Chapter OneThe Leader's Challenge
Mike sat in stunned silence, alone
in the boardroom. He had appointments to keep, but they seemed irrelevant
now. He remained frozen in his chair, trying to process the events
of the previous hour. Mike was CEO of a software company. He was a
young man-in his early thirties-bright, creative and good at his job.
Moreover, he was a committed Christian with a strong work ethic. He'd
always considered his faith to be an asset to his career. But the morning's
executive team meeting had shattered that assumption. What
began as a routine weekly meeting escalated into an acrimonious dispute,
revealing a pervasive undercurrent of resentment toward him-more
specifically toward his Christian beliefs. It seems a clear line had
been drawn in the sand, with his executive team demanding he choose
between his faith and his business.
First, the vice president for human resources announced a revision
to the company benefits to include coverage for therapeutic abortions
in the health policy. He urged Mike to herald the new policy as a public
Then Barbara from Marketing announced a new advertising campaign,
one that deliberately misrepresented the facts. Mike felt he had no
choice but to veto both recommendations. That's when the floodgates
opened and his colleagues' hostility spewed out. His staff seemed united
on one thing-that his agenda for the company did not match theirs.
Mike was bewildered. He had a talented staff who knew their fields. Yet
the majority were nonbelievers and several were disdainful of the
Christian faith. Was there anything he could do? He worried about legal
issues if he stood by his convictions on certain social issues. It had never
been easy taking a stand for his faith at work, but he'd always tried to be
obedient to Christ through his job. Now it just didn't seem possible.
Maybe he should face the reality that his job and his faith could not coexist,
* * *
Pastor Edwards could barely withhold his tears. He could still hear the
deacons' voices as they walked down the hallway away from his office.
The group had arrived unexpectedly and lambasted him, blaming him for
all the church's problems. And problems there were-lots of them! Two
years ago Edwards had enthusiastically accepted the call to serve as pastor
of the church, fully aware of some of the difficulties. After all, every
church has issues. He was young and his faith was strong. He sincerely
believed that prayer, biblical preaching, and loving guidance would bring
the ailing church back to health. But now things were actually worse.
Landmines seemed to explode under him no matter where he stepped.
Several families requested more modern music in the services and he willingly
obliged. In doing so he inadvertently alienated several others who
were now withholding their tithes as well as their service in the church
until the music was changed back to the style they enjoyed. One of the
deacons was rumored to be in an adulterous relationship. An attempt to
confront him had set the entire deacon body up in arms. They accused
Edwards of witch hunting. They argued that this man had great influence
in the community; they pointed out the sad truth the church could ill
afford another public scandal. When Edwards proposed hiring a part-time
youth pastor, a battle erupted. Various interest groups in the church
clamored for more ministry-for seniors, for choir members, for college
students, for the divorced, and for children. Even his preaching had come
under fire-too long, not enough humor. Edwards had been growing
weary under the stress, but he remained strong in his belief that, if he persevered,
the problems would eventually sort themselves out. That was
before this visit. Their words cut like a knife: "As representatives of this
church, we feel obliged to tell you we can no longer follow your
leadership. Perhaps you should begin circulating a resumé to other
churches. There are churches out there who might appreciate your style
of leadership" The pastor held his face in his hands. What more could
he have done? He had worked to the point of exhaustion for this church.
He had sacrificed time with his wife and children, spending most evenings
at church meetings, counseling people in distress, or visiting potential
members. He knew where the church should be heading, but he simply
could not get the people to support him. He felt like a total failure.
Leadership: The Challenge
Leadership. Everyone experiences it, or the lack of it, in their daily
lives. Those called to lead can find doing so a daunting task. Those
expected to follow can experience frustration when their leader is unable
to lead and their organization seems to be going nowhere. Struggling
leaders may agonize in the knowledge that others resent them and blame
them for their organizations' failures. Countless discouraged leaders
would probably quit their jobs today, but they need the income. Besides,
they fear the same problems would engulf them in their new jobs.
Discouraged, Christian leaders carry the added, albeit misguided, burden
that they are failing not only their people but their Lord. They feel guilty
because they lack the faith to move their organization forward yet the
same fears prevent them from leaving their leadership positions for jobs
where they might be more successful. Is there any hope for the countless
numbers of leaders who are not experiencing the fulfillment and reaching
the potential God intended for them? If anything can revolutionize
today's Christian leaders, it is when Christians understand God's design
for spiritual leaders.
The twenty-first century provides unprecedented opportunities for
leaders to impact positively their organizations. However, the new millennium
also brings unforeseen challenges to leaders. The digitalized
nature of the twenty-first century has created increasing expectations
among followers, and the unrelenting advance of technology has made
communication both a blessing and a curse. E-mail and cell phones provide
instant access to leaders. In times past, people would write letters
or send memos to their leader and then wait for days, or even weeks for
a reply. People accepted such delayed responses as a matter of course.
Past leaders could take time to ponder their decisions and to consult
with advisors before sending a response. Today's technology, however,
has radically changed the dynamics of communication. The moment
someone sends an e-mail they know that within minutes they could (and
therefore should) receive a reply. Busy leaders can return from a lunch
appointment to discover a dozen new e-mails and as many voice-mail
messages waiting for them, classified by their senders as urgent. In any
airport you can see harried executives exiting airplanes and consulting
their cell phones to discover that while they traveled the first leg of their
business trip, their voice mailbox was filling up with urgent messages,
most of them demanding a reply before they board their next flight.
Cell phones can be tremendously helpful to leaders as they seek to
maintain close contact with their people, but beleaguered executives
and pastors are discovering that those phones follow them everywhere,
even on their vacations.
