Discover the Power of Permission Giving

Overcome Vocational Inertia

June 28, 2018

Overcoming Inertia

Inertia is the tendency to do nothing and to remain unchanged.

It shows no favoritism, acting with equal intensity on stationary objects to keep them from moving and on moving objects to hold them captive to their current trajectory. Inertia makes dead weight heavier and bad habits more deeply entrenched.

Inertia is that seemingly invisible, yet profoundly powerful force that lingers in the gap between the life we live and the one we were uniquely created to experience. The master thief comes to thwart our true destiny and uses inertia as a weapon to hold us captive to inaction, or worse, to keep us moving in the wrong direction.

If inertia is the enemy of change and the champion of the status quo, how do we overcome it?

The Power of Words Aptly Spoken

In looking back on my own life, I see the ongoing work of God in using just the right people, at just the right time, in just the right place, to speak just the right words of life-giving permission. These words have often been the catalyst for overcoming inertia in my life.

It was nearly 20 years ago for me. I was living the dream at one of the top engineering organizations in the world. I had been promoted rapidly, was making great money, loved what I was doing, yet I found myself asking pesky questions about the future.

That’s where Bob Buford entered my life. His book Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance had just come out. I didn’t know Bob, but I devoured his new book. The idea that worldly success would never fill my longing for eternal significance resonated with my soul and contributed to my restless discontent.

Bob’s words gave me permission before I knew how desperately I needed it. He could see something inside of me before I could see it myself because he had walked ahead of me. That’s what permission givers do. They see what we don’t see (or they see it before we do), and their simple words of encouragement serve as a catalyst to help us overcome the persistent inertia in our lives.

Even though Bob and I did not yet have a personal relationship, his words gave me permission to think and dream differently, and put me on a course toward freedom to change direction and overcome career inertia.

But most of us need more than the words in a book to overcome inertia. We need trusted people speaking into our lives via relationship. We need people who not only see what we don’t see, but have the credentials to deliver the message.

That’s where Brett Andrews enters my story. Brett was an associate pastor and trusted friend at the church where I became a Christian. As I struggled for two years to discern a calling from the marketplace into full-time vocational ministry, Brett was there every step of the way. We’d meet regularly, and his permission-giving words were usually the same:  “You can do it. Your gifts can be used for significance in ministry.”

Candidly, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea. No Bible college or seminary background, no passion for vocational ministry, no vision or context for what could be. The gap between a calling to the marketplace and one to ministry was simply too large for me. Brett’s role was critical in preparing the soil and speaking into my life with a trusted voice, but his words alone were not enough.

I knew Brett had a vested interest in my “Yes.” He was simultaneously in friend mode, advisor mode, recruiter mode, and beneficiary mode. His words were important and needed, but I also needed something more.

That’s where Ron Furgerson enters the story. Ron was a career FBI agent, elder, and someone who prayed for my family. He spent his career in the marketplace, and I trusted his voice. Ron is not prophetic, and I didn’t have the weekly lunch meetings with him that I did with Brett.  But God used Ron to send just the right three sentence email to me at just the right time.

There was nothing profound about it. Ron simply said, “I see how God can use you to do much bigger things than you can see. I believe in you. This is a step worth taking.” His words were similar to Brett’s, but there was something different about hearing Ron say it.

The voice of an author, the voice of a friend, and the voice of a spiritual father are all important in permission giving, but they also play different roles. Permission giving is delivered via different pathways and we all have unique roles we can play in delivering permission to others.

Five Benefits of Permission Giving

Permission giving is an intentional discipline for shifting our focus from “what” to “who.”  The practice helps us focus on “who” we catapult forward beyond ourselves rather “what” we accumulate and leave behind on this earth.

I’ve come to understand that the practice of permission giving, one of the five essential practices of hero making from our Exponential 2018 theme Hero Maker, is the pivotal practice in leveraging the full potential of the other four hero-maker practices.

Here are five key benefits of using permission giving to bless other people with an example of each:

1. Permission giving casts vision  – When Bob Buford decided to shift his focus from success to significance, one of his first questions was, “What should I focus on?” His mentor Peter Drucker, a person he deeply trusted, provided the following permission giving to point him in the right direction:

“The reason you are important, Bob, is not that you have money… the reason is that you have thought through an entrepreneurial role. You are a pioneer. You are establishing something terribly important, that is, a new form of entrepreneurship that is focused on the contribution of the individual not on the contribution of money. It’s your job to release and direct energy, not to supply it!”

2. Permission giving validates personal calling – When Elton John reflected on reaching the milestone of 50 years in music, he said this about the importance of validation:

“George Harrison sent me a telegram, Neil Diamond introduced me on the first night at the Troubadour Club. People were extremely kind to me, and told me, and that was a validation of my work. And I think when young people have talent, I love to phone them up and say, ‘Come on, well done!'”

3. Permission giving encourages action – Walt Wilson worked closely with Steve Jobs in the start-up phase at Apple, helping the company grow to $5 billion in revenue. Walt had a successful career in silicon valley before shifting his focus from success to significance and founding Global Media Outreach. Bob Buford played a key role in Walt’s journey. Several years ago, I interviewed Walt to ask him how Bob Buford had impacted him. Here is what he said:

“I was at the pinnacle of success, but I was drawn to issues of significance. I’d keep walking up to the edge of the success to significance cliff, looking over the edge, and seeing a deep dark canyon. I kept repeating the process wanting to take the step, but I never could.  I read Bob’s book and decided to ask for an appointment. I met with Bob for 30 minutes.  He listened patiently.  He stood up from his desk and walked to the white board. He drew something and said, ‘Walt, if I could do this, you can do it!’  That was all I needed to hear.  Bob spoke permission and encouragement into my life. It’s that was needed to move me to action.”

