Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Seeking the Right Applause

The following is the final excerpt from an article by R. Scott Rodin titled, “Becoming a Leader of No Reputation” that originally was published in Journal of Religious Leadership,/ Vol. 1, No. 2 (Fall 2002), pp. 105 – 119.

“A bookmark of mine carries a thought that stayed with me throughout my term as president of Eastern Seminary.  It reads, “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 the undue criticism for the failures of our institutions, and the 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 and re-direct 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.

“Only with God’s anointing can the leader listen intently for that one source of applause that really matters.  If we seek our affirmation elsewhere, the distracting noises that vie for our attention and tug at our hearts for allegiance will drown out all else.  And if we seek for this other applause, we will never hear the one from the Master’s hands.

“Two significant temptations come to play here.  The first is the fear of rejection that causes us to run from confrontation.  The second is the desire to make everyone happy and to measure our performance, our effectiveness and our ‘leadership’ on that scale.  The two are very closely related.  The first temptation is motivated by the idea that good leaders will not generate conflict, and that rejection of our performance in our role as leader is a rejection of our personhood and character.  These are significant pitfalls for a leader.  They are generated from that deep-seated desire to hear the applause of all with whom we work.

“The second temptation is to lead by reacting. We see which way the wind is blowing and steer that direction, regardless of the situation.  We do not want our people to be anxious, to question our decisions or disagree with our reasoning.  We want harmony and unity, which is commendable.  But left unchecked, this desire will cause us to sacrifice courage, vision and risk-taking.  It will bring us momentary applause, but will ruin us in the end.

“So we must ask ourselves just what kind of applause are we seeking?  If it is human applause that validates, that affirms and that encourages us, we will also find that same applause binds us, boxes us in and ultimately strangles the life out of us.  When our daily self-worth and the measure of our effectiveness come primarily from the reaction of those with whom we work, then we are finished as Christian leaders.

“The goal of the Christian leader must be to go to bed every night with a clear conscience and a right heart with God.  God only asks one thing of leaders, that we seek with all our heart to know and do His will.”

Time for a “cardiac” check up….how’s your heart?

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