Nine Disciplines of a Steward Leader (Part III)
Become the Leader God Called You to Be.
Steward leaders succeed because they are attentive first to who they are and what God is doing in them. There are no ‘traits of a successful steward leader’ to emulate but there are consistent disciplines that position us to be used by God most effectively. We previously covered disciplines one and two and three and four. Here are the fifth and sixth.
5. Choosing the Applause.
‘Who – as a matter of deep conviction and humility – will determine your worth, the value of your life on earth?’
One of my bookmarks carries a thought that has stayed with me throughout my years in leadership:
“It doesn’t matter if the world knows, or sees or understands, the only applause we are meant to seek is that of nail-scarred hands.”
Leaders are exposed to opportunities to generate applause. As public figures we receive both undue criticism for the failures of our institutions and unmerited praise for their successes. The true calling of leadership requires us to accept the former and deflect the latter. That is, our job is to take the blame for mistakes made by those under our leadership and to deflect the praise by redirecting it to those most responsible for our success. In this way we keep ourselves in balance, never taking the criticism too personally and not accepting the praise too easily. But this balance is very difficult to maintain.
Yet keeping this balance leads to the relatively unusual experience of finding freedom in leadership. Steward leaders are free! We can know freedom from the tyranny of self-preservation and advancement only as we accept criticism and deflect praise. The success of the steward leader lies significantly in his or her ability to keep this twofold movement of leadership in balance. Leaders who inflict pain lose trust and dishearten their people. Leaders who absorb praise produce resentment and sacrifice motivation.
So we must ask ourselves just what kind of applause we are seeking. If human applause serves to validate, affirm and encourage us, we also find that it binds us, boxes us in and ultimately strangles us.
When our daily self-worth and the measure of our effectiveness come primarily from the reaction of those with whom we work, we are finished as leaders.
Consider how many decisions you are called on to make in any given day—some in private, some in meetings and some in the public arena. Every day come multiple opportunities to make applause-generating decisions. Sometimes the temptations to make them are enormous, especially when considering the price to be paid if alternative, harder options are chosen.
Now consider how often following God’s will and his Word point you down a different path. This path is the journey of the steward leader. True leadership takes place at the intersection of doing what God is telling us to do and doing the expedient and popular thing. It is there that we know to whom we are looking for our affirmation.
The goal of the steward leader must be to go to bed every night with a clear conscience and a right heart before God.
God asks only one thing of steward leaders: that we seek with all our hearts to know his will and respond obediently and joyfully.
6. Pray for Eyes to See Your Neighbor as God Sees Them.
When I am in a hurry I see the people God places in my path as obstacles to be overcome. I get focused on my agenda, my needs and my precious time and the people I encounter mostly get in my way. They don’t drive fast enough, move me through check out lines quickly enough or return emails promptly enough. In this mindset, people are mostly frustrations. That is because I see them in the static moment in which I encounter them. Thank God he does not see me in the same way!
Steward leaders are given the gift of viewing relationship as dynamic and not static. That is, they see people as fellow travelers on life’s journey and understand that each encounter is an opportunity to be used by God to help them on that journey.
Think about how many people you will encounter today, in either very brief or quite substantial ways. How easy is it to see them in the static moment and treat them as a means to your own ends?
What if God gave you the eyes to see everyone you encounter within the context of the larger journey that they are traveling? What if you had a glimpse of the pain they are enduring, the fears that haunt them, the uncertainty they feel or the hopes they are trying to keep alive? What if you were able to see the impact that a few carefully placed words could have on them as they travel?
Steward leaders see relationships as gifts that God has given us to nurture and bless. We can respond with an ‘owning and controlling’ attitude that seeks to use people to get us what we need, or we can pray for the eyes of Christ that we might enter into those journeys, if even for a brief moment, with one kind, supportive, encouraging word. We can see ourselves rightly, as fellow travelers with everyone we encounter.
If you can, take a moment and read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar from Luke 18:35-43. Do you identify with the disciples, who were so busy keeping to their agenda that they saw the man as an obstacle? Can you pray today to have the eyes and heart that Jesus had – eyes that really see your neighbor as God sees them and a heart that stops and listens and cares and responds?
Steward leaders have been set free to step outside themselves and truly encounter people in ways that helps set them free. That is a meaningful and rich way to live, and we have been called to nothing less.