The other day I was having a conversation with a friend and we began to discuss the danger of being a leader who cannot be easily led. I have continued to ponder this. What does this leader look like? What is at risk? What is their legacy?
My observation is that this is a trait that can go largely unnoticed-until someone loses their leadership position. In other words, as long as a leader is climbing the ladder and being lauded for their performance they can appear to be a pretty benevolent, well functioning leader. But once they lose their title to someone better or because of lethargy, the cracks begin to show. They can become really stubborn and defensive. They can become the toxic team member of the next group they are not leading.
The leader who cannot be led is a leader who is focused solely on self. The question a leader must constantly ask is, “Why do I lead?” Do I lead primarily for the sake of others or mainly for myself? I’m pretty sure that a leader focused solely on self will eventually lack compassion for those they lead, will constantly be creating their own agendas without regard for the organization, and will only raise up more leaders like themselves.
The prophet Zechariah in the Bible reveals some characteristics of these types of leaders. In Zechariah 7:11 we read that there are three things these leaders readily exhibit: they refuse to pay attention, they turn a stubborn shoulder, and they stop their ears. At first glance these terms may not seem to carry much meaning-but in context they are quite weighty. The prophet was referring to the religious leaders of Israel before the exile. To “refuse to pay attention” meant that these religious leaders had lost their concentration on God above them and lost their focus of observant care for those beneath them. To “turn a stubborn shoulder” was an agricultural image. It’s the picture of a pair of oxen being used to plow a field-but one of them “turns the shoulder” not willing to be under the harness of the master. An ox which refuses to be under the harness is of little benefit to the farmer. Literally they cannot be led for the purpose in which they had been employed. To “stop their ears” meant that these religious leaders could no longer hear the warning cries of where they were headed as a result of their self centeredness. They were moving down their own path regardless of the consequences-and could not be stopped. I think this has implications for all of us-whether we are leading spiritual entities or secular ones. Obviously the leader who can be led will exhibit the opposite of these traits. They do pay close attention to those above them and those they lead. They willingly put their shoulder to the harness for a greater purpose. And they listen, even invite, the input of others who might be in a position to tell them where they may be off track.
Read all of Zechariah 7 for a fuller, more complete picture of what this type of leader looks like. Let’s call these leaders “7-11 Leaders” and let’s make a commitment to not be one. Lead well!