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The Leader’s Pitfalls: What Disqualifies Leaders? (Part 1)

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Henry and Rochard Blackaby have been outstanding spokesmen for leadership and the Chrisitan faith for many years. Many have benefitted from Henry’s work on Experiencing God. That was a foundational workbook for my wife and I when we were “young” seminarians.

I have had the privilege of meeting and working with Richard Blackaby while I served with Cru in Western Europe. He addressed one of our emerging leader forums for Western European leaders during an intensive in Latvia. He is a humble servant leader who taught our participants well.

Several years ago they combined their efforts to write Spiritual Leadership, a landmark work for God’s servants. They revised and expanded this volume in 2011–and it is as relevant today as ever.

One chapter that a friend and colleague brought to my attention again was a chapter on “The Leader’s Pitfalls.” I will review all 10 pitfalls–in this post, we will cover the first five, with some brief commentary. My hope is that this will entice you to read this book for the first time–or again. I also prayerfully hope that this keeps you from one of the ten in your leadership life.

The Pitfall of Pride

“Pride may well be leaders’ worst enemy, and it has caused the downfall of many.”

Pride makes leaders unteachable.

“No matter how talented or how smart a leader may be, an unteachable spirit is the path to certain failure.”

Pride causes leaders to think they are self-sufficient. 

“Pride targets successful leaders, convincing them they have enough talent, wisdom, and charisma, to achieve whatever they set their minds to do.”

Pride leads to a loss of compassion.

“When leaders lose the passion to contribute to their organization and begin to focus instead on what they can receive from it, they are no longer authentic leaders.”

Pride makes leaders vulnerable.

“Pride is a sin, and pride will do what sin does. It destroys.”

The Pitfall of Sexual Sin

“If pride is the most insidious pitfall of leaders, sexual sin is the most notorious.”

Safeguard #1: Leaders make themselves accountable.

“Prudent leaders are proactive; they enlist at least two people as accountability partners and give them freedom to regularly question their moral purity.”

Safeguard #2: Leaders heed their own counsel.

“Spiritual leaders must understand that they are no more immune to moral failure than those they are leading.”

Safeguard #3: Leaders consider the consequences.

“Astute leaders cultivate the habit of regularly pondering the devastating effects of sexual sin.”

Safeguard #4: Leaders develop healthy habits.

“Careful leaders can take practical steps to protect themselves from sexual temptation.”

Safeguard #5: Leaders pray and ask others to pray for them.

“The most practical step leaders can take is to pray that God will help them keep their lives above reproach.”

The Pitfall of Cynicism

“Leadership is a people business, and people invariably let you down. Negative leaders spawn negative organizations. Cynical leaders cultivate cynical followers. True leaders focus on what is right and on what gives hope, not on what is wrong. Older leaders seem particularly susceptible to cynicism. It is crucial that leaders guard their attitudes.”

The Pitfall of Greed

“Like many things, money and possessions can be either good or bad in a leader’s life. The lure of material possessions has enticed many leaders to make foolish career decisions. As a result, some people will sacrifice almost anything in order to achieve material success. The hunger for wealth and possessions can destroy spiritual leaders. Wise leaders know that the measure of their success is not the size of their bank account but the quality of their lives.”

The Pitfall of Mental Laziness

“Problem solving is an essential function of leadership, so leaders cannot afford to become intellectually stagnant. Good leaders never stop learning. They seek the company of wise people. They read books and articles that stretch their thinking. They read the biographies of great leaders and thinkers. Great leaders are always learning how to become better leaders.One way Jesus helped his disciples grow as leaders was by teaching them how to make sense of their circumstances.”

There are the first 5 pitfalls. How do you stack up? Where do you need to consider more carefully? Where do you need to make course corrections? The next 5 will be posted soon!

The Heart of the Matter

small_2110694486As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. Proverbs 27:19

Sometimes leaders need to take a look inside before they look outwardly towards the mission. Scripture highlights the idea of using the image of a mirror as a metaphor to encourage similar thinking. James notes that someone who only hears the Word of God and does not act on it is like one who looks at himself in the mirror, but forgets his appearance once he walks away. Instead James 1:22-25 holds up the “mirror” of the gospel, the prefect law of liberty, as a right reference point. James is encouraging our gaze at Christ as a transformative center for living life.

There is a proper “mirror” experience that we need to have occasionally. A leader I once served under use to say that we need to live “the gaze glance life”-where we gaze at Christ continually and occasionally glance at ourselves. Our narcissistic culture would have it the other way around, where we gaze at ourselves constantly and look almost nowhere else. But the occasional glance is necessary and revealing. We do need to look inside at times to see what is true of us. We need to look into the mirror of our souls. Proverbs 27:19 uses this reflection analogy to make a point. Just as a reflection in water reveals what is truly there. So the heart of a person reflects what is true of that person. Now this presupposes a Hebrew concept of heart, not a western view. We tend to think of the heart as merely our emotions or passions. But the Jewish mind sees the heart was more holistic. It includes that mind, will and emotions. The heart is the governing center of a person’s life, life is decided. Therefore the heart is the man. And whatever is in the heart will be true of the man, and will be observable eventually.

