The Power of the Leadership Narrative


Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Ryan Lochte, and Omran Daqneesh all have something in common from the past couple of weeks. They all had a measure of influence on us. They all began, sustained, or were caught in a leadership narrative.

We live in a narrative culture. We crave story. We are drawn to the heroic, moved by the tragic, tantalized by the scandalous, teased by the comical, irked by the ridiculous . . . and frustrated and angered by the fraudulent. The protagonist and the plot draw us in. The hero and the villain help us to choose and pull for one side or the other. It has been proven that the stories we long for most are those that redeem or reinvent.

Hillary Clinton can’t escape “Email Gate” nor the stench of The Clinton Foundation. This week it is Colin Powell’s fault that she maintained that pesky server. The Donald can’t shake why he won’t reveal his tax returns . . . or why he donated to The Clinton Foundation.  Ryan Lochte’s inconvenient truth will cost him a bundle in lost endorsements and reputation. And little  Omran Daqneesh  just wants safety and stability. He longs for a place to play free from the danger that other leader’s reign down. He too is a leader—because this week he carries influence. His survival and ubiquitous presence on the cover of every news outlet tells a story. His narrative is the most truthful. His is one we can trust. His picture of influence stirs us with compassion and makes us angry. We want better for him . . . and we want those responsible for his plight to pay. Some leader told a story that began a conflict that wreaked havoc on a little boy’s life.

Leaders always tell a story. They should. We need leaders to guide, provide, and protect. We need leaders to instill hope and confidence. These efforts begin with vision. They begin with a good story . . . one we can believe in. Hillary, Donald, and Ryan all failed that task this past week.

What influence do you have? What kind of story are you telling? You may think your actions don’t matter . . . that your words don’t carry weight. Your leadership role is too nebulous, too mundane, too small. This week, focus on telling us a story that has one or all of these three traits:

Redemption: To buy back. To free from captivity.

We long for justice.

We need leaders who can bring redemption . . . who can lead others into redemptive acts and restore a sense of dignity.

What needs redeeming in your sphere of influence this week?

Who can you bring a measure of freedom to through your leadership?

How will you communicate it to those around you?

Reinvention: To make new. To make over.

We long for beauty and purpose.

Do you ever wonder why “make-over” shows are so popular?

We want to see the ugly and mundane become beautiful.

We want to see the discarded become purposeful again.

What needs to be reinvented in your sphere of influence this week?

Who can you make better this week . . . as a person or at their job?

How will you communicate it to those who can join with you?

Hope: The confident expectation of something better.

We long for righteousness.

No more untruths or half-truths.

No more blaming “right wing conspiracies” or something being “rigged.”


Who needs a healthy dose of hope around you this week?

Will you be the one to dispense it?

Ultimately we want noble . . . we want something greater than the mundane around us. We want truth. We long for beauty and righteousness. We want a better story.

Tell a better story of redemption, reinvention, and hope!

Tell a better story!

Followers deserve that.

The greatest story declares this: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us . . .

Are You a Leader Who Deals in Hope?


Justin Reid on Flickr

Leaders are merchants in hope!

I would suggest that we currently live in a society that is largely void of any real hope. When I lived in Italy it was common to hear Italians express low hope for change within their country or their personal situation. They would often comment that “the beautiful life” in Italy has vanished. The world is certainly a more connected environment than ever before. People are anxious over the world economic situation, over constant war and terrorism, over environmental issues, over issues of poverty and social justice. Anxiety seems to be overwhelming hope.

Hope, according to the dictionary, is to cherish a desire with anticipation–with the expectation of attainment.

Hope is always future oriented.

Hope looks into the future and longs for fulfillment.

Hope may be directed towards something very specific or towards a general desire for change.

The Bible has much to say about hope. The Bible offers hope for now because of a hope-filled certain future. Below are several biblical passages that speak to the notion of hope.

