What do you learn from the stories of your life?
It’s a difficult question to answer, but it is an important one to ask. We all have stories of failure and accomplishment, sometimes the two blend together.
A few years ago, I found myself realizing that most of what I had been doing was subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) building a platform for myself. Don’t get me wrong, my heart was in serving God and in helping others embrace the amazing love of Christ, but I was using my gifts and engaging my knowledge and of course utilizing others to help me succeed.
The problem was, that for a while the results were great; just not sustainable, let alone scalable or exponential. What I lacked was the maturity and skill to have an intentional, relational leadership development plan – to invest in others on-purpose. I lacked maturity: to have it not be about me. I lacked skill: I didn’t really know what to do in developing others to lead. So, I developed a culture centered around my gifts, and those of the other staff. We developed a Pastor-Centered culture that I later grew to resent.
I’m still learning from this story, but one thing is certain, building a platform for others – instead of ourselves – requires creating a priority of investing in others. But what does that investment look like?
There are three vital skills that are needed in learning to invest on purpose:
- First is the skill of initiating. Shortly before he passed away, Henri Nouwen wrote these insightful words, “The greatest paradox of our generation is the reality of extreme busyness, coupled with a never-ending boredom.” Pace is an illusion of our productivity in leadership. I know I am not alone in fighting the battle of feeling behind and reacting to people and problems. Somehow, we buy into the illusion that due to our calendar we are not able to get ahead. One great lesson I am striving to apply is the connection between the pace of my life and the meaning I derive from it. If it is true that busyness and boredom go together, the remedy I have found is the intentionality of initiating with potential (yet disengaged) leaders. Very little brings as much meaning in life as initiating in others’ lives. Going first, reaching out, regularly connecting. Initiating is about convening, gathering specific people together.I have learned to always have a list of who I am investing into and initiating with them.
- A second needed skill is the skill of inquiring. Once I prioritize the skill of initiating, I am left with the challenge of what to do with the people I might be initiating with. The lesson here is to learn when and how the narrative is formed when building a platform for others. For me it has been a process of implementing James 1:19 “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” The key to being quick to listen is the secret of asking questions. It requires one of the most needed leadership traits we can have, curiosity. Are you curious? Can I shut up enough about me to inquire enough about you?Author Tim Ferriss begins his great book, Tribe of Mentors, by saying, “Often all that stands between you and what you want is a better set of questions.” If I want to stop building a platform for myself and start building one for others, I need the maturity and the skill to ask great questions and be curious, really inquire of others. Jesus certainly had the heart and skill to do so. Over and over again, he asks questions of his followers, his detractors, even strangers along the road. If we really want to be like Jesus, perhaps we need to cultivate the skill of inquiring.
- Lastly, I am learning the skill of illustrating, of showing and demonstrating to those I invest in. This skill is so different than what I initially thought it was. When I initially began focusing on developing leaders, I saw this as transferring my knowledge and skill to them. What I am finding instead is the skill that is needed is the skill of modeling what it means to love others in adversity, and to show what the amazing touch of Jesus has done in my life.In Matthew 8, Jesus heals a leper and instructs him to go back and “show himself” to the priest. Show what the healing touch of Jesus has done. Those that we would lift up and develop need a role model, just as much as they need a teacher.
The big lesson is this: If we are to be about building a platform for others, and becoming a hero maker, it is going to take a deeper sense of maturity and skill. It will require us to learn to initiate, inquire, and illustrate.