I once worked with a man who had two passions: a love for model planes and a love for writing. He formed a publishing company to produce a magazine focused on his hobby. The fledgling company flourished. It soon had a suite of great books and magazines, but it lacked market penetration.
When the founding president retired, he hired a marketing expert to replace himself.
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 organizational-president brought in much needed structure. 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 organizational-president was pleased with his improvements. When it came time to retire, he replaced himself with another organizationally minded CFO.
The second organizational-president cut costs by reducing quality. Within a few years, revenues dropped 30%, product creation suffered, market penetration shrank, and corporate morale tanked. So he cut more jobs and cheapened the products. When the second organizational-president retired, he hired a CFO.
Just like himself.
What Makes a Leader Brilliant?
The first four presidents were highly gifted in their unique talents: an entrepreneur, a marketer, and two organizers. They may be in the top fifteen percent of all the business leaders I worked with.
But only the first two presidents were brilliant.
Gifted leaders are really quite common, maybe a dime-a-dozen. But brilliant leaders are exceptional, because they know their limitations. All five presidents were outstanding in their specialties. But the brilliance of the first two was their humility to recognize when someone else’s talents were more needed than their own.
To a hammer—even an exceptionally outstanding hammer—everything looks like a nail.
What’s the purpose of Christian leaders? Why are they here to do? 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 command and he builds a monument in his own honor(!). The idea of self-idolatry repulses us (I hope), though Christian Celebrity “leaders” do it every single day.
It Really Is Self-Worship
I once saw a Old Testament Bible instructor 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 Hebrew consider himself an expert in personal hygiene (he wasn’t) unless … he enjoyed the flattery of his drones?
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Some leaders adore this imitation. And when they nourish it, there’s a smell of idolatry in the air.
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 versions of savvy. And we undervalue (or ignore) all the other varieties of competence.
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 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 (and different) gifts to others. We need their gifts as much as they need ours.
We probably need their gifting more.
There Are Two Biblical Leaders I Love Most
The most brilliant, unsung leader in the Old Testament is the crown prince Jonathan. He is extraordinary, an astonishingly gifted spiritual and military leader (see 1 Samuel 14).
When Jonathan meets David—his competitor to the throne—he hands David his own sword and robe. Most leaders put their blade in their enemy’s belly; Jonathan puts his sword in his opponent’s hand.
(How many leaders do we 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 that remind you of another famous, spiritual leader?