4. Permission giving builds healthy self-confidence – I never wanted to write a book. When I felt called several years ago to write a book on personal calling, I lacked confidence. I sought out Os Guinness who had already written one of the best books I could find on calling. He provided invaluable insights, but it was his willingness to encourage me that provided the confidence I needed.

Bob Buford and Dr. Robert Coleman were also instrumental in speaking permission into my life to write the book, More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to the Fullest Measure.  Having two spiritual fathers encourage me was exactly what I needed. These men wrote the foreword and epilogue to the book and the confidence they showed in me helped build the confidence I needed to take on the project.

As the book was publishing, Bob sent the following letter to over 100 of his peers. I can’t tell you how this public declaration of confidence in me changed my attitude about writing:

An associate, Todd Wilson, whom I’ve mentored for years just finished a 5-year writing project on personal calling. His new book MORE is being published by Harper Collins. I enthusiastically did the Epilogue (Rick Warren and Robert Coleman did the Foreword) and believe this is an important book that can catalyze fresh expressions in American Christianity. I’m forwarding it to a handful of my peers whom I believe would benefit by reading it and championing its message. Cheers! Bob

5. Permission giving multiplies impact – In that letter Bob sent to his friends about my new book, he also said:

I was blessed to have Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, as my personal mentor and friend.  He helped me discern and refine my personal calling.  He challenged me with three questions:

  • Who am I?  (a question of being or design)
  • What am I to contribute? (a question of doing or mission)
  • Where can I be most useful? (a question of going or position)

Unfortunately, most people never discover or engage their unique personal calling.  They get stuck in the patterns of the past while dreaming of a more meaningful future.  Their unique gifts and strengths lie dormant like a treasure that is never found hidden in a mattress. Imagine the impact of mobilizing a movement of Christians, living out their God-given calling!

Making it Personal

Are you best known as a permission giver, a role recruiter, or a self-reliant doer?  Which of the following do others hear you say most often:

  • “I see in you…”
  • “I need you to…”
  • “I will do it…”

Permission givers take the focus off their own leadership and instead see more fully the vast leadership potential God has put around them. “I see what God can do through my own leadership” shifts to “I see what God can do through the people He’s put in my life.”

  • Permission Givers let others know what they see in them. It’s a shift in seeing: “I see this gift in you,” and “I see God at work in you when you . . .”  In seeing the potential in others, Permission Givers say it, encourage it, and then equip others for what God wants to do in and through them.
  • Role Recruiters mobilize people to fill the most pressing needs of the organization. They naturally see the gifts of people as critical resources for growing the local organization and overcoming its current barriers and obstacles.
  • Self-Reliant Doers are critical to the operation of the organization and tend to be lone rangers who spend most of their time doing the things they perceive only they can do. They are so busy balancing their primary responsibilities that they find little time for directly investing in the development of others to take some of their workload.

The practice of permission giving boils down to seeing in others what they don’t see in themselves and affirming what you see! The practice of permission giving is a shift from seeing what God can do through my own leadership to seeing what God can do through other leaders.

As Bob Buford would often say, “I want to pour gas on what God is already doing through other leaders. I’m the catapult, not the plane. I want to do for others what Peter Drucker did for me. I want to give permission, encouragement, applause, and accountability for 100X results.  My fruit grows on other people’s trees.  You can do it, how can I help?”

Think about it. All these axioms can be summarized by the simple practice of coming alongside others with intentionality (connecting), helping them see beyond the fog and clouds surrounding them (clarifying), and helping launch them forward beyond the fog (accelerating).

In the coming weeks, I will continue this series focusing on the remaining essential practices of hero-making.

We have six more Hero Maker Regional Events in 2018, including events in Washington DC, Southern California, Northern California, Houston, Chicago and New York City.  These events are designed to bring the full message featured at our national event in Orlando, to a location near you and at a lower cost. The shorter duration and special pricing for groups makes it easy to bring your entire team.  Click here to learn more about these Hero Maker training events.

Todd Wilson, CEO Exponential


This post is the continuation of our ongoing series of articles on hero-making. These articles highlight the five essential practices of hero-makers by featuring reflections from my relationship with Bob Buford, a role-model for Christian hero-makers everywhere. Bob recently passed into the arms of Jesus after leaving a profound impact on the U.S. church. Bob was a role-model for permission giving. We are dedicating the remaining 2018 Hero Maker events to Bob’s memory.
Todd Wilson

Todd Wilson

Todd is a Kingdom entrepreneur. He spends the majority of his time starting and working with organizations committed to Kingdom impact and multiplication. Todd is a founding member of Exponential, which organizes and hosts the annual Exponential conference in Orlando and live events throughout the United States and world. Todd serves as President and CEO of Exponential, providing vision and strategic direction to the organization. Todd lives in Durham, NC, with his wife, Anna. They have two sons and two daughters-in-law: Ben & Therese and Chris & Mariah, and an amazing grandson Evan.
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