Contours of a Leadership Journey

Having spent time interviewing a number of seasoned leaders about their stories, while researching the theme of leadership crucibles (more of this another time), I noticed these elements that mark a leadership journey

  • Conversion. While all of the leaders I spoke to have had some kind of conversion experience, some of them talk about how radically life changing that experience was.
  • Call. Not everyone has an Isaiah-type experience of call: but some of the leaders I spoke to talked about a dramatic call experience as they listened to a speaker at a conference; another spoke more of a gradual awakening and eventually coming to the realisation: ‘This is what I was born for.’ Others spoke of significant happenings that preceded invitations into particular leadership situations.
  • Not unrelated to the first two themes is the theme of the sovereign providence of God. Sometimes leaders find that their steps are directed by an unseen hand, closing one door to open another.
  • Character and personality. Obviously these terms are not exactly synonymous, but leaders need to be aware of issues around each of them. Some leaders display very clear leadership traits in the way that they are drawn to problems. Character development is important and the leadership journey may also be a journey of character transformation.
  • Paradigm shifts. The average age of the leaders I spoke to was around 61. These leaders have lived and led long enough to experience a changing world and to undergo changes in how they view certain things, like, for example, the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Crises and challenges. Sometimes these are personal or family related, sometimes they are spiritual and sometimes they have to do with leadership and ministry. Of course a leadership crisis can become a personal crisis as the leader begins to question himself/herself. One church leader spoke of how he discovered that the answer to his leadership crisis was not better leadership technique, but greater dependence on Jesus.
  • The leaders discussed a number of things related to their spirituality. For example, some talked about the love of God, some talked about their experience of the Holy Spirit.
  • The influence of others. Reggie McNeal has written about the significance of Jethro-like characters that cross the path of a leader and the leaders in this research spoke of fathers, of youth leader, and of others who have had significant roles to play along the way. Interestingly two of the leaders (one 60 and the other in his 70s) said that they wished they had had a mentor. (Note that the photo at the top of this may be misleading in this respect: the guy is on his own!)
  • Travel was not a frequent theme, but it was there. It could be negative, with the struggles that go with isolation and culture issues in a different setting; but it could also be positive – some of the leaders spoke of positive experiences as they spent time in other countries.
  • Transitions and progressions. Some leaders spoke of how God uses one situation to prepare you for another. A couple of leaders sensed a widening sphere of influence as they progressed along their leadership path.
  • Retirement is a ‘crucible’; while a retired leader can look back and see how God has been at work, the loss of structure can bring challenges and at the same time opportunities to experience new forms of spirituality.

Do any or many of these resonate with you?

Leaders relying on God

[Moses] lasted because he allowed his leadership challenges to catalyze and draw him into a level of reliance on God that he might not have pursued had it not been for his great need for God which he experienced most profoundly in the crucible of leadership (Ruth Haley Barton).

Exploring your leadership journey

It’s almost a week since our leaders’ event at Edenmore Golf and Country Club. Anyone expecting to hear five tips for guaranteed leadership success from perfect and saintly leaders was in for a surprise!

What they got was searing honesty and pertinent challenge from three seasoned leaders; there was also a bit of humour – hardly surprising to those who know the members of the panel! It was a privilege for all who were there to listen to these leaders (I reckon a good century of experience between them) as they made themselves vulnerable in reflecting on their leadership journeys.

…incredibly moving, humbling and thought-provoking … a significant marker in my own journey.

Trevor Morrow, minister emeritus at Lucan Presbyterian Church, a congregation he served for over 30 years talked about the dangerous idolatries of ministry that can lead to the damaging neglect of family. He talked about the ‘wilderness’ of Lucan – a tiny church of 12 members when he went there, having left a congregation of a thousand in Northern Ireland. He talked about people God put in his path as he began to carve out a unique (and controversial) ministry as a Presbyterian in a Catholic context.

Ken (Fanta) Clarke reflected on some of the powerful experiences that have shaped him along the way. The realisation that he had been living as a bachelor in the early years of his marriage; a deeply powerful, cleansing encounter with God just weeks before his election as a bishop; a memorable, if frightening, time with God on a prayer mountain in Uganda. The latter two of these experiences reinforced Bible verses which he has had inscribed on his bishop’s ring.

Ros Stirling talked honestly about the crucible of singleness, challenging both single people and everyone in the room to be accountable. She talked about the encounter with a school pupil who was disillusioned by the Church – an encounter that would later be significant as she worked for 21 years for the Presbyterian Church, leading their youth department. She spoke passionately about her conviction that ministry needs to flow from a leader’s relationship with God – God aches for us to have such a relationship with him, but our culture tends to be so much more driven. Her conviction around this has been expressed in the establishment of Cleopas – a ministry that aims to provide space for the cultivation of this relationship.

All three spoke of people who had been influential along thew way. Trevor and Roz each spoke of the powerful impact of their father and other people, such as ministers, youth leaders and other mentor figures. Ken spoke about youth leaders and a school teacher, now quite elderly, who has continued to encourage him through the years.

We had a full room, with an audience that spanned generations and church backgrounds. People spoke about how they had been refreshed by the morning. One leader wrote that he had found the morning ‘incredibly moving, humbling and thought-provoking … a significant marker in my own journey.’ Another said that it had been ‘good for my soul’ and valued the insight of the speakers: as a young leader he is eager to glean from the wisdom and guidance of more mature leaders. Others found it timely and helpful.

If you’d like to know more about any similar future events or workshops (there might even be a related podcast in the future), get in touch using the contact form.