Psalm 42:11  God as the supreme object of our hope

Psalm 62:5-6  God as the source of our hope

Isaiah 40:28-30  Hope in an eternal God, One who created all that we see

Romans 5:1-5  Hope in seeing the glory of God because of His justification for us through Jesus Christ-Hope through godly character

Romans 12:9-12  Rejoice in hope

Romans 15:4  Hope through endurance and through knowledge of the Bible

Hebrews 6:18-20  Hold fast to the hope set before us

Hebrews 11:1  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for

1 John 3:1-3  Hope, as a child of God, in the certainty of becoming like Jesus

The seven most important words in the Bible, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  (found in Colossians 1:27, as often quoted by Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Cru)

Are you a hope merchant?

My Golden Retriever & The Nature of Loss

          This past Monday we had our family dog of nine and a half years put to sleep.  She was a Golden Retriever named Taffy.  My wife bought her on the side of a highway near Bastrop, Texas as a puppy-on a whim.  She quickly became a dominant thread in our family tapestry.  She tapped our pocketbook too much, she made us mad with her adolescent antics, and she stole our hearts.  She didn’t retrieve very well and she once ate most of a lasagna off of our countertop.  But she helped my seven year old daughter overcome her fear of dogs and she never veered from providing us with a rousing reception upon coming home-even if we just went to the mailbox.  She obeyed two commands-“Come” and “Sit.”  Looking back, she was our “sacred object” that got us to Italy and home again over the past five years.  In her, God provided an emotional constant to the stormy experiences of life and ministry in a foreign land.  But about six weeks ago we discovered she had cancer.  She went through a major operation just before Thanksgiving-there was just too much-it had spread too far.  We are grateful as a family that she made it this long and through the holidays.  We needed her and I think she needed us.  It has been a challenging time of transition to life back in the States.
          The pain of losing our dog has caught me off guard.  I have teared up at random times.  I have felt kind of lost and empty.  Why?  She was just a dog.  Maybe she represents the culmination of other losses.  Both of my parents passed away during our first year in Italy.  They died four months apart, also of cancer.  And I am only child.  I had only passing moments to truly process my loss back then. Fresh loss is forcing me to reconsider other losses.
          I have been reading Genesis in the Bible this month.  Genesis means “beginnings.” Chapters 1 & 2 describe God’s creative activity for the beginning of life as we know it.  The ultimate purpose for humankind is also established.  We are to reflect God’ s image and steward the rest of creation.  But in chapter 3 everything changes.  We move from being image bearers to becoming image builders-because of sin.  Fear, shame and hiding become regular drivers of human behavior. And death enters the world.  We were not meant to taste spiritual and physical death.  We were not meant to suffer loss.  But now we do.  It’s a devastating reversal of the created order.  And we especially mourn the death and loss of those who were close to us-those we loved.  Death and loss steal relationship and replaces it with seemingly unanswerable questions.  That’s why I miss my dog.  That’s why I miss my parents.  I have lost relationships that I treasured.
          Death and loss should also serve to make us wonder what is wrong with the universe.  These impostors should actually cause us to consider God because we are hard wired to sense that we were meant for more.  Genesis 3 also begins to reveal God’s rescue plan.  He is not only the Creator-He is the Redeemer.  The rest of the Bible unveils the magnificent storyline of God chasing after people to rescue them from sin and death and loss.  The end of the book reveals a re-creation that is a believer’s future certain hope.  In that future reality, death and loss are destroyed.  Relationship with our Creator is fully restored.  Do you understand?  Do you hope?
          I will feel the loss of my favorite dog for a longtime.  I will experience new losses. But I know the end of the story.  There is hope in One who died on my behalf.  And He says, “Come.”

Recalibrating Hope & Glory

Two weeks ago I took a three day retreat to get away and rest.  I try and do this on a regular basis-at least yearly.  I think this is useful for any of us, regardless of our role.  But I think this is especially important in the life of a leader.  Leaders live busy lives and are in constant danger of either believing their own press toward their successes or being completely overwhelmed by their problems.  For the leader leading in God’s kingdom there is always the problem of burnout-usually some combination of being under “relationshiped” and over taxed.  The subtle contributing causes and/or consequences are wrongly placed hope and misdirected glory.

