Yesterday, I was part of an energizing time of leader development with all of the staff of our church here in Austin. While I was upfront making a brief presentation on the framework that we would be using for development, a critical question was asked by one of the participants. I had made the comment that I think it is difficult to finish well as a spiritual leader. They asked, “How does one finish well?” It was a very genuine question from a 30 something leader who doesn’t want to blow it. I have been thinking about that question ever since. In that spirit, I want to offer three enemies to finishing well and two imperatives to finishing well:
Enemies to Finishing Well as a Spiritual Leader 1. Isolation This may be the biggest enemy I see of well intentioned leaders who fail to finish well. Leaders must seek out and remain in community. I would actually suggest finding community on more than one level. It can be difficult for a leader to find safe, honest community. One level must be among peers who are committed to each other to honesty and safety. Another profitable level, if that leader is married, could be to develop community with other couples that love and serve one another. You may need community both inside and outside the organization. As leaders move up the organizational ladder there is a always a pull towards isolation-and isolation is deadly. We must know and be known to end well. To live in isolation is ultimately the posture of the secluded and deceived.
2. Anger and Cynicism It is easy as a leader, especially for older leaders, to become angry and cynical about their organization or the people around them. This can be especially true if the leader’s envisioned path does not work out just as they thought it would. There is no such thing as an unwounded leader. We all go through organizational bumps and bruises-but how we respond to them can make all the difference. If we turn towards anger, bitterness and cynicism we will shorten our effective leadership lives and finish poorly. This is the posture of a cynic.
3. Power Hoarding I know of a leader today that seemingly can’t let go of their position and power. A friend once told me that an occasional “clean white board” is necessary for staying fresh and finishing well. It’s not that I am against continuity or longevity, but we should regularly ask if we have outlived our usefulness in whatever role we find ourselves. A “clean whiteboard” forces us to fresh learning and new dependence-which can be a great friend in helping us to finish well. To hoard power and not be able to relinquish position may serve to shorten our effective leadership lives. This is the posture of an oligarch.
Imperatives to Finishing Well as a Spiritual Leader 1. A Surrendered Life As spiritual leaders we must always be conscious of our broken, flawed lives. There are no omni-competent leaders. A spiritual leader is meant to live his or her life in full voluntary surrender to Jesus Christ. He must be our wisdom, our power, our compassion, our courage-our center. It is only as we live continually surrendered to him that we experience theses necessary leadership qualities in gracious stewardship towards his glory and kingdom. This is the posture of a bond servant.
2. A Commitment to Being a Lifetime Learner The other imperative is that we remain humble learners for a lifetime. There will come a day when all of us will report to someone younger and must be able to learn from someone younger. If we can’t do that we will begin to see our leadership platform begin to erode. Remaining fresh as a humble learner allows us to maintain our platform for influence wherever we lead. Remaining a humble learner helps to assure that we will not see ourselves as the center of the leadership universe. It helps us to be followers as well as leaders. It helps us empower others-to raise up the next generation of leaders. This is the posture of a sage.
Finish well that you might agree with the Apostle Paul when he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”