Past leaders had certain times in their day when they were inaccessible
to people. During such times they could reflect on their situation
and make decisions about their next course of action. Technology has
made today's leaders constantly and instantly accessible to people.
With such access, people often expect immediate responses from their
leaders. Such pressure to make rapid decisions and to maintain steady
communication can intimidate even the most zealous leader.
The rise of the Information Age has inundated leaders with new
information that must be processed as rapidly as possible. Today's leaders
are bombarded with books, articles, and seminars on leadership and
management theory as well as data pertaining to their particular field of
work. An exhausting parade of books claims that if busy executives will
simply follow the proposed steps, they will be guaranteed success.
Leaders wanting to improve their skills and expand their knowledge
base have virtually limitless opportunities to enhance their leadership
skills. But where does one begin? Which book does a leader read next?
Which seminar is a must? Which management trend vociferously
advocated now will be passé by next year? Such a bombardment of
information, much of which is contradictory, can cause leaders to
become cynical. While it is true the Information Age has given leaders
many new tools with which to lead, it has also placed heavy demands on
leaders, demands previous generations of leaders never faced. It is no
wonder so many leaders express the frustration that they are always
Probably the most widespread modern myth is that technology will
create more time for leaders. While many modern tools of technology
are heralded as time-saving devices, the reality is that these instruments
become major information highways bringing an endless stream of data
racing toward leaders who feel pressured to respond as quickly as possible.
All the while, these leaders are aware that a wrong decision can
have disastrous consequences on their organization. Gordon Sullivan
and Michael Harper have suggested that the defining characteristic of
the Information Age is not speed, but the "compression of time." It is
not so much that events are necessarily moving faster but that there is
less time for leaders to respond to events than there used to be. This
puts enormous pressure upon today's leaders.
Our world craves good leaders. It would seem that effective leadership
has become the panacea for every challenge society faces. Whether
it's in politics, religion, business, education, or law, the universally
expressed need is for leaders who will rise to meet the challenges that
seem to overwhelm many of today's organizations. The problem is not
a shortage of willing leaders. The problem is an increasingly skeptical
view among followers as to whether these people can truly lead. Warren
Bennis warned, "At the heart of America is a vacuum into which self-anointed
saviors have rushed." People know intuitively that claiming to
be a leader or holding a leadership position does not make someone a
leader. People are warily looking for leaders they can trust.
Leadership: In Politics
The political scene is perhaps the most public arena where people
have expressed their distrust in those who lead them. These are not
easy times in which to be a leader. The world's complexity increases at
exponential speed. Political alliances are in constant flux. Threats of
nuclear and biological terrorism are a real and frightening possibility.
A severe downturn in the global economy can devastate a nation
overnight. Violence is epidemic. Nothing shocks us any more. Social
norms, previously taken for granted, are publicly ridiculed. Modern
society has deteriorated to the point that, like those in the prophet
Jeremiah's time, we have "forgotten how to blush" (see Jer. 6:15; 8:12).
In the face of such daunting political and social realities, people search
frantically for leaders they can trust. Society seeks men and women
who will effectively address a multitude of societal and political ills.
People are weary of politicians who make promises they are either
unwilling or unable to keep. Society longs for statesmen but it gets
politicians. Statesmen are leaders who uphold what is right regardless
of the popularity of the position. Statesmen speak out to achieve good
for their people, not to win votes. Statesmen promote the general good
rather than regional or personal self-interest. Harry Truman was a
statesman. He left the presidency with a low rating in the public opinion
polls, yet history evaluates him as an effective leader during a dangerous
and turbulent time. Politicians may win elections; nevertheless,
future generations could deride them for their lack of character and
their ineffective leadership.
Warren Bennis suggests that the American Revolutionary era produced
at least six world-class leaders-Franklin, Jefferson, Washington,
Hamilton, Adams and Madison. For a national population of only
three million, that was an impressive feat. If the United States enjoyed
the same ratio of world-class leaders to its current population, it would
boast over five hundred such leaders today. In recent years the termgreat has not been the adjective of choice in describing political leaders.
If there was ever a time that called for statesmen rather than politicians,
this is it.
Leadership: In Business
The business world cries out for leaders as fervently as the political
world. Technology continues to revolutionize the way people do business.
The global economy has mushroomed. National economies have
become integrated to the point that a financial meltdown in Asia can
have instant, stunning repercussions on businesses in North America.
Diversity is the pervasive characteristic of the North American work
force. Employees represent numerous ethnic groups. More and more
people are trading in their desks for laptops so they can work at home
or while on the road. Job sharing is common practice. Charles Handy
observes, "The challenge for tomorrow's leaders is to manage an organization
that is not there in any sense in which we are used to." It
requires a Herculean effort to create a corporate culture in which every
employee feels a part of the community of the company. Yesterday's
workplace was a specific location where employees came together for
eight hours a day. The majority of jobs were performed for one reason-a
paycheck. Personal fulfillment, though a factor, was secondary.
All that has changed. Today's workplace is a forum for people to express
themselves and to invest their efforts into something that contributes
positively to society. People no longer choose jobs based merely on
salary and benefits. They seek companies with corporate values that
match their personal values. Daniel Goleman suggests: "Except for the
financially desperate, people do not work for money alone. What also
fuels their passion for work is a larger sense of purpose or passion.
Given the opportunity, people gravitate to what gives them meaning,
to what engages to the fullest their commitment, talent, energy, and
skill." This has led many people to embark on multiple careers.
Robert Greenleaf reflects on this shift in employee focus: "All work
exists as much for the enrichment of the life of the worker as it does for
the service of the one who pays for it." Consequently, employees
expect much more from their leaders than they did in years past.
The complex and critical issues facing today's marketplace only
exacerbate the need for effective leaders.