My first introduction to leadership, what it is, what it isn't, and how it affects people and situations around the world came through several books I read by John Maxwell. I have read many other authors since then, but a couple of my favorites by John Maxwell are "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" and "Becoming a Person of Influence." Both are worth a read by anyone in any walk of life, not just current or aspiring leaders. I greatly appreciated his well researched insights into the world of leaders and leadership, and his own experiences and knowledge bridged a large gap in my life about my own expectations of good leaders, and enabled me to spot the bad ones even easier.
Still, being a "big name" leader is not something everyone is cut out to be. In truth, there are many people who simply desire good leadership in their lives. They have talents and abilities they want to put to good use, but they also want to know there is a good and noble purpose behind the motivations of the person in front leading the way. In short, whether we realize it or not, when people seek to contribute of themselves to a cause, they are really contributing to a purpose, a leader if you will, and there are expectations of the leader that must be met.
Working two jobs now, that idea really came to the fore in my second job. By day, I pretty much interact with professional people. They may rank high or low in the scales of society, but by and large they are business people with a very clear vision and focus of how personal interactions can affect profit and loss, and they are always keenly aware of the value of each dollar they spend. Whether their business is big or small, the people I usually deal with are usually very cautious about making any kind of decision, and their actions and decisions usually unfold over time. It is rare that even a very good decision is made in a moment.
However, in my other job, I deal consistently with entry level employees who are still cutting their teeth in working for a living. Over half the people I work with are under 25 years old, and at least two or three are still in high school. They are full of energy and usually a blur of motion going from one task to the next, but with that speed of action there is a cost in the process of thought, and sometimes relationships pay a price. To be thrown into this mix from my day job can be quite disorienting on a mental level, and finding myself under the charge of someone who loses their cool when things go haywire is not something I was expecting to handle.
That is when a truth of leadership struck me that I have only read about before, but only now had a chance to actually experience. The positional leader in a situation is not necessarily the real leader. Keep in mind, we all have expectations of our leaders, and when a leader fails to meet our expectations, the opportunity for the real leader to step forward arises. During a moment of momentary crisis, the positional leader in the room lost his cool. His temper showed, words were exchanged, frustrations were physically evident, and tension filled the room to the brink of explosion. It was at that very moment that a very firm, very calm voice took over the room. The voice was not loud, but it immediately commanded respect, and within seconds order was restored, decisive action was taken, the tension died, and the crisis was averted.
Later, the particulars of the situation were worked out between individuals, and new ways of handling things were set in order to be sure such a crisis never happened again. Through it all, I learned who the real leader was in that moment. The leader was not the "person in charge" everyone took orders from, the leader was the one who fulfilled the expectations of leadership by everyone in the room. Wherever you happen to be in life, whether you are "in charge" or not is not what matters. Just think for a moment what expectations you have of people in leadership positions over you. Are they meeting them? If not, chances are, you don't really see them as much of a leader. Who is meeting your expectations of leadership in the different areas of your life; at church, at work, at home? As a man, are you meeting the expectations of those you seek to lead?
Ever get up to leave a room to go get something only to get where you know you were going and forget what it was you went in there for? Mildly frustrating would be one way I would describe it. I'm standing there in the room. I know I'm here to get something, and yet it is as though whatever it was I went there to get is now playing a game of hide and seek with me, laughing uncontrollably from behind some object in the room.
Forgetting can be a good and a bad thing. On the good side, it is good if we can forget how someone wronged us, or forget some small debt that we just chalk up to charity. On the bad side, well, let's just say some people seem to have memories that never go away and are all too eager to remind others about events of the past.
There is another type of forgetfulness though that goes on every second of every day, and it happens to each and every one of us whether we realize it or not. It is when we forget to be thankful.
