I know a company founded by a man with a passion for a hobby. He coupled it with a love for writing and published a magazine centered on his hobby. The fledgling company flourished. It soon had a suite of great products but lacked market penetration.
When the founding president retired, he replaced himself with a marketing expert.
The new marketing-president ran the company for five years. During his tenure, sales tripled. The rapid growth created organizational challenges. When it came time for his retirement, he promoted his organizationally-minded CFO to replace himself.
The new structural-president brought in much needed organization. Their products were great and their marketing terrific; now internal processes hummed. The company didn’t grow, but expenses were cut, operations streamlined, and profit margins soared.
The structural-president was pleased with his improvements. When it came time to retire, he replaced himself with another organizationally-minded CFO.
Within a few years, revenues were down 30%, product quality suffered, market penetration shrank, and corporate morale tanked. So he cut more jobs.
When the second structural-president retired, he hired a CFO … just like himself.
Who are the truly brilliant leaders?
All five presidents were highly gifted in their unique talents (an entrepreneur, marketer, and organizers); maybe in the top fifteen percent of all the business leaders I’ve met.
But only the first two were brilliant.
Highly gifted leaders are actually quite common, virtually a dime-a-dozen. But truly brilliant leaders are exceptional, because they also know their limitations. All five presidents were outstanding in their own specialties. But the first two alone had the humility to recognize that someone else’s unique talents were more important now.
To a hammer—even an exceptional hammer—everything looks like a nail.
What’s the purpose of Christian leaders? Why are they here? Is it to lead, organize, inspire, illuminate, or teach? No! A leader’s reason for being is to lift up others; to “raise the poor from the dust and to lift the needy from the ashes” (1 Sam. 2:8).
King Saul was a leadership disaster. God rejects him after he disobeys a prophet and he builds a monument in his own honor! The idea of building a monument in our own honor repulses us (I hope), though we see Christian Celebrities do so all the time.
Yet we build them too. We turn our followers into little clones—to be just like us—and so build a monument in our own honor. Let’s not build a house of clones, where every opinion is the same as ours and every gift-mix is a shadow of our own.
That monumental house of clones will collapse.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When following spiritual leaders, imitation is usually the first sign of idolatry.
Some leaders love this imitation. I once saw an excellent speaker teach his followers how to pack a suitcase, shave their beards, and shine their shoes. (I kid you not.) Why in the world would a man gifted in communication consider himself an expert in personal hygiene (he wasn’t) unless … he enjoyed the flattery of his drones?
Other leaders are guilty by silence. They silently watch followers self-clone as they mimic hand gestures, talk with the same cadence, and train in the same profession.
We should raise up people to be who God designed them to be. Sadly, we allow clones to form themselves into a monument in our honor. Shouldn’t we hate this?
You and I are guilty too
It’s not just Celebrity Christian leaders of mega-church (or mega-book) fame. It’s us too, the not-so-famous leaders. We overvalue our own variety of savvy. And we undervalue—or ignore—all the other varieties of competence. We all do it.
Visionaries undervalue administrators, who look down on counselors, who pooh-pooh preachers, who scoff at academics, who laugh at visionaries. I have personally seen:
- A counselor/pastor who invested all his time with his pastorally gifted members, completely ignoring his administrative and worship staff, who were dying.
- A national leader who refused to allow differing discussions. He promoted all who agreed with him and demoted all who offered any contrary ideas.
- Two leaders of an international movement whose success was linked to their complementary gifts. One leader finally demanded ultimate authority, he over-exercised his style, and the movement died.
Yes, let’s love the gifts God gives us. But remember: God gives equally valuable gifts to others. We need their gifts as much as they need ours. Probably more.
Here’s a leader I love
The most brilliant, unsung leader in the Old Testament is the crown prince, Jonathan. He is extraordinary; an astonishingly gifted spiritual leader (see 1 Samuel 14).
When Jonathan meets David—his competitor to the throne—he gives David his own robe and sword. Most leaders put their blade in their enemy’s belly; Jonathan puts his sword in his opponent’s hand. (How many leaders do you know who would do that?)
Jonathan was the son of the king, but he did not count kingship a thing to be grasped. He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. He sought out and raised up the unique giftedness of another, even at the eventual cost of his own life.
Doesn’t he remind you of another famous, spiritual leader?