I want to continue growing in maturity as a leader. I want to live and lead from a place of true joy rather than chasing the fleeting illusion of momentary happiness. I want to operate from an authentic place of living in the presence of my Heavenly Father. I want to love the Lord with my entire being. I want to love the present version of the people I lead more than the future vision I have for them.
These are big life goals. Massive wants. Deep desires. And at times it feels like there are massive barriers standing in the way of obtaining them. Growth in maturity is super slow but I want to be neither impatient nor negligent in pursuing a developing maturity as I lead, love and serve.
Thanks to a good friend’s bold, courageous and insightful recommendation I’ve slowly begun to study a book called “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” by Edwin H. Friedman. It’s super dense and the chapters are super lengthy but it’s been super thought provoking.
Here’s a quote that captures some of what I’ve been learning: “Our society has gone into an emotional regression that is toxic to well defined leadership.” Friedman then goes on to outline five characteristics of chronic anxiety, which he believes is the core issue of growing in maturity.
#1. Reactivity: the vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another.
#2. Herding: a process through which the forces for togetherness triumph over the forces for individuality and move everyone to adapt tot he least mature members.
#3. Blame displacement: an emotional state in which family members focus on forces that have victimized them rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny.
#4. A quick-fix mentality: a low threshold for pain that constantly seeks symptom relief rather than fundamental change.
#5. Lack of well-differentiated leadership: a failure of nerve that both stems from and contributes to the first four. To reorient oneself away from a focus on technology toward a focus on emotional process requires that, like Columbus, we think in ways that not only are different from traditional routes but that also sometimes go in the opposite direction.
As I’ve processed what Friedman is proposing I’ve reworked some of his ideas into the context I lead and serve in and I’m approaching what he proposes as barriers to growing in maturity as a leader.
Barrier #1 to Growing as Mature Leader is: Reactivity
Reactivity clouds my leadership perspective and it affects the family or groups I lead by causing me to lead from a place of fearing self-differentiation.
When I’m living and leading out of this place of reactivity I respond automatically and quickly; I consistently cross or erode boundaries; I exaggerate extremely & emotionally and I lose the ability to be playful.
In effect, I become less imaginative and eventually get worn down, and resign or “go through the motions”.
Barrier #2 to Growing as a Mature Leader is: Herding
Herding causes me to be afraid of hurting other people to the extent that I become indecisive and this affects the family or groups I lead by driving me to organize around immaturity.
When I’m living and leading out of this place of herding I value being together more than I value individual growth; I relate through black & white, either/or, all-or-nothing constructs; I polarize people who think/feel differently than me; I organize things/people to minimize or fix dysfunction and I adapt or gravitate to the least mature people around me.
In effect, I become indecisive because I’m controlled by my feelings and other people’s feelings therefore I begin to function as a soother rather than a challenger and I begin to seek peace rather than progress.
Barrier #3 to Growing as a Mature Leader is: Blame Displacement
Blame displacement sabotages my ability to lead through a sense of victimization. This affects the family or groups I lead by producing a pattern of deflecting ownership and responsibility for my desires, thoughts and behavior.
When I am living and leading out of this place of blame displacement my public life doesn’t match my private life & I resist accountability; I believe that everything wrong with me begins outside of me; I’m quick to blame other people & circumstances for my problems; I’m cynical and pessimistic about my lot in life and I focus on safety rather than adventure.
In effect, I surround myself with immature leaders while leaders with the most integrity or best capacity to lead don’t see or take the opportunity to invest.
Barrier #4 to Growing as a Mature Leader is: A Quick Fix Mentality
A quick fix mentality causes me to select the least mature people around me to lead. This affects the family or groups I lead by producing a recycled cycle of stuckness and brokenness instead of growth and wholeness.
When I am living and leading out of this place of a quick fix mentality I have a low pain threshold (personally & relationally); I give simple-pat answers as though they should fix the problem; I am vulnerable to fads-that-claim-to-fix and I am controlled by a quest for certainty.
In effect, I don’t challenge myself or others to grow because I’m focused on the one-and-done technique.