This last couple of weeks now, I have been fighting an illness that literally left me on my back some few days pleading for the return of Christ just so I could finally get a new body. I'm not going to go into all the details, but let's just say it was really bad. Thing is, I'm constantly thanking God for my family, for my health, and for the things God has provided. However, I never really realized just exactly what I was thanking God for until it was gone.
I slept off most of the sickness, but in my moments of wakefulness feeling weak and exhausted, it occurred to me again and again that it was not necessarily the presence of health I had been really thanking God for, it was the absence of all THIS - the sickness. Now, with my health gone, it became the most important thing I wanted at that moment. All my other plans that week that I had lined out to be accomplished just didn't seem to compare to my desire just to feel well again.
As the week progressed, the news each night hit me a little bit differently than before. News is usually bad anyway, but now I was watching it with a different perspective. Where being sick made me realize that what I had been thanking God for was not so much health but the absence of sickness, I saw images on the news that made me realize a few other things. You see, in thanking God for my health each day, at some point I had actually forgotten what it felt like to be really sick - until my health was suddenly gone from me. So, instead of thanking God for my home, my job, my family, and "all the wonderful things He has given me", I'm going to try something a little bit different.
I am thankful that my home is not a pile of rubble destroyed by a hurricane a couple months just before Christmas. I am thankful that I do not have to sit in the dark and cold, and that my home is not missing heat or electricity. I am thankful that I am not burying a child or other loved one who died because of a storm. I am thankful I do not have to stand in long lines to pay for food or gasoline - at any price. I am thankful I do not have to run and hide in a shelter when air raid sirens scream warnings that missiles are in the air heading towards my town. I am thankful I am not one of over 18,000 people who cannot go to work because my company has closed.
In short, I am also thankful for getting sick these past weeks, and for the perspective it helped me realize: it is not good enough just to be thankful for what you have. That is easy. However, if you really want to experience the kind of gratitude that comes with a new perspective, imagine life without those things. Imagine your life in the news today.
This past week I kicked off my last thirty-something birthday, and I am now living out the 40th year of my life on my way to the big 4-0. You see, I was reminded by a friend that I have completed 39 years so I’m actually living my 40th year, and although this is technically true, I’m still going with 39 if anyone asks about my age. Call me sentimental, but I think this is a very good tradition, and one I have no intention of fighting. I’m even thinking of staying 39 a little bit longer. You know, as in being 39 for another 20 years or so. I know at least one person who has been able to pull it off successfully. Eh. Ok. Maybe not.
These past few days, echoes from my past have come to visit me; advice I was given, things I said about “old people.” Some of these things are somewhat comforting, and others not so much.
“Whatever you’re doing when you’re 40 you’ll likely be doing the rest of your life.” Looking around the day it was told to me, it caused me to look forward on the timeline. What would I be doing when I was 40? Would I really want to be doing whatever that happened to be for the rest of my life? Ah, worry about that one later. I’ve plenty of time. Today: (gulp)
“Never write a book until you’re 40. Whatever you would write before then will seem immature to your experienced 40-year-old self, and you’d wish you could go back and change it with your mature perspective on life.” This advice was given by a published writer. I thought it was good advice at the time, but when I told it to someone else they said, “Hogwash. Just write. You can go back and change anything anytime you want when you get older.” I guess the thought that a reputation for bad writing because you were too immature never occurred to this guy, and come to think of it, he was never published and I don’t see any of his writings anywhere. At all.
“Before 40 you will be productive, but even babies are very productive yet we don’t really congratulate them for it. We tend to throw most of it away with our noses cringed. The years between 40 and 60 will be the most effective of your life. It’s far better to be effective than just merely very productive.” That baby analogy really hit home when I had kids. Children are, at the very least, VERY productive on any scale and on a number of different levels. They can be so very productive at the most inappropriate moments. At least mine have been, and the truth is, I know a lot of young people and twentysomethings that would also fit the description of “very productive, but not so very effective”. I wonder why that is exactly, and then I wonder why all the 40 year old effective-productive people don’t get a medal for it. I mean, come on. Someone should start a business giving medals to anyone who hits the big 4-0. I’ll be ready to pick up mine sometime around this time next year. Keep me posted.
