Saturday, November 26, 2005

Leadership Lesson #3: The First Thing Every Leader Must Do

In the movie, Rocky, the title character's friend, Paulie, is baffled. Rocky seems to have fallen in love with Paulie's sister, the awkward and seemingly unattractive Adrian.

"I don't get it," the tactless Paulie says. He wonders what Rocky sees in his sister?

"Gaps," Rocky explains. "Gaps?" Paulie wonders. "Yeah. I got gaps. She's got gaps. Together, we fill gaps."

The first thing a leader must do is make a fearless inventory of her or his strengths and weaknesses. They must answer two fundamental questions: What am I good at? What am I not good at? They must also ask the question, To what must I give my greatest attention? Then they, must recruit people to do well those things that need doing which they can't do and those important things for which they don't have the time.

Other than Jesus Christ, Who had the advantage of being God and human, no person has ever been omnicompetent. And even if such a person existed, none of us has yet found a way to overcome the constraint of time on our activities: We each have just twenty-fours in our days and seven days in our weeks.

A leader unflinchingly acknowledges the gaps in their skills, experiences, and giftedness and the time they have to spend on things. Then, he or she finds people who can fill those gaps.

This is why there are so few true leaders in our world. Acknowledging one's gaps requires a rare combination of humility and security, a willingness to militate against the inborn human impulse we all have to try to "be like God."

I know of only one way for us to acquire this rare combination of traits: From the Savior Jesus Christ, Who Himself possessed them.

Persons who turn away from selfish living and toward Jesus Christ receive more than just the forgiveness that allows us to live with God forever. Christ also brings the presence of God into our lives, allowing us to be clear-eyed in our assessments of ourselves, enhancing our capacity to be of use to God and the world.

"For by the grace given to me [through Jesus Christ]," the first-century preacher Paul writes in the New Testament book of Romans, "I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." Paul goes on to compare the church, the organization whose life he's addressing here, to a body. All parts of the body are important, but each has its own function.

Real leaders know that. They realize that they're leaders not because they know it all or because they're better than anybody else. They understand that they neither can or should do it all for their organizations.

Often though, leaders allow their egos, or their insecurities, or their charisma to get in the way of organizational effectiveness. In his classic book, Good to Great, Jim Collins, points to the damage done to organizations by superstar CEOs--in the church, we might say, superstar pastors--who can't acknowledge their own gaps or ask others talented ways that they're not to fill them. The organizations of such megalomaniacs may seem to thrive for a time. But without a dynamic mutual filling of gaps, the organization inevitably dies.

Consider two presidents: Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

I love Jimmy Carter. He's brilliant, insightful, and multiply talented. His commitment to following of Jesus Christ is beyond question. But Jimmy Carter's presidency was never all that it could have been because he simply couldn't let go of anything. At one point in his term, he was personally handling the scheduling on the White House tennis courts.

Ronald Reagan, by contrast, was relatively disengaged from his presidency. He showed up in the office at 9:00 each day. He didn't know everything that was happening in his administration. (This probably hurt him in the Iran-Contra Affair.) But by and large, Reagan succeeded because he didn't try to do or be everything. He let others fill the gaps in his competence and interests.

[Next installment: The inefficiency every leader must embrace to succeed.]

[Previous installments in this series:
The First Thing Every True Leader Must Be
The Most Overrated Attribute of Leaders]


reader_iam said...

I am so enjoying your articles on leadership. I'm finding them to be like the proverbial "cool drink."

It's very crazy these days, and I have been feeling especially a little bit burnt out on the work I do at my church (you'd be surprised, perhaps). I like to come here because it encourages the part of me that rests in peace, rather than the part that jumps, too quickly, in reaction.

A blessed Sunday to you.

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to leave these comments. I'm glad that you're finding the series on leadership helpful. I'm enjoying writing them, too.

Perhaps this will surprise you, but I'm not surprised that you feel a bit burnt out lately. It happens to all of us! If this series provides a "cool drink," I'm very pleased.

God bless!