of Israel. Saul had a mission to accomplish—God’s mission. He was the person chosen to lead God’s people. The people of Israel had never been at this place. The status quo was changing. God didn’t choose Saul to manage the people; he chose Saul to lead them.

Saul had a group of men around him who were dialed into the mission. They weren’t so much supporting Saul himself as they were supporting the mission he represented. These advisors certainly didn’t agree with everything Saul suggested; counselors are worthless if they’re merely “yes-men.” God had touched their hearts, and they provided Saul with valuable input as he began his reign. They understood what Saul was trying to do, and they gave him advice.

But there was a group of people who just wanted to get in the way. These naysayers didn’t have a different idea about how or why to move forward; their purpose—if indeed they even had a purpose—was to stop progress dead in its tracks.

If you’ve spent any time in a leadership role, you know about such people. You may even be thinking of some of them right now. Conventional wisdom suggests that effective leadership requires an open-door policy in which all complaints are heard and considered. But I don’t see this described in Scripture. The apostle Paul says that people who are causing divisions aren’t worth a third hearing (see Titus 3:10), and when it comes to people who have ulterior motives, he accuses the Corinthian believers of finding pleasure in “putting up with fools” (see 2 Corinthians 11:19-20).

What does Saul do when these men get in the way? He ignores them. One Bible translation says he “turned a deaf ear” to them.

God is above time; he created it and has an endless supply of it. Yet even God won’t waste time on those who refuse to get with the program. Scripture is full of examples where, in one way or another, God says that enough is enough.

If the one who has an endless supply of time draws a line in the sand, why are you allowing those people whose names you thought of a few moments ago to derail the mission you have to accomplish with your limited amount of time? The next time you are facing a situation where these folks will have an opportunity to disrupt a meeting with their predictable behavior, take them aside beforehand and let them know that you will no longer tolerate their attempts to derail forward progress.

Get More Help, or Do Less Stuff

[Jesus said,] The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.

Luke 10:2 NLT

It’s clear that Jesus understood the futility of having too few people assigned to an important job. The size of the task exceeded the limits of the available workforce, and Jesus told his followers to pray for more helpers to join them along the way. The additional bodies were not going to come by chance; the Lord of the harvest would provide them.

We don’t see Jesus urging his followers to “work smart,” nor do we see him sending them to class so they can learn to use a Day-Timer. The world’s most effective leader very distinctly encouraged his followers to beg for more help. I have a hard time imagining he would suggest such a thing were he not certain their prayers would be answered and that more people would be added to the effort.

Your role as a leader includes the responsibility of providing for and protecting the people God has called you to lead. If there is more work for them to do than they can adequately handle, you need to either provide more help or eliminate some tasks. Accomplishing goals at the expense of your employees’ and volunteers’ lives and health is not an example of godly leadership, no matter how admirable your goals might be. And asking them to make bricks when they have no straw or to choose between one or more masters might resonate with conventional wisdom, but I can’t imagine it rings true from God’s perspective.

Perhaps it’s time to think about praying to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest and asking him to send you more workers or fewer fields to manage.

Tell Them What YOU Like

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5:10 NLT

From the earliest pages of his Book, God reminds us that he wants his people to please him. We’re only in Genesis 4 when we read that Cain and Abel both offered sacrifices and that “the Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift.” (v. 5) God was more pleased with Abel’s gift than with Cain’s.

God doesn’t hide what pleases him behind a cloak of mystery, and as a Christian leader, neither should you. Perhaps it’s an over-the-top attempt at humility that causes Christian leaders to camouflage their own preferences. Far too many leaders force the people who report to them to play Twenty Questions when they’re trying to carefully determine what pleases the boss.

By definition, leaders are those whom others follow. It is difficult to follow someone if all you know is where they don’t want to go. Imagine being a taxi driver and having your passengers tell you only where they don’t want to go!

Do the people you have been charged with leading know what pleases you, or do they have a better idea of what you don’t like? Which would be easier for your staff to list: your five most favorite things, or your five least favorite things? Which are you quicker to point out: the things that went wrong in a project, or the things that went right?

Nothing about being a servant-leader precludes you from voicing your preference and opinion related to the way you want things done. The term is not servant-follower. No one leads by standing on the sidelines and watching the parade go by. If you are called to be a leader, you serve by leading, and you lead by clearly stating where you believe the organization should be going. To be a true servant-leader, you need to step up and tell people what they can do to please you.

Do Something Different

[The Lord says,] “Forget all that [I’ve done before]—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. . . . Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland so my chosen people can be refreshed.

