Leadership 501

That’s right, I just jumped to 501. I don’t think I ever wrote on 201, 301, or 401… they’ve always scared me. But since I’m going to keep it to quoting one of the most highly thought of leaders of our day, and we’ll also see it played out in scripture (1 Samuel 9), I’ll claim this insight for a moment. What we’ll find is that just as history repeats itself, and just as “keep it simple stupid” (K.I.S.S.) seems to work, leadership has a path that actually comes full circle. At it’s highest level comes a simple key: Humility. An amazingly difficult thing for most leaders (including pastors) to have, much less maintain.

I outlined earlier some of what Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good to Great) shared in a recent speech on his thoughts on leadership success and failure. Behind these successes and declines are not only the strategy of a leader, but also the capacity of a leader. The focus of Jim’s thoughts, are essentially about leadership capability. He questions the thought we typically have that either leadership exists or it doesn’t. Instead he offers the idea that leadership has levels.

Here’s what Collins said:

“In general I have had a bias against a CEO-centric view of the world. Leadership answers often strike me as over simplistic and in danger of covering up too many variables. If a company does really well we say it was great leadership; if it doesn’t do well we say the leadership wasn’t as great as we thought.”

“That eventually led to the idea that leadership is an evolving series of capabilities and levels of maturity. So it’s not a leadership or not question, it’s a “what stage of leadership” question – and what level of maturity are you.”

So what is a level 5 leader? Glad you asked. First of all, a level 5 is to be thought of as the highest level of leadership possible (at least for today). It’s characterized by a humble “concern for the organization and for IT’S success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.”

It almost seems counter-intuitive that humility would be the key trait for such high capacity leadership, and that’s exactly what Jim thought during his team’s research. “The Level 5 Leadership finding, which came out in Good to Great, was not what I expected to find. But it’s what he found.

Level 5 leadership challenges the assumption that transforming organizations from good to great requires larger-than-life-leaders. The findings appear to signal a shift of emphasis away from the hero to the anti-hero. Humility is a key ingredient of Level 5 leadership. Humility + Will = Level 5. “Level 5 leaders are a study in duality”, notes Collins, “modest and willful, shy and fearless.”

Essentially he’s saying a level 5 leader finishes strong and with a legacy of humility.

So let’s go to the Bible and take a look at Saul for a moment. Scripture tells us he was built for the role of leader. In fact 1 Samuel 9:2 says Saul was “an impressive young man without equal.” Yet there was something special about Saul. He had everything going for him and every right to be prideful, yet when he was called out by Samuel, he struck a posture of humility. Look how he responded:

Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (1 Sam 9:21)

This posture wasn’t new to Saul. Earlier in the story when he was about to give up, he gave ear to the counsel of his servant who not only encouraged him (vs. 6-8), but also gave him direction (led upward). This highlights another key benefit from humility, a willingness to listen to those around you. Collins said recently that great leaders constantly ask what our “question to answer” ratio is, and is constantly seeking ways to ask more questions. The reason? So we can hear the answers we might not normally come up with.

I have a friend who has seen some amazing professional success in the business world who said that the trend in companies unable to make it to the next level is the CEO or key leadership team’s attitude toward everyone else in the company or their competitors. He said, “When you find yourself in a position where you feel constantly that you’re surrounded by idiots and you’re the only one who knows what to do, beware. You’re about to take the fall. You’ll find soon that you’re the idiot. And you think too highly of yourself.”

Bottom line, in the beginning, Saul had an amazing personal mixture of humility and confidence. From level 1 through level 5, Humility is the key in keeping confidence from becoming arrogance and pride. And confidence is key. It’s the fuel for the “Will” in the “Humility + Will = Level 5” equation.

Another friend of mine who is a West Point grad, ex-Special Operations officer, and now owns a management consulting company in Denver wrote the following about this confidence in leadership as seen through 1 Samuel:

“Confidence is a tricky character trait for a leader. Too much can make them prone to rash and arrogant decisions. Too little can leave them timid and passive. In either case, too much or too little, the end result can be a leader who is too selfish to lead effectively. They are so focused on their own strengths or inadequacies that they miss the power of their team and God’s hand in their work. In recent chapters we saw the Israelites with too much confidence when they carried the ark into battle against the Philistines. And we also saw them with too little confidence in believing they needed a king to be like the nations around them. Both results were due to having poor relationships with God, and thus, a poor understanding of their power and security with Him. When we truly know God we know who WE are in Him. This appropriately sets our confidence. We understand that we can “do all things through Him who gives me strength”, but we counter that with knowing that He has to be a part of any venture for us to succeed, no matter how small. So, while we can do all things through God, we can’t do anything we want through God. Confirming that God is leading gives us all the confidence we need.”

So why use the example of Saul? While he started as an excellent candidate for a level 5 leader, he ended up being an excellent example of someone who failed to reach it.

The problem is that power corrupts. That’s in the bible. Look it up. So humility at this level of success and influence is not only rare, but possibly our greatest mountain to climb.

As church leaders, we must all be aware and beware. We know how the story of Saul ends. After leading as King for 42 years, Saul ends up going crazy and chasing David all over the place. This is a huge reminder to me at any level of leading that might lead to seasons of “success”: We must constantly check ourselves, our motives, and how they fit with God’s true vision. We must maintain the correct posture, create the right processes, and place the right people in right positions to help us keep focused on His calling. We have to protect ourselves from ourselves as we remember that this is not about us.

This is getting long. Officially, the BLOG ends here.

Unless you want to keep reading for part #2… in that case, here is a furthering thought on Saul’s humility and the tragedy that follows. It comes from an email I got from a friend this morning (at 5:15am) that sits on my board at Austin New Church. He’s an incredibly insightful leader whose current role is Executive VP of Global Services for a company headquartered here in Austin. The only thing bigger than his insight is his track record and professional accomplishments… check out what he said about Saul.

“Saul starts with the admirable trait of humility which leaves him as he becomes king. He has all the traits that Israel wants in a king, he is taller than most, good looking and strong and comes from a prominent family. Saul is like some of the men and women in this world that we see attain fame, fortune and glamour only to fall from grace with a character flaw. In some ways Saul is a tragic hero, the main character in a tragedy who makes an error in his actions that leads to his downfall. Some characteristics about a tragic hero include:

– The hero is led to his downfall due to hubris, or excessive pride.
– The hero discovers his fate by his own actions, not by things happening to him.
– The hero sees and understands his doom, and that his fate was revealed by his own actions.
– The hero is physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in his death.
– The hero is often a king or leader of men, so that his people experience his fall with him.
– The hero learns something from his mistake.
– The hero is faced with a serious decision.
– The suffering of the hero is meaningful.

God why use Saul? Why use a tragic hero and not raise up another more deserving more righteous man? God raised up many to distinction who were less deserving than others were. We cannot figure out all of God’s reasons for raising one over another in this world. Many of these reasons are contained in the unsearchable wisdom of God. What we should never do is assume that just because God is using a man, that he deserves it. And more importantly we should not somehow see ourselves as less than one who God chooses to raise up by the scorecard of this world. Once we do this, we start imitating the characteristics that make these people tragic heroes. For all are human, and all have a flaw, the more the spotlight of the world pierces us, the more our flaw becomes known. The only hero who is not tragic (in the literary definition) is the Son.”

Wow. How ‘bout that with your morning coffee?


About Brandon Hatmaker

Church Planter, Missional Strategist, Non-Profit Collaborator, and Author of "Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture". View all posts by Brandon Hatmaker

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