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Running the Race: How to Train for Leadership - Part 1

  • Dr. Jeff Myers Author, professor, and conference speaker
  • 2002 16 Feb
Running the Race: How to Train for Leadership - Part 1

I'll never forget the day my brother, Scott, ran the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Scott has never met a challenge he didn't like, and the Pikes Peak Marathon was about the greatest challenge I could imagine: running from 6,400 feet above sea level to the top of Pikes Peak - 14,110 feet high along a 14-mile, narrow mountain trail with more than 1,000 other athletes.

When Scott told me that he had signed up for the race, I asked, "Have you ever run a race before in your life?"

"No," he admitted, "but isn't it poetic that my first race is the hardest race?"

Poetic was not exactly the word that had come to my mind.

"Have you begun training?" I naively inquired.

Scott shrugged, "The race isn't until August." It was already July.

On race day, I stood on the sidewalk of downtown Manitou Springs, Colorado, to watch the race. When the starting gun sounded, the runners began trotting down the street, a jumble of nylon, lycra and high-tech athletic gear. Scott's cotton t-shirt, baseball cap, cutoff blue jean shorts, and hiking boots stood out. I rolled my eyes and wondered what the day would bring.

At the end of the race, I was surprised to find that Scott had finished the race in the top 50 percent of the runners. Not bad for a first-timer wearing hiking boots!

In the weeks and months that followed, during which time Scott recovered, we chatted occasionally about "the race."

"The race is only the final piece in the puzzle," he said. "The rest of the puzzle is put together when the athlete trains."

Scott's words gave new meaning to the Apostle Paul's analogy in I Corinthians 9:24, "Do you not know that everyone runs the race, but only one wins the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."

Those who run the race to win the prize become leaders, influencing others for the cause of Christ. To do this consistently you need a training strategy; you need the four secrets of world changing leaders.

The Difference Between Leaders and Non-Leaders

Many people interpret Paul's words as meaning that one must win first place to be successful. I believe instead that Paul was referring to the attitude of top athletes. There is an enormous difference between an athlete who enters the race for fun and one who has his mind set on winning the prize. This is the fundamental difference between leaders and non-leaders. Just like the athlete, the leader must discover his gifts and cultivate them with discipline.

After ten years of study into the nature of leadership, I have discovered four secrets that great leaders employ. Here is a quick review along with practical ways to apply these secrets to your own life.

Strategic Vision
Many leadership specialists mistakenly believe that influence comes from willpower, that if you visualize what you want and believe strongly enough that you will get it, you will.

This is absurd when applied to the real world. Imagine a structural engineer building a skyscraper relying on willpower to make it stand up; "If I believe it, I can achieve it." No one in his right mind would go near the place! Willpower, separated from a proper view of the world, is delusional and dangerous.

A strategic vision is "seeing the world as God sees it." God is creator and sustainer of the universe, operating through natural and spiritual laws. Success comes not from ignoring these laws, but from understanding and using them to your advantage. The same is true with leadership.

One vision-driven leader was Winston Churchill. When most British leaders believed that Hitler had good intentions, Churchill knew that the heart is desperately wicked. Churchill spoke vehemently against British plans for disarmament and was ridiculed as a result.

Ultimately, Churchill became Prime Minister when the secular humanist worldview by which previous British officials had operated collapsed in the face of the Nazi threat.

How can you develop a vision like that? I suggest a four-step process.

1. Notice the problem. Possessing God's standard of truth, Christians ought to understand and explain the world better than people of other worldviews.

2. Sense the urgency. If you came home one evening and saw smoke rising from your house, it would make a big difference whether the smoke came from the chimney or whether the roof was on fire. A vision-driven person not only sees the problem, they sense its consequences and take action when needed.

3. Anticipate involvement. When God gave Isaiah a vision, Isaiah responded, "Here am I Lord, send me!" not "Here am I Lord, send someone else." World changing leaders always assume that they are part of the solution.

4. Commit to action. The world-changing leader senses the need to commit to action, which will allows for the greatest possible influence. Your involvement in community activities, politics, teaching or mentoring will lead to further opportunities and greater influence.

Strategic Mission
A strategic mission is "seeing where you fit in God's world." It starts with an accurate assessment of what you are good at. Great athletes do not try to be the best in every sport; they pick one and perform with all their heart.

Michael Jordan's foray into baseball demonstrates this. No matter how much effort he put into it, Jordan was never more than a mediocre major league baseball player. Returning to basketball was the move of a great athlete; he knew what he was good at it and he stuck to it.

Every person is unique and gifted in a particular way. Some gifts are easy to discover, others are rather exotic and hard to identify. Here are two methods for achieving a sense of mission:

1. Look at your actions to discover your gifts. Ralph Mattson, in his book Visions of Grandeur, suggests that you list 15 to 20 things you have done in which you accomplished something that gave you a great sense of satisfaction. Then, seek the thread which runs through these activities. In so doing, you are looking for your gifts in the most obvious, yet least explored place - what you like to do.

2. Look at your surroundings as a guide to action. Christians believe in a sovereign God who arranges every activity for His glory and our benefit. Be sensitive to what is going on around you. What lessons should you learn from interacting with people? What unique opportunities arise based on where you live and work?

This article is concluded in Part 2.

COPYRIGHT BY JEFFREY L. MYERS, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. To learn more about Dr. Myers and his ministry, check out his Web site Inspired Leadership.