I want to apply this to leadership. Recently I had the privilege to teach some leadership character principles to a group of staff and interns. They are a talented bunch with great potential for the kingdom. But if they, or I, get this one wrong, that potential will be greatly muted. A leader cannot lead out of something other than who he or she is. What is in the heart will be reflected in a person’s leadership.

As I ponder my own leadership life and that of others, there are three primary enemies that a spiritual leader (or any leader for that matter) must be keenly aware of: fear, pride and isolation.

Again, the Proverbs offers us great insight to these things. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” This was never better illustrated than in the life of Saul, Israel’s first king. I believe his primary downfall was leading from a foundation of fear. Fear can often appear as bravado, but will lead to poor and hasty decisions and great destruction. Proverbs 29:23 says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Notice the play on words. It is about lowliness. One form is chosen and has a reward and one is forced upon you and has devastating consequences. Hezekiah, a king of Judah who started out pretty well, was bitten by pride which led to his destruction. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire, he breaks out against all sound judgment.” We have seen this through the media all too often. This is where moral failure often shows up and ruins a leader’s platform.

When you consider these three enemies you will note that they overlap one another, one easily leading to another. Where does one go to fight fear, pride and isolation? Remember that the last half of Proverbs 29:25 says, ” . . . whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Every leader (and every follower of Christ) needs a foundation of safety to live out our broken, yet redeemed lives. But safety is not found in a place, it is in a person. Safety is ultimately found in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe this is one of the primary messages of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament. And our doorway to that safety is the gospel.  Through the gospel we enter into the atmosphere of grace and forgiveness that will allow us to be authentic and humble, and to chase after courage, humility and community.

In relation to these three enemies, what does your heart reflect? How is it showing up in your leadership life? I know I still have work to do, but I find my hope in the grace of the gospel.

(photo credit)

“I am a god”

I recently read Ezekiel 28 and paused for some reflection. Ezekiel was a prophet to the exiles of Judah and was declared a “watchman for Israel” (3:17). As such he declared many prophecies on behalf of Yahweh.

In chapter 28 he speaks to the prince of Tyre–or better stated, against the prince of Tyre. Why was God against this leader of this northern city–once an ally of Israel? Not so hidden in the first 10 verses of this chapter are some leadership warnings. v.2 makes the case, “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god . . .”

The root issue is pride–the outward expression is deification–the sickness lies in the heart. Any leader who leaves the mooring of Scriptures and does not first bend the knee as a leader under authority is prone to this leadership disease. I am currently teaching leaders in Italy that a critical component to being a Christ-centered leader is to first guard your Communion. This is the core of godly leadership. I see this Communion as being composed of three elements–all meant to protect one from the leadership disease of deification: kneeling in submission, cultivating holy affections, and living and leading out of a confessional life.

For this post I only want to focus on the fist aspect–“kneeling in submission”. In my mind this gets at the heart of the problem for the prince of Tyre. If one is kneeling in submission to someone else who is greater–then by definition it is impossible to declare yourself a god. God, through Ezekiel, states that the prince of Tyre was wise, talented, gifted–therefore successful. Sometimes those types of abilities make it even more difficult for a leader to bend the knee to another. They can believe that they are adequate–for anything. God goes on, “because you made your heart like the heart of a god . . . I will bring foreigners upon you, the most ruthless of the nations . . . you shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of foreigners; for I have spoken, declares the Lord.” I have to realize that whether I recognize a sovereign God or not He still exists and controls everything around me. He can grant success and He can take it away–and He does not tolerate a leader’s heart given to lesser loyalties.

As leaders who desire to have an influence for Christ may we never think ourselves a god–that job is taken. May you and I both make it our aim to daily bend the knee as we begin our leadership day.

The Privileged People of God

I am reading Amos in my devotional time. He is a poetic and powerful prophet. And much of what he says to Israel could easily apply to our generation today. Both the nations around Israel and Israel herself were guilty of two primary sins–social injustice and idolatry. These were symptom sins–the root was that the people of God had rejected the leading of God. They refused to to follow the examples of holiness provided by the Nazirites and they refused to listen to the voice of the prophets who warned them of the consequences of their sin. Thus–their hearts were led astray.

We look around us as American Christians and often believe that we are better than the “heathen”nations around us. How could Iran do such things? What is wrong with North Korea? Don’t the people of the Sudan get it? Deep down I think we have bought into the humanistic notion that we are more “cultured” than they–and somehow culture has allowed us to rise above it all. Yet we have Birmingham in 1963, Rodney King, or Abu Ghraib. In other words–becoming more cultured does not seem to cure a heart issue. Only Christ can heal the sick heart of man. We are no better that the other nations to the extent we are led astray by our own wandering hearts.

Israel was a privileged nation of people–one of the strong themes of the Old Testament is liberation, redemption, possession and settlement. These words represent God’s loving actions towards His people. He liberated them from Egyptian oppression, bought them out of slavery, called them His own and provided a new land. Under the New Covenant we are the recipients of the same loving kindness of God–we have been liberated, redeemed, marked out as children of God and given a beautiful inheritance. But Amos warns that with privilege comes great responsibility. There is social injustice and idolatry among us–in my heart. I need the grace of the gospel today for my wandering heart. Read what one commentary says about Amos 2:6-3:2. May we take heed too!

“Privilege is wonderful but it is not a shelter; it is a responsibility and a treasure for which we shall have to give account.”