In Psalm 3, David, the great King of Israel, is describing through song the flight of his life.  More disconcerting, he is fleeing from his son Absalom.  This takes us back to 2 Samuel 15 where we recount the narrative that drives this Psalm.  David has made his great error of having an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and directing the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah.  Even though David repents of his sin, the consequences of his selfish actions continue.  The kingdom is beginning to unravel and his son seeks to usurp the throne.  Absalom is certainly one of David’s favorite sons.  The glory of any king is the love of his family and the love and honor of the people of his kingdom.  David had tasted all that and more prior to committing his sin with Bathsheba.  Now he was running for his life and the disparaging comments of others.  At some point prior to chasing after Bathsheba, David had traded kingdoms.  He had decided to put more stock in his own estimation of life and pleasure and pursue his own glory over and above Yahweh’s.  But in verses 3-8 we see David recalibrating his hope and glory.  He declares God to be “my glory, and the lifter of my head.”  He cries out to God.  He rests.  The Lord sustains him, and his courage and vigor return.  He ends the Psalm by rightly declaring that it is Yahweh who is his salvation and that the people are Yahweh’s people.  David regains perspective.

That is what slowing down and retreating will do for you.  I find it takes a whole day just for the noise of everyday living and leading to go away.  Then in the next couple of days I can begin to see where I have misplaced my hope and tarnished His glory.  Finally, by His grace, I can recalibrate.  I can freshly surrender.  I can place my full hope back in Him.  I can reorient my life and leadership towards His glory over mine.  This takes time.  This takes solitude. This takes crying out to God for His presence.  This takes thoughtful reflection.  This takes the generous ministry of the Holy Spirit to saddle up beside you to prod, pull, nudge, tug, convict, renew, and restore.  The personal retreat in the life of a leader becomes a re-starting point-a recalibrating point-so that he or she can return to the battle with fresh energy and a renewed sense of the greatness of God.  Every leader who  leads in God’s kingdom needs periodic recalibration so he or she can lead with rightly placed hope and for God’s glory.

As you begin 2012 plan your personal retreat right now!

The Net Result of Socialism

The U.S. Congress has passed health care legislation.  Now what?  What are the ramifications and where are we headed as a democracy?  Let me say that I am not one that believes all was right with the U.S. health care system prior to this legislation.  There were certainly things to be fixed.  It will be some time before we truly know the impact of this legislation on our current health care system-but my actual concern lies elsewhere.  What kind of nation are we becoming?  The philosophy of government that has brought us to this point is much more troubling to me than the actual bill that was passed.  Is this a significant step towards socialism?  I am not sure-it feels that way-certainly many conservative pundits are telling us that this is huge move toward becoming a socialist country.

I currently live in Florence, Italy.  Italy is a socialist country through and through.  It is still a democracy-but a social democracy.  Italy has “universal health care.”  Italians receive most all of their health care “free of charge”.  Prescriptions are largely “free”.  Of course most Italians are taxed at a 40% tax rate-so the concept of “free” is somewhat of a myth.  But here is the kicker-unless you have a life threatening situation you enter the cue.  In other words it is not uncommon to have to wait anywhere from three to six months to see a physician or have a medical procedure done.  You get “in line” with all the other Italians who need health care and you wait.  The government determines your need and timing-not you.  This has become so problematic to Italians that a private health care system has grown up beside the social system.  Several months ago I needed to have a sports hernia surgery done-I was in pain.  It was not life threatening-but it was certainly uncomfortable and greatly limited my normal activity.  We found a surgeon and he told me that I could have the operation through the social system in about six months-or I could see him under the private system and have the surgery in a week.  Guess which option I chose.  Guess which option most Italians are choosing if they can afford to do so.  There is a thriving private health care industry along side the socialist one-because the social one is so inefficient and removes the decision making from the patient.  So sadly many Italians pay a 40% tax rate and still have to pay for medical procedures to get them done in a timely fashion.  By the way-contrary to Michael Moore, the situation is not different in most European nations.  I have friends in the UK and France and the end result is largely the same.