Isaiah 43:18-20 NLT

History is valuable only when it is used as a guideline for formulating today’s questions in search of answers for tomorrow’s situations. The past becomes dead-weight when previous solutions are applied solely on the merits of their earlier success. What worked yesterday will work tomorrow only if the situations are identical—and they almost never are.

In this passage, God is on the verge of bringing his people out of exile, and he encourages them to look forward to where they are going rather than back at where they’ve been. Perhaps this is God’s way of telling them they should never be satisfied with the status quo. His motive may be to attack their complacency by bringing about their deliverance in a completely different manner. No one knows the mind of God, but it’s enough to focus on the fact that the God of all creation chose to do something new (one translation calls it “a brand-new thing”). Brand-new things are about the future, about moving forward, about ignoring what worked in the past and looking for something that will work even better later.

As a leader, you should always be looking for new ways to do things, even if everything is going well. When employees or Board members ask why we need to change, turn the tables. Just smile and say, “Why do we need to keep doing it the same way?” Learn to ignore what you learned yesterday and ask good questions:

What is the latest we’ve heard from the field?

What are we doing that no longer makes sense?

Are we in a rut? If so, where?

If you need a perfect example of someone who ignored the answers of the past and asked good questions, look at Jesus. As you spend time with Jesus in the Gospels, you’ll see a leader who challenged the status quo at every turn and asked some of the best questions you’ll ever hear.

Play Chess, Not Checkers

[Naomi] cared for him as if he were her own. The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.

Ruth 4:16-17 NLT

Ruth was married to one of Naomi’s sons. When he died, Naomi told Ruth she was free to go and live with her own family. But Ruth refused and chose to stay with her mother-in-law. Through circumstances that played out over many years, Ruth met a family member of Naomi who was looking for a wife. Ruth married Boaz, and they had a son who became the grandfather of David. Jesus was born from the line of David.

Everywhere you look in Scripture, you see evidence of God’s long-range planning. These stories help us understand God’s unchanging faithfulness, but they also paint clear images of a mind-set that considers the long-term consequences of everything. The leadership lesson in stories such as Ruth and Esther is that, in the big scheme of life, everything matters.

Most of Scripture’s great leaders understood the value of allowing time to pass while their plans came to fruition. There are also examples of those who rushed ahead and looked for expedient solutions, and nearly all of those stories end in tragedy or trouble. When I review examples of successful leaders in the Bible, they look a lot more like chess masters than checkers players. If your problem-solving resembles a checkers-player running the board, stop and consider God’s promise that he “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28).

In God’s perspective, everything is connected to everything. There is a time and place for everything. Rushing to a conclusion doesn’t ever seem to be God’s style. Quick-fixes and short-term solutions run counter to the examples we find in Scripture, even when motives seem to be correct.

Many leaders struggle with this. They’ve been conditioned over time to make quick decisions. Managers are often evaluated on their ability to solve problems on the fly. But even in the most urgent scenarios requiring immediate action—such as an emergencies—the leaders who will most successfully navigate through them are those who consider not only the short-term need but also the long-term consequences of their decisions.

And here’s the best news: You don’t even need to know all the answers. Leading up to the well-known “everything works together for good” passage, Paul assures us that “the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will” (Romans 8:27). There’s no reason to carry the burden of decision-making all by yourself. So relax, take your time, and enjoy the game.

Leadership Revised

We serve the God who never changes; age to age, he’s the same, our help in ages past and hope for years to come. But he is also a God of new ideas and new mercies. Scripture is heavy with examples where the never-changing God of the universe breaks his own rules. Large bodies of water don’t usually part so people can walk through them. Hailstones are not typically used as weapons of war. Hungry lions eat people, and flames burn them. Virgins do not conceive, and death is final. In these and every other instance of new ideas in the Bible, God uses the change to bring about something better. When God is involved, change is always a good thing.

There is a lot of change going on these days. New rules are written even before the ink of the last set of rules has had time to dry. People are looking for leaders who are not invested heavily in the past but rather have the courage to lead differently.

Your flock is hungry for new fields to graze. Changing your perspective on leadership might help you take them there.   

by Jim Seybert
Jim Seybert has worked with all types of leaders, helping them think differently about what they do. He is a popular choice as keynote speaker for church leadership and men’s retreats, and his secular clients include entertainment and publishing giants, health-care providers, retailers, nonprofits and real-estate developers. In his free time, he’s a prolific blogger who likes to take deep breaths along the High Sierra trails in Yosemite National Park.
Originally published on SermonCentral.com. Used by permission.