“When you hit 40 you lose your eyesight. One day you can read labels and fine print perfectly fine, and the next day you’re reading everything holding it at a distance.” I must admit, this is another one that I never really understood. How can holding something farther away make it easier to read, especially if it is fine print? Well, low and behold, I know exactly how that works now. I’m not even actually 40 yet, and I’m wondering who flipped my switch a little early on this one, but it’s true. I suddenly noticed just the other day that the date on a penny is far easier to read when I hold it farther away, and that’s when the echo came to me. That was one I really didn’t see coming.
So, here I am, 39 years gone by and technically on my 40th year. Someone flipped my switch on the eyesight thing a little early, but that’s ok. I’ve still not actually written a book yet, but there is one in the works, and I guess it is something I can look forward to doing over the next decade or so. I still don’t know about the whole “career” thing as I don’t know if I actually have what most would consider a career, so the jury is still out on that one. I’m hoping I get a double dose of whatever it is that kicks in on the effective-productive angle, and that’s another one I won’t mind taking a little early either. As for the medal, just hold on to it for me. I’m not quite ready to put “one foot in the grave” just yet, nor am I ready to roll “over the hill” right at the moment.
That day will come, but until then, I’m going to enjoy staying thirtysomething “ahhhhhhhh, just a little bit longer.” (cue the music)
I have a feeling that most people, if asked if they were generous or not, would probably give a middle of the road answer. I believe only a very few people would willingly describe themselves as being miserly. I also believe that few people would want to ascribe to themselves the title of "Most Generous Person." Still, there is a tendency there, on a personal level, to think more of ourselves than is actually true.
To be truly generous is defined as giving without thought of anything in return. Keep that in mind, because there are people in this world who make a living based on the generosity of others. Maybe there are people who have even depended on your personal ability to be generous or not. Truth is, when a waiter at a restaurant services your table, many of us want to tip based on the ticket amount, or how well we are served. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those methods, but if that is what you base your tip on, then you are not being generous. Why? See the definition again and ask yourself this question, "Am I tipping based on something I am getting?" If you answer "yes" then you are not giving without expectation, and you have not been generous with your money.
However, the opposite can be said of the waiter, or even a pizza delivery driver. These people serve without any real expectation of anything in return. Of course, they certainly hope that good or timely service will make someone more willing to tip more, but their service is not predicated on whether or not you tip well, or at all. Their level of service will be the same for you as with any other customer. For this service, they are paid lower than the minimum wage per hour because the owner of the pizza place or the manager of the restaurant knows they will make money in tips. Their ability to make a living then, is dependent upon people who may or may not be generous in giving a tip.
You see, very recently I've been in the position of seeing the working side of someone who has to work for tips to make a living. This person has a family, two kids, one car, and cannot make enough at his regular job so now he works two. One of those jobs is delivering pizzas. In talking with him one night about how things went, he described the nights and the people he meets like a roller coaster ride. "It has it's ups and downs. Sometimes people can be very rude and give you nothing, but other times people can be very generous. I guess it all really matters what mood they're in when you get there." I asked him about the "delivery fee" pizza places add on to orders, and he shared with me that the store collects a high percentage of that fee, for what he didn't know, but out of any delivery fee he only made a little more than 50% and that wasn't enough to pay for the gas and wear and tear on his car.
I then asked him why he continued to do it. He replied, "I don't have a choice. In the end, I just depend on the generosity of others." We talked some more, but it really had me thinking about all the tips I'd ever left in my life. Turns out, I don't think I'm as generous of a person as I like to think I am. Often times I've based tips on the level of service I received, and again, I would not be critical of anyone who did that, but it is worth noting that doing so does not make you generous.