Barrier #5 to Growing as a Mature Leader is: Lack of Well-Differentiated Leadership
This final barrier both stems from and contributes to the first four. Friedman says “All five characteristics contribute to one another, although the fifth, lack of leadership, may be the link among them all. The first four share two factors in common that always tend to compromise effective leadership: (1) a denial of emotional process and (2) a devaluing of the individuality that is necessary for summoning ‘nerve'”.
How Do I Break Through These Barriers?
When I struggle with reactivity I need to regulate my instincts. When I struggle with herding I need to get a vision for strength. When I struggle with blame displacement I need to respond responsibly. And when I struggle with a quick-fix mentality I need to be patient with the process of spiritual and emotional growth.
With All of This in Mind… Where Do I Go For Help in The Scriptures?
I believe all of Scripture is helpful, useful and powerful for change. I believe the message of the gospel is powerful for salvation and sanctification (real lasting transformative change). So there are many places I could go to in the Bible for help. Romans 12:1-21; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 4:17-32, 5:1-21 and Colossians 3:1-17 are a few places I’ve camped in over the years that have been super helpful in this process of maturing as a leader.
But today I want to camp out in 2 Timothy 2:1-7 and I want to ask “What does it look like for me to be a maturing leader?” I want to finish this sentence: “A maturing leader….”
A maturing leader…“is strengthened by the grace of God.”(v1) Rather than being strengthened by my ability to react quickly or come alongside and herd people or analyze and displace blame or run in with a quick fix… I need to be strengthened by the grace of God through regular communion with God.
A maturing leader…“learns from other faithful leaders in the context of community and grows in his ability to teach others faithfully.” (v2) Rather than becoming a garbage dump of useless info in the age of technology and stats and news fads… I need to learn quietly and faithfully and pass what I’ve learned along to others in community.
A maturing leader…“shares in suffering as a good soldier in Christ Jesus.”(v3) Rather than hiding from suffering and pain under quick fix stamps of new fangled fads… I need to patiently endure personally and bear with others corporately through suffering just as Christ Jesus suffered at the cross for me. This is true both for self-inflicted suffering and others-inflicted suffering. In this space, forgiveness can be sought, received and extended in the midst of suffering.
A maturing leader…“doesn’t get entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”(v4) Rather than reacting quickly to the firestorms of criticism and chaos in our chronically anxious culture by either herding around the hurting or promoting a victim mentality through blame displacement or propagating a quick fix mentality… I need to stay engaged with those around me in a meaningful and life giving way while not being emotionally connected or responsible for their plight. My aim is to please the One who enlisted me and he is the only Savior. It’s not good when I begin to think that I am the savior!
A maturing leader…“is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”(v5) Rather than taking short cuts that promise the false hope of a quick fix… I need to stay the course and play inside the boundaries by doing the hard daily work of living in the presence of the love of God and then extend that same life giving, loving presence into the relational spaces of other people’s lives with my heart, mind and soul fixated on the true hope of Heaven.
A maturing leader… must be like a “hard working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”(v6) Rather than being lazy and sluggish or distractedly preoccupied with future results… I need to be devoted to the daily grind of planting and watering the seeds of the gospel and leave the results up to the Lord to produce the harvest in people’s lives.
A maturing leader… must “think over” what the scriptures teach “for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”(v7) Rather than my thoughts being controlled by the emotional chaos of anxiety within me or around me… I must give myself wholeheartedly to letting the Word of God rule my heart and mind as I seek understanding from the Lord.
This leads back to the beginning… I want to continue growing in maturity as a leader. I want to live and lead from a place of true joy rather than chasing the fleeting illusion of momentary happiness. I want to operate from an authentic place of living in the presence of my Heavenly Father. I want to love the Lord with my entire being. I want to love the present version of the people I lead more than the future vision I have of them.
I must resist the urge to be reactive; to herd around the hurting; to displace blame or to run in with the quick fix. To resist this cycle of chronic anxiety I must continue to grow in maturity as a leader by heeding the words of 2 Timothy 2:1-7.