But here is my greater concern.  What is the net affect of socialism on a people?  These are only my observations and opinions.  And I must say that I have only lived in this country for four years.  But my ministry is to university students and I talk to them often.  And I talk to adults often too through many of my kids settings.  Here are the results I see from an over taxed, over regulated, socialist nation:

1. The middle class is rapidly disappearing. Sadly, in every society, no matter what form of government they have, there will always be the rich and the poor.  Scripture even declares that we will always have the poor with us.  There is no such thing as legislated fiscal equality.  But historically it has been the middle class that provides the ability, good will, and generosity to help the poor.  If you eliminate the middle class you are left with a feudal society with very clear haves and have nots.

2. Lawlessness and inefficiency greatly increase. Italy estimated last year that over 6 billion euros were lost in unpaid taxes.  Is that a surprise?  If you have a tax rate at 40% or above-anyone with money will try and find every means they can to circumvent the system-legal or illegal.  In this case most of the tax dodging is illegal-hiding money in Swiss accounts.  And the inefficiency is stifling at times.  Anything related to the government is usually a three plus trip encounter.  There simply is not reason or will to genuinely serve.

3. Hope is a fleeting attitude. Italians will quickly tell you that “the beautiful life” is gone in Italian society.  Students have very little hope of getting a job in their field or ever owning their own home.  Therefore there is a significant “brain drain” going on it Italy.  The best and brightest are fleeing to anywhere that provides them with better opportunity and a true chance to succeed on their own merit.

4. There is no impetus for change. There is a lot of complaining but very little impetus for change.  Status quo is the order of the day.  So while Italy is certainly not 3rd world-it is definitely old world.  I have rarely seen so many protests and strikes in one country-but at the end of the day most Italians will tell you it is simply a national sport-because nothing will really change.  When you take away creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit from a society you kill it’s will.  That is what I see on a regular basis here.

Again, these are just my observations and opinions.  Others certainly will feel differently.

In the midst of this I have to say that my hope is not in a government-at least I hope I can say that honestly.  God is still on His throne.  I do believe that the gospel shines brightest in darkness.  I do believe that the gospel is going to have great inroads in Italy because of the current fabric of society.  That may need to become more and more true in the U.S. as well.

Where is Our Hope

Tomorrow our country elects a new president. I know you know that. Everybody knows that–the whole world knows that. I am amazed how much Europe pays attention to our election. It has been one of the top two or three stories on daily news here for months. The overwhelming favorite here is Barak Obama. I have several Italian friends who think any American that is not for Obama is crazy. They absolutely hate Bush here and see McCain as more of the same. They actually are very knowledgeable concerning our presidential race and our electoral system. I think one of the reasons Italians are so interested in our election is because they are so hopeless about their own political situation. Politicians here make 8 to 9 times what the average Italian makes in wages. They are seen as totally privileged and out of touch. A fairly high percentage are corrupt–meaning they have been arrested but had the charges dropped or laws enacted that made whatever illegal activity they were charged with legal. Most Italians are highly suspicious of their government and believe that the government and the church are in cahoots. And they absolutely realize that whoever is in charge in Washington has an impact on the European world. In some way they are hoping that an Obama victory will change their lives for the better. Their hope is misplaced. Not because of Obama or McCain–but because hope in broken humanity will always disappoint.

How about ours–as Americans? Are we hoping in “change?” Are we hoping that someone will pull out a miracle for the economy? Are we hoping that someone will make all wars go away? What or who are we hoping in? I have read and heard Americans on both sides of the aisle plead that if their candidate does not win our country will be devastated. I don’t know what God is up to with this election and in this season of our country’s history. The next four years may be a wake up call–no matter who wins.

Here is what I do know–whatever hope we place in a president or government program is a misplaced hope. There is only One who is worthy of our hope. There is only Once who is perfect and worthy of all of our trust–tomorrow and every day after that.

Listen to the prophet Jeremiah….”Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things.”