RLL 32--Inverted Leadership (part 1 of 4)
Starting this week and for the next month, these updates will be excerpts from my upcoming book Inverted Leadership: Lead Others Better By Forgetting About Yourself. The book will be available on June 12th on Amazon, and I hope that you are encouraged, inspired, and challenged by what you read!
From Chapter 1--Confident Humility: Leadership As Service And Art
My father is from a small farm town in Illinois called Paw Paw, with a population of less than 900 people. He was able to go to college at Illinois Wesleyan in the 1960s. A year after he graduated from college, he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. After that, he decided to make a career in the military, staying in the army for 20 years, eventually joining the 82nd Airborne, going through Ranger School, and winning numerous medals and commendations, including three Bronze Stars. He finally retired, having attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Just before he retired, though, he was up for promotion to the rank of Colonel, which would have been a significant step up in rank, in pay, and in prestige. However, because Dad knew he was planning to retire, he withdrew his name from consideration for the promotion.
I asked him about this later in his life, and I asked him why he chose to withdraw his name. Dad’s answer was an excellent example of what will be called Confident Humility. He simply said, “Because I don’t need to know.” Dad then went on to explain how, though he was curious if he would have been considered worthy of this major promotion, ultimately waiting to see if he got promoted would have been counter-productive to the Army and thus to the country. He admitted it would have been fun to wait and see if he got the promotion. But he also knew that by waiting to be promoted only to then immediately retire from the military would have benefited only himself. Therefore, he chose to go ahead and retire without ever finding out about that promotion. He just didn’t need to know.
That idea of not needing to know is exactly what this entire book is about: this concept of Confident Humility, leading others and serving others without focusing on yourself. It is self-belief that is used in the service of other people. This idea is upside down and backwards, entirely counter-cultural because it is based on what is eternal rather than what is temporal; it is based on Jesus rather than on what is good for us. We often measure success by how much we can accumulate, or how far and quickly we can get promoted--things that are self-focused and self-centered. As a result of that, we have come to a point where there is a gap between what success and leadership are and what they ought to be. This book is an attempt to begin correcting that misunderstanding by helping people rethink leadership based on an eternal perspective, beginning with the concept of Confident Humility.
Can you imagine, especially after the 2016 US Presidential election, a presidential debate that was characterized by true respect between the various candidates, rather than the passive-aggressive insults and insinuations among the candidates (even in the same party)? Can you imagine a politician ever giving a news conference to apologize for something before a scandal has broken, or in order to simply take responsibility for something that was done which he or she has now changed their mind about? Today it seems the only time people take responsibility for negative choices is when they have been outed and are now trying to save their reputation. As the old saying goes, “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.”
Again, Confident Humility turns that on its head, saying that our first job is to give respect to other people while taking responsibility for our choices and our actions. Confident Humility focuses on serving other people, creating good relationships between leader and audience, and on building other people up regardless of who gets the credit for accomplishments. When my wife and I got married, her father said something at our wedding about love that I believe also is very applicable in this context. He said, “Love is choosing someone else’s ultimate good over your own.” I believe this is absolutely how leaders ought to operate: by choosing the ultimate good of other people over themselves. The greatest example of this is Jesus, who through love for us and a desire to do the Father’s will, gave Himself up for us on the cross.
From Chapter 2--CEOs or Youth Soccer Coaches: Lead Where You Are
Here’s the truth about leadership: most of us will not be CEOs of multinational corporations with thousands of employees in our charge; most of us won’t be college presidents, responsible for dozens or hundreds of faculty members and hundreds or even thousands of students. Most of us will never be military commanders with soldiers’ lives in our hands; we are unlikely to be professional sports coaches, responsible for managing multi-millionaire athletes and some of their egos. But many of us will be parents, Sunday school teachers, or volunteers in local civic groups. We will be youth soccer coaches, organizers of small drama groups, or helpers at local animal or homeless shelters. Though our audience or organizations may be smaller, we will all be leaders in various ways because we have been called by God to further the ends of His kingdom while we are here on earth. The key is to remember: just because the setting and audience size are smaller, this does not mean that our leadership matters any less. In fact, the smaller our setting and audience, the more important the leadership due to the larger potential impact we can have on each individual within our audience or organization. Think of the person that has impacted your life the most: was it a celebrity or athlete or CEO? For most of us, the person who impacted us the most is someone we spent significant time with in a smaller setting: a teacher, a coach, a youth pastor, a caring adult, or someone similar.
I have an immediate family of four: myself, my wife, and our two daughters. I also have classes averaging twenty students per class, and I have an average of thirty soccer players in my program at any given time. The amount of influence I can have on my wife and daughters far outweighs the influence I can have over each student or soccer player that I have. The smaller the organization, the more influence and impact the leader can have. Thus, the first principle of Confident Humility, LEAD WHERE YOU ARE, means this: every role is either a leadership role or preparation for a future leadership role, so begin leading wherever you are right now.
I hope you liked those two teaser parts from the book! Remember, Inverted Leadership: Lead Others Better By Forgetting About Yourself is coming out on Tuesday, June 12th! If you'd like to read the whole first chapter now, come sign up at www.reallifeleading.com, and let me know if you'd like to be part of the launch team. Also, please be sure to share!