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Lead with a Limp

Lead with a Limp

Leaders who follow conventional wisdom equate personal strength with effectiveness. But striving for power and control never leads to true success. The leaders God blesses with real strength are those who first acknowledge their weaknesses, and then rely on Him to accomplish more than they ever could on their own.


Paradoxically, you can be a better leader if you limp than if you try to run. Your struggles aren’t obstacles to overcome on the way to leadership; they’re invitations for God to transform you. Here’s how you can turn your struggles into strengths as a leader:


* Stop hiding. Understand that hiding your failures prevents you from receiving the grace you need to lead well. So embrace your brokenness and let go of futile efforts to control your own life. Ask God to give you the courage to name and face your fears. Realize that complexity is an inevitable part of life, so let go of dogmatism and attempts at simplistic solutions, and embrace creativity. Don’t isolate yourself from others or turn to addictions to fill voids in your life. Instead, pursue authentic relationships with God and others, knowing that this is the only way to true fulfillment. Expect others to be more open to what you have to say if they see that you’re being real with them. Recognize that your weaknesses aren’t burdens to be avoided, but opportunities to grow in character to become the leader God wants you to be. Trust God to use the messes in your life to transform you – and those you lead.


* Be a reluctant leader. Don’t be easily seduced by power, pride, or ambition. Know that true leaders don’t aspire to power for the power itself, but simply to use power as a means to serve God well. Ask God to give you the humility of a reluctant leader who nevertheless chooses to serve Him. Surrender your own agenda if you struggle with ambition; be honest about your doubts if you struggle with insecurity. Make God – and nothing or no one else – your confidence. Think about how awestruck and grateful you should be to be called to leadership, and rely on God’s strength to help you fulfill that call. Make it a goal to share power fairly and empower others who serve alongside you.


* Recognize the purpose of leadership. Understand that the aim of leadership isn’t to run an organization, meet needs, or even to do good deeds. Rather, the purpose of leadership is to form character in people. Shift your focus from what you do to how you do what you do. Ask God to help you model a life of integrity to those you lead. Understand that your own character will mature to the degree that you love God and others. Ask God to fill your heart with awe and gratitude. Invite God to mature your character – and that of those you lead – as you explore new directions, share open dialogue, discern God’s vision, and make confident decisions together.


* Tell stories. Know that a key part of leadership is creating and telling compelling stories to get others caught up in a life worth living. As God transforms you, tell the story of His grace and inspire others to follow His vision for their lives and the organization you serve. Understand that the degree to which you deal with your failures as a leader will determine how much you will help your colleagues grow, because they see human surrender and trust and divine forgiveness and grace at work in your life. Don’t sugarcoat unpleasant facts; be honest about them so others can see how God can take ugliness and turn it into beauty. Realize that the more you tell the story of God’s work in your life, the more you invite others to consider their own stories and callings. Help people in the community in which you lead understand who they are, how they got there, what they’re doing, and what they must do to get there.


* Desire change. Don’t settle for the status quo. Constantly ask God to help you see how tomorrow can be better than today. Whenever God calls you to influence a person or a process, face the opportunity with eagerness and courage.


* Move forward with humility. Recognize that you can’t always know for sure if a particular decision is right. But know that if you’re diligent with prayer, reflection, debate, and feedback from others as you consider what to do, you can move ahead with whatever seems best when you must act. Be willing to change course if God leads you to do so. Remain teachable. Be ready to exchange your own dreams for better dreams if God has other plans for you.


* Change your responses to leadership’s challenges. Count the cost of leadership and ask God to help you confront challenges in healthy ways. When you encounter a crisis, respond with courage rather than cowardice, knowing that God will help you handle even the worst that can happen. When you face complexity, respond with depth instead of rigidity, asking God to help you see what you’re not seeing in the situation and find creative solutions. When you confront betrayal, respond with gratitude rather than narcissism, understanding that betrayal is inevitable in our fallen world, yet it’s a gift whenever it leads you toward God’s kindness and healing. When you experience loneliness, respond with openness instead of hiding, confessing the truth that you need other people and making time to suffer with them in sorrow and celebrate with them in joy. When you deal with weariness, respond with hope rather than fatalism, refusing empty busyness and focusing on God’s vision for you as you decide how to spend your time and energy.


* Embrace three key paradoxes. Understand that you’re already saved, but not yet free of sin. Know that it takes strength to be tender. Be clever and shrewd, not to manipulate others for your own ambitions, but to lead them toward the peace that only God can give because you’re committed to their good.


* Be a prophet, priest, and king. Serve as a prophet by creating a compelling vision for people to follow, and motivating them to abandon complacency in favor of a better future. Serve as a priest by creating meaningful connections between the people you lead and the work you’re doing together. Serve as a king by building structure and allocating resources to do the job well. Through it all, rely on Jesus to be your prophet by telling you the truth, your priest by comforting you, and your king by leading you.

Adapted from Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths, copyright 2006 by Dr. Dan B. Allender.  Published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc., Colorado Springs, Co., www.waterbrookpress.com.


Dan B. Allender, Ph.D., is founder of Mars Hill Graduate School near Seattle, Wash., where he serves as president. He also is a professor of counseling, a therapist in private practice, and a popular speaker. He is the author of a number of books, including To Be Told, How Children Raise Parents, The Healing Path, and The Wounded Heart. Dan and his wife, Rebecca, are the parents of three children.