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Wisdom for leaders young and old

Ben Reed —  December 14, 2011 — 11 Comments

Stuck Between Stages

I find myself in a strange stage of life at this moment. In many ways, I can appeal to two very different groups: older leaders and younger leaders.

To younger leaders, I’m older. I’ve been in vocational ministry for nearly 6 years, have experience writing, teaching, leading teams, and consulting. I’ve been married for more than 7 years and have a 3 year old son. To “young” leaders, I’m old…ahem…experienced.

To older leaders, I’m still young. I’m not yet 30, still have a young child, have not run as many ministry laps as others, and still have a lot to learn. The “wet” behind my ears isn’t yet fully dried.

I find myself stuck between new leaders and old leaders. Which leaves me categorically nowhere. Thanks a lot, late-20s.

Living the Tension

For many of the decisions in my life right now, I live in this tension. I’ve been around long enough to stand on my own feet…but l have also been around long enough to know I don’t know everything. There are still days I feel in over my head. There are still days where I doubt myself. There are still days when I desperately need the sage advice that experience brings.

But I’ve been around long enough that people are looking at me for that same kind of advice. Which frightens me…and should frighten many others, too.

Many days, I wonder whether the next step forward is a good one…or is just a creepy man with a white wigbeard. Should I tell him what I want…or look at him, like my son did, with much trepidation?

photo credit: me

 

Allow me, out of this tension, to speak to you.

To older leaders:

We need you. Urge us to proceed with caution or to run full throttle. Prod us to start something new. Encourage us to quit doing what we’re doing. Tell us what you would do if you were our age. We crave your years of experience. We long to learn from your failures so we don’t replicate them. Help us to stand on your shoulders and see further than our own vantage point offers.

To younger leaders:

Seek wisdom. It’s out there for you. In books, podcasts, and blog posts. It’s available in other men and women, screaming to shed light on the dark and confusing areas of your life. Don’t try to navigate the fog on your own. Life’s too short, and you haven’t lived enough of it.

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech. (Proverbs 1:20-21)

Whatever stage in life you find yourself, you have a role. Lead upwards and downwards, sideways and backwards. The Kingdom needs you.

 

 

photo credit: creation swap user Drew Palko

I meet with leaders regularly. Mostly, those are small group leaders at Grace, where I’m on staff.

Nearly every leader struggles with feelings of insecurity about their leadership (I put myself in that boat, too). It’s just part of living life as a broken, fallible human trying to lead people.

Leaders wonder

  • whether our upcoming decision is the right one.
  • whether the decision we just made was the right one.
  • if we’re strong enough for the job.
  • if we’re pleasing the right people.
  • whether we’re being successful.
  • whether we’re the right person for the job.

Leaders say

  • It’s too tough
  • I’m too busy
  • People aren’t responding
  • I still have so much in my life I need to work on
  • I don’t know enough
  • I haven’t experienced enough
  • I’m in over my head
  • There are better leaders out there
  • I’m not the best leader available
  • Do you know my past?

If all leaders, at some level, struggle with insecurity, then all leaders need to hear these words spoken to them:

You can do this.

Moses and Joshua

When Moses was about to die, he knew he needed to pass the baton of leadership for the people of Israel. There was a huge task in front of the Israelites, and they needed a strong leader. Moses knew it wouldn’t be him (we learn this from Numbers 20:12) In Deuteronomy 31:1-8, we see Moses addressing the Israelites in preparation for his coming death. After addressing the people, he called Joshua to him and we read this:

“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land…”

Joshua was taking on a huge responsibility, following the greatest leader that the nation of Israel had known. I can only imagine the feelings of insecurity that were coursing through Joshua in that moment. A confirmation from Moses was what Joshua, this young leader, needed. He needed to hear from another leader, “You can do this.”

Moses told Joshua that he believed in him. He believed that Joshua was the man for the job. He believed that Joshua had what it took to get the job done. Not on his own, of course…”it is the Lord who goes before you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) In fact, this was so important that Moses affirmed Joshua “in the presence of all Israel.” Joshua needed this encouragement and affirmation.

Encouraging another leader

Every leader needs to hear this from another leader. They need to hear, “You can do this” from someone they respect. They need to hear this from you. It’s vital to their continued growth.

If this is so important, how can you honestly and helpfully encourage and affirm another leader?

Listen to them. Ask good questions. Look to affirm the work they’ve been doing, and speak hope into them. You’ve been where they are, and you’ve had the feelings of insecurity they’re having. Give them these 4 words:

You can do this.

 

 

Young leaders often feel behind the curve.

Every meeting they attend, every team they lead, every trip they plan…they’re the youngest and least experienced.  And, in my case, I’ve been in the room where everybody present had children older than me.

I can’t tell you how many looks I was flashed that said, “How cute…he’s trying to lead us…isn’t that neat?!?” As a leader, that’s frustrating.

When I started in my current role, I was the youngest on staff.

When I started in my current role, I was the younger than every one of the small group leaders at Grace.

But over time, I’ve been able to grow some level of influence.  And here’s one principle I’ve learned:

Be faithful in the little things.

If I was given a task, even if it didn’t directly relate to my area of leadership, I worked to make sure I completed the task well.  Not just half-heartedly, but with excellence.

If I took on a new responsibility, I made sure that I was 100% faithful, to the best of my abilities and even more so, to exceed expectations.

And this principle is biblical:

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much… – Luke 16:10

It’s the little things, the smaller responsibilities, that are the greatest test of character, not the bigger ones.  Letting the ball drop on the “little things” is a symptom of a heart that’s not ready for bigger, weightier things.

If you’re given smaller, less significant assignments and you fail to meet and exceed expectations, why would those who are in leadership over you trust you to meet and exceed expectations in more significant roles?

The insignificant tasks you take on early in leadership may be just that…insignificant.  Except for one thing: they show your character.  And if you want to gain influence, character (even more than age and experience) is key.

A certain level of trust must be granted to you because you’re young.  But a deeper, more substantial level of trust, the one you’re looking for, is earned.

Trust is earned one faithful step at a time.

Be faithful in the small steps.  It’ll pay off in time.

Have you ever dropped the ball on a small responsibility?

Did you see that affect your influence?