Leadership, by its nature, makes one prone to take hits.
Imagine how hard it is to be the U.S. president in these hyper-polarized politicized times: you’re guaranteed that half the population is going to dislike you. You’re bound to take some potshots.
No leader is immune.
But in the world of Kingdom leadership, self-awareness is critical. Healthy self-leadership will almost always be centered on motivations…and “self-unawareness” regarding motivations will set you up for failure.
I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Joseph in Genesis. You know the story—in a fit of jealousy, his brothers sell him to some traffickers and then concoct a story to tell their father about him being killed by a wild animal. Joseph’s story goes from bad to worse—phony assault charges, incarceration, abandonment—but through some crazy circumstances, he eventually becomes the COO of the entire Egyptian empire, managing the government through a seven year famine. It’s been over two decades since he’s seen his family. When they’re reunited, it’s a humiliating moment for his brothers who have come looking for help.
A few years later, their father dies. His brothers fear Joseph’s revenge for their cruelty years earlier and because of them, Joseph had missed a relationship with the father he deeply loved. There was no way to ever restore that lost time. This could be his opportunity to scold them, to punish them, to simply get even for the unrecoverable loss they caused him.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. GENESIS 50:19-21
I want to live and lead like that.
When I traveled as a musician many years ago, I got stiffed in the Christian music business for a couple thousand dollars. For my wife and I, that was like a gazillion dollars in those days because we lived on beans. I went through the “forgiveness routine” and thought I was done.
But sometimes, around others, when the subject turned to the music industry, I would laugh and make a sarcastic comment about how I had once gotten the shaft.
After years of doing that, God cornered me one day.
I was giving my ripped-off spiel when He spoke to my heart and said, “That’s not forgiveness. I don’t care how funny your story is and how anonymous you keep it; you still haven’t forgiven them.” And, of course, He was right. What’s worse, the people involved in my story hadn’t even meant actual evil against me; they were just consumed in other things, and I got stiffed.
Real forgiveness involved me never mentioning the story again…because trust in God assumed that He was ultimately in charge and my provider. No one else.
So how would I respond to people who meant real harm to me?
Leaders trod carefully here.
Your inner life and its motivations can derail your leadership. So in my case, mercy—like any virtue—begins with small wins. You don’t run a marathon overnight.
It starts with a jog around the block.