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How to Make Leaders Out of Lackluster Followers

  • Ed Young, Jr. Senior Pastor, Fellowship Church
  • Published Oct 14, 2005
How to Make Leaders Out of Lackluster Followers

Responsibility is a self-esteem steroid. When we give someone a responsibility, whether that person is a child, coworker, friend, or spouse, we’re communicating trust in that person. And trust is a major catalyst in moving people toward self-confidence.

Proverbs 11:13 says, "You can put confidence in someone who is trustworthy" (GNT). And people can only prove trustworthy by taking on responsibility. At home, it’s allowing our kids to borrow the car, to use Dad’s tools, to help in the kitchen, or to go to summer camp. In the marketplace, it’s letting employees put together the sales presentation without us, run a staff meeting on their own, or write the report for the company president. Among peers, it’s trusting someone enough to share our deepest hurts and our greatest hopes.

After graduating from seminary, I went to work in a large church. In fact, it was and still is one of the ten largest churches in America. I remember the first time my boss walked into my office and said, "Ed, we want you to give the opening prayer this Sunday." That may not seem like a huge task. But for me, a 20-something fledgling pastor, even praying in front of thousands of people was a little intimidating. I can still remember anxiously stepping up to that imposing wooden podium as several thousand eyes locked on to me, waiting for me to speak.

As weak-kneed and nervous as I was, that opportunity gave me a self-esteem boost. By giving me a greater level of responsibility, my supervisor communicated that he trusted me. And I jumped at the chance to display my trustworthiness. My self-esteem as a pastor and public speaker improved exponentially. Now, as I speak every week in front of thousands of people at Fellowship Church, I can see how God used that simple opening prayer many years ago to give me a jump-start of confidence for the plans he had in store.

Are we doing that for people in our place of employment? Are we inspiring them with responsibility? Or are we hovering, always looking over their shoulders, never trusting them to make a greater personal contribution? That kind of leadership is over protective, and overprotection is a form of rejection—at work and at home.

The damage to people’s self-esteem from an overbearingly watchful eye can be long-lasting and deep. Instead of smothering others and suffocating their sense of worth, we need to let them take responsibility—with the risk of failure, yes, but also with the marvelous opportunity for self-affirming success.

Jesus was the master at inspiring others this way. In John 20:21, just before he ascended to heaven, Christ gave his disciples this mandate: "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

Jesus entrusted the worldwide gospel ministry to a group of ordinary people. He gave them the ball. Imagine their soaring sense of worth as the Son of God handed off this immense responsibility—to them.

Give criticism carefully

The right manner of criticism can actually build a person’s confidence and sense of worth.

I’ll never forget the summer I joined about seven hundred young people on a beach retreat to Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico. One night I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with a young man about his life.

As the conversation progressed and hit on the subject of his parents, he began to cry: "Ed, my parents don’t love me."

I thought he was kidding. "I know your parents. Of course they love you."

Then he said something I never thought I would hear from a teenager: "I know they don’t, because they let me get away with murder. They don’t ever stop me from doing anything."

Discipline is one of the litmus tests of value, and our kids know it. On the surface, they’re fighting the rules and restrictions, but inside they’re screaming for discipline and careful correction. They want us as parents to confront their character flaws. Sure, they test the limits, always inching their way closer toward the line. But if we don’t correct them, if we let them go over the line time and time again, it’s devastating to them. When we don’t set boundaries, we leave them adrift.

Giving criticism carefully isn’t just for the parent-child relationship. How should we confront character flaws in the workplace? Do we take the attitude that mistakes will not be tolerated, choosing the path of intimidation? Many do. And for a while, that mentality works.

But here’s the problem. Over time, seeds of rebellion are sown, and the people we work with (or who work for us) begin to feel like mindless robots. They no longer use their creativity or initiative in their work. They stop thinking for themselves. They become afraid of taking risks and making mistakes, so they do just enough to stay under the radar. Their self-confidence has been destroyed.

I played for a high-school basketball coach in Houston who subscribed to the intimidation method. During practice, he was a great coach—controlled and calm. But when game time came around, he was transformed into a raving maniac. If we made one mistake, missed one shot, or botched one pass, he would yank us out of the game. Then, after he calmed down a little, he’d look down the bench and say, "Are you ready to get in there and play the right way?"

Playing under those conditions was no fun. Motivation was replaced by intimidation. Our confidence on the court was nil. After the first few games, our team even got nervous during warm-ups. We were wide-eyed and trembling all the time.

Employees, kids, friends, spouses—too often people have that deer-in-the-headlights look from being harshly criticized. Their self-esteem is so low that they’re afraid to make any moves on their own.

We can’t treat people that way if we have any hope of helping them build a healthy self-esteem. At times criticism is necessary, but it must be done carefully and in the right spirit—love.

Many relationships lose their way because this component is missing. We don’t know how to lovingly confront our friends, coworkers, family members, and fellow Christians so that the result is positive growth. And that should always be the goal. We must never criticize for criticism’s sake. The only Christlike criticism is that which helps others grow spiritually, relationally, and emotionally.

Consider God’s words to us through the apostle Paul: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29).

In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Paul wrote that love "looks for a way of being constructive" (PHILLIPS). Do we? When we confront and offer a gentle critique in love, it will indeed be constructive criticism. We’ll be building self-esteem in others.

Ed Young is the senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Dallas/Fort Worth. He also hosts a weekly radio broadcast, Ed Young Ministries, and a weekly television program. His other books include: "Can We Do That" co-authored with Andy Stanley and "Know Fear." He offers resources for church leaders at www.creativepastors.com.

This article is excerpted by permission from "You, the Journey to the Center of Your Worth" from Howard Publishing, © Ed Young.