As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven,
Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
Leadership capacity has been written about exhaustively. Endless is the list of skills to acquire and strategies to employ in order to accomplish those goals and ideals that one would want to pursue. In common conversation, even among Christian leaders, there is no shortage on advice with regard to attaining, keeping and protecting leadership roles and privilege. The following statement by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, places a firm finger on what separates those who pursue leadership and those upon whom leadership is conferred:
“Once he committed himself, however, as he did in the mid-fifties to the antislavery cause, he demonstrated a singular tenacity and authenticity of feeling. Ambition and conviction united, “as my two eyes make one sight,” as Robert Frost wrote, to give Lincoln both a political future and a cause worthy of his era.” (p. 169)
Having grown up in a different country, I don’t possess the depth of understanding regarding American history, and therefore likely lack a true appreciation for the significance of the transformational presence of Abraham Lincoln. History at times has a way of smoothing the rough edges and flattening the tumultuous terrain in order to elevate particular people and their efforts. Goodwin, however, allows us to ride the bumpy road of Lincoln’s life and inner struggles. At times, from the present we are likely to falsely assume that the way things are, somewhat, the way they have always been. Goodwin ensure that we would not forget the depth of dedication, extent of sacrifice and dogged determination of those who have prepared the way for the relative ease in which we live.
Throughout this book, Goodwin helps us to understand Abraham Lincoln’s natural ambition, his interpersonal skills, his relentless courage and most importantly, his capacity to place the cause as a greater priority than himself. While his chief rivals were consumed, to varying degrees with attaining the office of President, Lincoln’s priority was to see all men given equal opportunity to exercise their freedom. This resolve to loftier goals grounded in unshaking principle allowed him to embrace even those who seemingly opposed him: “Lincoln’s ability to win the respect of others, to earn their trust and even devotion, would prove essential in his rise to power. There was something mysterious in his persona that led countless men, even old adversaries, to feel bound to him in admiration.” (p.130)
It wasn’t a campaign slogan or a hypothetical ideal, according to Goodwin, the readiness to give opportunity to others flowed from his character:
“Lincoln’s abhorrence of hurting another was born of more than simple compassion He possessed extraordinary empathy – the gift or curse of putting himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.” (p.104)
Many times as I have read the account of Jesus serving his disciples in the upper room (John 13), I have paused and tried to hover in this setting, somehow hoping to discover something new or different tucked between the words that can, at times, be too familiar. He who was present at the creation of the world, possessing untainted power and unmatchable knowledge, hidden away with those particular men. The Son of God washes the feet of mere men. Is this what leaders do? Really?
“(Lincoln) trusted the bond he had developed with his soldiers during his many trips to the front. After every defeat, he had joined them, riding slowly along their lines, boosting their spirits. He had wandered companionably through their encampments, fascinated by the smallest details of camp life. Sitting with the wounded in hospital tents, he had taken their hands and wished them well.” (p.663)
James and John had their own ideas of being leaders that needed to be dealt with continually. Peter was so full of enthusiasm yet seemingly low on understanding and courage. And then there was Judas, the one who would betray him. The same Judas; the one whom Jesus would distinctly signal as the betrayer. And yet despite their differences, none of the twelve disciples had it in their capacity to recognize the traitor from among them. Why? I think it’s because of the way Jesus outwardly treated them all, despite what he knew about their weaknesses. His capacity to bring together people of diverse backgrounds and differing skills under a common cause was worked out in such a way that the disciples themselves considered each other equals and could not bring themselves to think of others in such a negative manner as Jesus was suggesting. Jesus gave them all equally the chance to participate in a cause greater than themselves. Jesus provided opportunity for them to either embrace their opportunity or to reject them for their own selfish ambitions, and despite the fact that He would suffer for their poor choices.
Perhaps like few other historical figures, Abraham Lincoln embodied this capacity that Jesus demonstrated so thoroughly: the ability to bring together a diverse group of people not under a person’s personality or positional leadership but in mutual submission to a cause greater than their own imaginations and ambitions.
“By calling these men to his side, Lincoln had afforded them an opportunity to exercise their talents to the fullest and to share in the labor and the glory of the struggle that would reunite and transform their country and secure their own places in posterity.” (p.747)
As you reflect on your own leadership how do you handle those who oppose you? Or those whose personality and views don’t necessarily fit well with your own?
How have you seen a cause neglected because of leadership that focused only on position, power or personal ambition?