Confessions of a reluctant leader

I took my first leadership assignment kicking and screaming.  For my first several years in the US Army I became highly specialized at reconnaissance, surveillance, and small unit tactics. However, I didn’t really look forward to the challenge of leading other Army Rangers.  I kind of liked being responsible only for myself. I didn’t want the added burden of being responsible for other warriors.

Here is a brief confession of my reluctance to lead:

It looked like a lot of hard work

Leadership is hard work. I could sense this before I even stepped into the role of a leadership position.  A leader turns on the work lights in the morning or turns the lights off at night (A lot of times the leader does both). Basically, leaders are going to put in a lot more hours and work a lot harder than those they lead. This comes with the territory. It’s part of the rules of the game.

When examining whether or not I wanted to take on my first leadership position, I wrestled with the concept that leadership would require me to spend a lot more time and put a lot more energy into my workday going forward.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to make that kind of commitment. You don’t understand leadership if you don’t recognize that it’s going to require more from the leader than from those who are being led. Any person who thinks being a leader is just the equivalent of telling other people what to do is a moron. Leadership is a lot of hard work!

It forced me to start thinking about someone else

A second reason why I was reluctant to take on my first leadership position is because by definition a leader must think about others.  You can’t call yourself a leader if you only think about yourself. In fact, I don’t believe you can call yourself a good leader if put yourself before those you are leading.

Great leadership requires putting the needs of others ahead of your own needs. It requires you to be motivated to make the life of those you lead better… Not just making your own life better.

I wanted something for others more than I wanted something for myself

A big question I had to wrestle with is my motivation for leading.  I spent deliberate time thinking about whether I was taking a leadership role for myself or for those who I was being asked to lead.  The longer that I lead, the more obvious it becomes to me – every leader must wrestle with this question – why do you lead?

Some people lead out of selfish desire for attention. Others lead because they have a strong desire for power. There are a number of reasons why people lead. Some of those reasons are very noble. I’ve met many who have a strong sense of injustice. They are willing to take on the additional pressure of leadership because they want something great for those they lead.  But then, if we can be honest, many people lead for very selfish reasons. They’re only in it for the big paycheck, corner office, or perks package.  Anyone that pursues leadership because they want more for themselves is a dangerous leader.

I had something to give

Ultimately, it was the love of Jesus that compelled me to take my first leadership responsibility. What finally settled this issue in my mind is I decided I had something that I could give to the leadership challenge that I was being offered.

As a student of leadership, as someone who teaches leadership at the PhD level, I am still convinced it all boils down to one question- who is the primary motivation behind your decision to lead? Are you leading others for what they can give to you, or are you doing this for what you can get from them.  In other words, are you leading for what you can give or what you can get?  Based on the answer to this question, all leaders can be placed in one of two categories- selfish leaders or selfless leaders.

Leading like Jesus

These three traits are also true of leaders in Jesus’s church. First, church leaders should be motivated by Jesus more than self.  They should have a passion for God’s glory, not their own good (John 17:22).   Second, godly leaders care about the people that they lead. They want to make a positive influence on those for whom they’ve been given responsibility.  Jesus the ultimate example of selfless leadership (Mark 10:45).  Anyone who would lead like Jesus must be motivated by the same leadership philosophy.  Finally, they are compelled to lead by the love of Jesus (1 John 4:7-8).  They are willing to take on leadership responsibility because they want to bless others with it. In other words, Godly leaders are motived by God’s glory and the good of others.  Godly leaders don’t take advantage of their leadership privileges.  God, please create more leaders like this!

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