Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Reluctant Leader

In the last decade I've had the opportunity to work with thousands of different people. Some of these relational connections have been life giving, while others have been less than that.

What I've discovered, as all of you very may well have also, is that there are many different types of people. As diverse as people are, leaders are also equally diverse. There does not seem to be a one-size fits all prototype leader that fits the "always successful" expectation. Color doesn't matter, size doesn't matter, and social background, gender, economic status or personality doesn’t seem to matter. The contributing factors to great leadership are not limited to these factors.

So what makes a great leader?

I'm on a quest to discover an answer to this question. And in this journey I find myself drawn to the power of story to share insight into what makes leaders great.

There is a story of a man named Gideon that has long since captivated me even at a young age. Gideon is someone I would refer to as a reluctant leader. He didn't seem to stand out among his peers in any sort of fashion, and was known more for being timid than being bold or brave.

Gideon's story unfolds like this. His community was facing a time of great despair. Other nations had gathered around his people looking to enslave and control them. One nation in particular, the ancient people of Midian, was more of a thorn in the flesh to Gideon's community than any other human tribe. The Midianites impoverished Gideon's people group to the point of near extinction. With backs against the wall, Gideon's people had seemingly no place to turn. But what this group of people did value was their heritage of faith. They believed that there was a reason, purpose and design for their existence. And because of their belief, they knew that the Creator who had set out a plan and future for their community would listen to their questions. Gideon's people began to cry out to their Creator asking for His wisdom to help them in their current circumstances.

Their Creator, being God, answered their inquiries in an unexpected way. God chose Gideon to lead the uprising against their nation's oppressors. As shocking as this was for the entire community, it was even more shocking to Gideon. There is a sequence of events in this story that sees Gideon asking for two impossible miracles to take place in order to confirm what God is asking him to do.

What is simply fascinating to me is that not only were these miracles performed, but even after all of this affirmation, Gideon was still a reluctant leader.

As the story unfolds, God continues to demonstrate His purpose, design and intention for Gideon's people as they finally shake off the enslaved oppression of their Midian rivals. And while God proves Himself to be faithful, Gideon proves himself to be reluctant.

Sometimes we have defined hesitancy or reluctance as an insurmountable weakness for a leader. There have been many different individuals that I have come into contact with in my last 10 years of working with people who have personified this characteristic. And while it is true that working with people who are willing is a lot easier, it cannot be said that it is always more rewarding.

Sometimes the hesitant or reluctant leader is a wise leader. There is a lot to be said about not rushing forward into the unknown without a well thought out plan or strategy. In my leadership experience, the people who have been the most hesitant to convince about a potential partnership in some sort of relational connection have turned out to be the most loyal, honest and trustworthy allies I have ever known.

Reluctance isn't normally a quality we look for in leaders. But maybe there are times when hesitancy has a purpose? Perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the reluctant leader, but instead be determined in our willingness to see them achieve their leadership potential. When we completely disengage from people who seem to need more affirmation in order to become the leaders they were created to be, we may actually be writing off some of the brightest, most honest and most loyal leaders there are.

I should know...I was one of them, and I'm thankful that people didn't write me off before I worked up the courage to lead in the way that I have been designed to.

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A Little Something from Psalm 8

 Had a lot of fun with this one.