To be truly generous, you have to give with no thought of reward or return of any kind. With that definition in mind, how generous are you really not just with tips to delivery drivers or those who serve you at restaurants, but how generous are you with your time to other people who have nothing to give back to you in return? How generous are you with the talent or talents God has given you? How generous are you with your kids, your wife, your extended family? How generous are you really?
At various times in life people seem to get around to questions like, "Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why did God create me?" These are great questions, and in exploring them people have found purpose and fulfillment in life. The problem is, I don't think it happens to enough people, and truth be told, I'm not really all that sure very many people ever get there. The reasons we do not get there can be varied, but on the whole I think there is one in particular that will ring true for more than most.
I've been on a spiritual walkabout this past year. I had felt the Lord pulling on my heart for quite some time when finally I resigned my position at my home church in March, and after finishing out the year for transitional reasons, I left my home church in December 2011. I thought I would immediately begin the task at hand that I had felt the Lord put on my heart, but something happened. It was as though I had been running full steam as fast as I could in one direction, and then suddenly the power went out in my life. It reminded me of a time in school when a lot of the kids in class were being too noisy and the teacher could not get their attention. Instead of getting loud, she walked over and turned off the lights in the classroom. The class obliged her by immediately going silent and looking around.
That's how I felt spiritually, too. There was all this noise and commotion in my spiritual life. I was all about getting things done, moving to the next task, and working feverishly to finish to begin the next. The leap had been made out of my home church to begin something new once again, and in all the noise that was going on in my spiritual life, God turned out the lights. I stopped everything I was doing, and everything went silent. Then, in the deafening silence, came the questions, and to help me answer them came The Accuser.
The Accuser pointed to everything I had ever done bad in my life. Every sin, every improper thought, and every selfish motivation was brought front and center to my attention. Than came the last questions "How could God ever use someone like you? After what you have done, how could you ever even think God would ever use you?"
I must admit, I was thrown. For so long I had been going through the motions of what I thought a Christian should do, it never occurred to me that maybe I was not qualified for doing these things in the eyes of my God. Shame filled my heart, and I began to search deeper into the depths of my soul for answers, for something in me knew that The Accuser had only painted an incomplete picture of my life.
Months passed as I wandered in what felt to me like a spiritual desert. My family and I visited church after church, but to be honest, in nearly every one of them I merely saw mirror images of myself. Hollow people without purpose, saved by grace and on the way to heaven, but only present in church to fulfill some internal obligation or pressure of guilt. Some wore masks of smiles and expressed joy with words and expressions, but I found very few with the internal joy and peace that radiates from them and fills a room.
As I visited churches, I was not sure where all this was going. I was so sure of what God's plan was for my life at one time. I had all the right plans and all the right intentions, but now I stood wondering why the lights went out. As time passed, even The Accuser had fallen silent. Months went by, and then at a moment when I felt I was most alone in my spiritual wilderness, God began to speak once again to my heart. This time, in complete silence, I was able to really listen.
I was reminded that I am God's son. As God's son I am here because God desires a relationship with me. My purpose in life is to simply be God's son, and enjoy that relationship with Him. In the end, He created me to be myself, and no one else. If I would simply do that, then I would accomplish God's purpose for my life. God then took me back to the picture of my life painted incomplete by The Accuser. I did not want to go there. I resisted. I tried to look away, but when I walked upon that picture, I realized God had finished the incomplete painting of my life. From corner to corner and top to bottom it was covered solid in red, for the blood of Christ had covered it all.
As I looked upon my life God spoke. "Where is your Accuser now?" There was silence. I now see that my life had always been one of Christian busy-ness, and one that almost always neglected my relationship with God. It turns out, this also is the answer for the problems people face in life. Trying to do what is right is not the answer to what is wrong. Getting back in a relationship with God should be our first priority. When that happens to an individual, personal revival is the result. When it happens to a congregation, church revival is the result. When it happens to a nation, a great awakening will occur.