RLL 33--Inverted Leadership (part 2 of 4)
From chapter 3 (Impact or Success?) and chapter 4 (Results or Relationships?)
Hello again, everyone, and welcome to another Real Life Leading blog post! This week I'll be sharing excerpts from the next to chapters of my upcoming book Inverted Leadership: Lead Others Better By Forgetting About Yourself!
Chapter 3 is called The Virgin Queen and the Little Corsican: Impact or Success?
In leadership, one of the key components that must be discussed is this: what is the purpose of your organization or group? Is it to achieve success, however that may be defined? Or is it to make an impact on those around you? As Christians, we must recognize this distinction between success and impact as of crucial importance to our leadership. Our role in the world is to further the ends of Christ’s kingdom, and we begin by recognizing that this may not involve ‘success’ as defined by the world, but it will certainly involve making an impact on those around us for the Gospel.
Queen Elizabeth I of England is known as the Virgin Queen because in a historical age dominated by men, especially male monarchs, she ruled England for over half a century, unwed. In fact, our state of Virginia is named for her, since the first attempt at English colonization there occurred during her reign--the Lost Colony of Roanoke, founded in 1587. Her reign in England is known as a time of political stability and a time when religious tolerance and peace was finally achieved after decades of bloodshed caused by the Protestant Reformation and the tumultuous reigns of King Henry VIII, his son Edward, and Elizabeth’s older half-sister, the infamous Bloody Mary. Queen Elizabeth is known for surviving around two dozen assassination attempts, mainly believed to have been instigated by the Catholic rulers of Spain and the Vatican, and she is also known for establishing England as the dominant Protestant power in Europe.
Thus, Queen Elizabeth I is an amazing example of a successful leader by any measurement, leading England for over fifty years while providing political stability, religious freedom, territorial expansion, and economic growth. And if all of that was not enough, a quick study of her life will also show you that in addition to being an amazingly successful leader, Elizabeth I was also rather eloquent. So, why is it that most people have not heard of or ever bothered to study her life? Is it perhaps that because, though she was successful, the direct impact of her rule is either less than we would expect or simply underappreciated?
Let’s take another example: Napoleon Bonaparte, the Little Corsican who rose to power in France due to the French Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte is the second most written about historical figure in world history, ranking only behind Jesus. Napoleon was originally from a family of minor nobility living on the island of Corsica--this, combined with his diminutive stature earned him the less-than-flattering nickname of “The Little Corsican”. He was able to go to a French military academy on scholarship, and due to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, he was able to quickly rise through the ranks of the French army, becoming a general in his early 20s. In 1799 he helped overthrow a provisional French government, and after becoming ‘first consul’ and then ‘consul for life,’ in 1804 he declared himself Emperor of the French.
Very few, if any, people in Europe were untouched by Napoleon’s reign, though his reign was significantly shorter (and much less ‘successful’) than Elizabeth’s. The point is this: Elizabeth is an amazing example of a successful monarch who ruled for over half a century. Napoleon was a much more impactful monarch, though his reign was significantly shorter and ended in multiple defeats. Napoleon’s impact, especially via nationalism and its effects on the development of various European countries, continued long after his death. Nationalism, after all, was one of the main causes of World War I, which began a hundred years after Napoleon’s first exile. So for us, the question is this: what type of leader do we want to be? Do we want to be successful, or do we want to be impactful?
Just as a final look at success vs. impact, consider briefly the life of Christ. His earthly ministry lasted only around three years. He spent most of his time with twelve specific men, though often crowds did gather to hear him speak. He had neither money nor political power, and he was eventually arrested, tortured, and killed by the reigning powers of his day. And at the very end of his earthly life, even his closest followers deserted him. Yet, following the Resurrection, his apostles remained faithful, his message spread to the ends of the earth, and He set in motion a movement that has had tremendous effects in every nation on earth despite the hostility of people and governments. This should tell us that our focus should be on impacting the world for the Gospel through our leadership, rather than seeking earthly success in whatever our chosen areas of influence are.
Chapter 4 is called Is Winning Arguments Even A Thing? Results or Relationships?
In leadership, it is often easy to forget that our job is not simply to get or achieve a desired result. We get caught up in trying to accomplish a stated goal or task, and we lose focus on the relationships that make any achievement possible. We forget that people are eternal, while anything we do here on earth, unless done for the Lord, will simply pass away one day. This chapter discusses how to remember and retain a focus on relationships rather than on results.
I got married for the first time after my sophomore year at Covenant College. After graduating from Covenant with a degree in History, my young family--which now included a baby girl, born less than a month after I got my diploma--and I moved five hundred miles north so that I could take up a job as a teacher and soccer coach at Fayetteville Christian School in North Carolina. While in Fayetteville, we lived in a house owned by my in-laws, and for a while, my brother-in-law came to live with us. One day he witnessed what I now see as one of the most embarrassing leadership failures of my first marriage. My wife had loaded the dishwasher and was getting ready to run it, but before she did I decided to move some of the dishes around.
Perhaps some of you can identify with feeling like you are the only person in the house who knows how to properly load the dishwasher. Well, both my wife and I felt that way about ourselves. So after I moved the dishes around, she went back and replaced every one into the positions she had put them in originally. Then I went and sorted them again and stood back watching as she again rearranged this dishes. This went on for probably ten minutes, while tempers and words continued to get hotter and louder, all while my brother-in-law watched (probably trying not to laugh at our ridiculousness). It’s been over a decade since that event, and I honestly do not know how it ended or in what way the dishes were arranged when the dishwasher finally got turned on. What I do know is that no matter who “won” that argument, the real loser in that moment was our relationship.
Have any of you won an argument with your spouse or significant other and still been happy about it ten minutes later? How about with a child, friend, or colleague? Perhaps sometimes, but I know what most often happens when I win an argument is that a relationship is also damaged. There are hurt feelings, there is resentment, and there is a strain in that relationship that did not need to be there. The reason this matters is because in leadership, everything starts with relationships, and so we need to take care of them. If you take care of relationships, the results will take care of themselves. And the most important relationship to take care of is your relationship with Jesus; all other relationships flow from there.
Thus, in our leadership, we need to remember the phrase “Be the first…”. As Christ first loved us and gave Himself up for us, so we must be willing to give ourselves for others even before they do so for us. This phrase also implies give and take, as we saw earlier: give respect and take responsibility. Give respect to each person you meet and take responsibility for the way in which you present yourself to them. Now, don’t worry: this is not an entire chapter about image or presentation or personal branding or any of those things. But it is about how you present yourself to other people: be the first to give respect and to take responsibility.
As leaders we must also be the first to admit fault when we are wrong and be the first to share credit with other people when things go well. Very few leaders ever accomplish anything of value all on their own. There is almost always a team or group involved, so let’s be sure to acknowledge that; it will go a long way in terms of relationship building and in the impact you will have on your audience. It is also evidence of humility to be able to encourage and applaud others’ contributions instead of having to publicize one’s own accomplishments.
Last, and most importantly, be the first to serve. As Christ washed the disciples’ feet, as He gave Himself up for us, so we must be willing to serve others if we are to properly fulfill our roles as leaders. Always be willing to do the little bit extra, show up early, stay a bit late, go out of your way for others. All of these things essentially hit on the same idea. A key component of leadership is putting the needs of others before our own, in order to help them become better versions of themselves.