1/16/2015 12:00:00 PM
One of the most gratifying projects I’ve begun in the new year is a collaboration with Valor Christian College
. It’s called Influential Leadership 120
, and it’s a sequel of sorts to a lecture series I presented to our local congregation and our ministerial alliance last fall. I am speaking for eight Sunday nights on various leadership topics, and those lectures are being incorporated in an online Valor class this semester, as well as in a class presented on our campus.
The response I’ve received from both series has been gratifying, and I’m enjoying the presentations – and the entire process –immensely. This week I came across a news story featuring someone who, I’d like to think, could have benefitted from one or both of these lecture series – or any basic training in leadership.
The former superintendent of schools of our city’s public school system, who had been forced to leave her job because of a data-scrubbing scandal that took place under her watch, was sentenced in municipal court this week. She pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of dereliction of duty in public office. The situation played out over a decade or so; apparently subordinates was fraudulently withdrawing students from school to make it seem like the district’s test scores and attendance records were better than they actually were. Some student grades were also changed, also apparently to make the district’s performance look better than it was.
The superintendent maintained that she knew nothing about the scheme, but a newspaper investigation and ultimately a probe by Ohio’s state auditor uncovered evidence that she should have known what was going on and did nothing to stop it. And, she has always claimed she didn’t understand what was happening. Which was, of course, part of the problem.
Our daily newspaper’s story on the sentencing included this revealing sentence: “Standing in a courtroom yesterday, (the superintendent) again accepted no responsibility, only the will of the judge.” She’ll keep her pension, but she surrendered her license to be an educator.
Our state auditor, who I know to be a faithful man of God, commented on the sentencing yesterday with these brilliant words: “I see more public officials than I’d like who would rather preside than lead. There’s a world of difference.” Exactly! But I’d expand on that comment – there also are business leaders, ministry leaders and parents who also would rather preside than lead. Too many people placed in leadership over others don’t seem to understand the difference between a servant leader, as modeled by Jesus Christ, and a serve-me leader.
I don’t know the superintendent personally and don’t presume to know her spiritual state. But I have to believe that during her long tenure as an educational leader, she may have come to see her status as earned or deserved, rather than as an opportunity for servanthood and stewardship. And that in turn may have created an environment where, if something shady was going on, she didn’t want to know and her staff would make sure she didn’t find out.
What’s the antidote for the temptation to preside rather than to lead? I think it boils down to one word: passion
. Dr. Albert Mohler, perhaps the nation’s foremost evangelical thinker, gives us some key truths about passion in the leader’s life in his book The Conviction to Lead
- He writes, “Leaders need to possess and develop many qualities, but the one element that drives them to the front is passion. Without it, nothing important happens.” Exactly! Who wants to follow someone who doesn’t care whether the objective is achieved or not? One of the things I loved about my pastor and mentor, Dr. Lester Sumrall, is that he always exhibited great passion about what he was doing. It made many people, including myself, follow him just to be a part of what God was doing through him.
- Passion is not temporary. It is a constant source of energy for a leader, and the greatest attraction for the people he or she influences. It can be faked, but not for long. It must be authentically acquired and developed within the leader if the leader ever hopes to attract and develop passionate followers. People can tell if you are using manufactured passion as a tactic to get them moving. They’ll follow the “leader” who does this as long as they have to, but the moment they have the means to break free they’ll do so, simply to get behind someone or something they believe in.
- The result of passion is a deep, single-minded focus. The passionate leader is driven by the conviction that the right beliefs aimed at the right opportunity with the right people can lead to earth-shaking changes. And because leadership is about influencing people, that must be true of both your cause and the people you touch to advance it. You should be so enthused by what you do that you can’t wait to get to it each and every day.
- For the Christian leader, the Gospel is the primary and overriding source of passion. Everything else flows naturally from the conviction that Jesus is the answer to every human need and every societal problem. The leader who is passionate for God is contagious. In that context it becomes obvious why liberal churches with their fuzzy, anything-goes doctrine have perpetually declined in membership, while churches that hold fast to an authentic Gospel are growing. It’s the same in business – when the mission is clear, passion is easy to find and when it’s not, nobody can easily explain why they come to work everyday. And it shows in the work.
The people you follow – in your family, in your business, in your church, in your community – will catch whatever level of passion you demonstrate. The question is, what are you passionate about, and how intentional are you about demonstrating that passion? An unfortunate chapter in our city’s public school system suggests that a passionate leader would have made all the difference.
- January 16, 2015