Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

For Such a Time as This

Written by: on January 20, 2021

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winning, “Leadership in Turbulent Times” explores the early lives, the formation, and the unique leadership circumstances of four US American presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Each of these presidents faced crises in American history. One of the questions she explores is “do the times make the leader or does the leader shape the times?”[1]

Over the next several weeks, I plan to explore each of the presidents in Goodwin’s book, in conversation with Simon Walker’s “The Undefended Leader” and Edwin Friedman’s “A Failure of Nerve.” I will specifically reference each in light of Walker’s Leadership Strategy Model.[2] This post is to set the stage and reflect on the nature of leadership, especially in times of crisis.

As the inauguration of President Joe Biden unfolded this week, the challenges could not be more clear. A global pandemic. Economic uncertainty. Systemic racism. A fractured government that reflects the divides of the electorate. Global climate change. Poverty. Disease. War. Where to start? Regardless of one’s assessment of the previous presidential administration, there is no doubt this new administration gets started in a time of unrest.

Whether or not the Biden/Harris administration is up for the task will be revealed in time. “While the nature of the era a leader chances to occupy profoundly influences the nature of the leadership opportunity, the leader must be ready when the opportunity presents itself.”[3] Certainly there are aspects of both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ background, both personal and professional, that may have prepared them. Goodwin writes, “Scholars who have studied the development of leaders have situated resilience, the ability to sustain ambition in the face of frustration, at the heart of leadership growth. More important than what happened to them was how they responded to these reversals, how they managed in various ways to put themselves back together, how these watershed experiences at first impeded, then deepened, and finally and decisively molded their leadership.”[4] What gets forged in the crucible of challenge guides us as leaders.

To a degree, what develops may be skill, but something far more important also often emerges – character. Friedman defined his work as encouraging “leaders to focus on their own integrity and on the nature of their own presence rather than on techniques.”[5] Character can impact a leader’s effectiveness just as much, maybe even more, than mere ability. Having the emotional intelligence that comes in knowing one’s self and being comfortable with who one is can influence how a leader responds to challenges.

Perhaps this era would qualify for the chapter in a “Leadership in Turbulent Times” sequel. But the onus is not just on a presidential administration, it is for anyone who bears the responsibility of leading others in this particular and peculiar season. How we lead is certainly shaped by our circumstances and our character. We could see this as a burden, or we could appreciate the opportunity and the trust God has placed in us, and also trust that for people of faith, we know that we are never alone in our work.

A Scripture text comes to mind. Mordecai the Jew, the adoptive father of Esther, the new queen of King Xerxes, challenges the queen to use her influence to save the Jews from genocide. “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”[6] The question certainly invites us to consider our own leadership challenges and how we might have been equipped and sent for this exact day and need.

[1] Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Leadership in Turbulent Times,” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018,) xii.

[2] Simon Walker, “The Undefended Leader,” (Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2010,) 192.

[3] Goodwin, xiv.

[4] Ibid, xiii.

[5] Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve,” (New York: Church Publishing, 2017,) 14.

[6] Esther 4:14b, (NIV).

About the Author

John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

11 responses to “For Such a Time as This”

  1. Shawn Cramer says:

    John, smart move to bring those three texts in conversation together. I also hear some echos of Taleb in Goodwin’s quote.

    • John McLarty says:

      Thanks Shawn. I’m really hoping to integrate the reading this year in ways that are more intentional. I’ll look forward to seeing what I can pull from Taleb.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    I’m looking forward to your integration of all these individuals, leadership concepts, and lived realities. As I read your words on character, I thought of Jesus in the wilderness. While I absolutely believe his early years set the foundation of who he would become, I think the crucible of the wilderness forged his identity in ways he could not have imagined. He left that wild and holy place a different man, a non-anxious and differentiated leader. He wasn’t rattled by the rabble rousers. He was steadfast and resolute regardless of the circumstances. In times of crisis, I wonder how suffering, silence and solitude impact a leader? I’m curious to see the lives of these Presidents unfold in your posts, and wonder what role suffering, silence, and solitude play in their ability to navigate the chaos of their prescribed times?

    • John McLarty says:

      Totally agree that the struggles and challenges do much to shape our character and the ways we respond to leadership issues. What’s fun about this book is that each of these presidents had different upbringings, different struggles, different motivations, and faced different crises as president. The book doesn’t seem to try to tie any of them together, but instead present four distinct approaches, born out of four distinct experiences.

  3. Jer Swigart says:

    John. Eager to follow along in this journey. Tod Bolsinger recently released a book titled Tempered Resilience that hits on this theme as well. Drawing from blacksmithing imagery, his argument is that leaders are forged in the fires of leadership. His work dovetails nicely with Friedman, especially with regard to character over technique as being the defining essence of a leader.

    • John McLarty says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. Sounds like a good resource for the Friedman essay later, and also interesting for this particular path as well. I very much enjoyed Bolsinger’s “Canoeing the Mountains.”

  4. Greg Reich says:

    WOW! I am excited to read your posts over the coming months. Your statement; “What gets forged in the crucible of challenge guides us as leaders.” is not only powerful but so true. Challenges expose a level of inner garbage bringing it to the surface as well as, help create a purification process for those leaders who embrace the challenge. As you have navigated the ministry challenges over the past several months how have you faced the personal garbage and embraced the purifying affects of the challenge?

    • John McLarty says:

      I’ve seen some places where challenges from years ago have helped me be a better leader in this moment. I’m also confident that this season will refine me even more. I’m glad to have this academic process to force the reflection in a more intentional way. And I’m curious to see how the lessons from this time of testing may prepare me for something down the line. That’s usually how this works.

  5. Dylan Branson says:

    John, it’s interesting tracing out the narratives that lead us to where we are. When we look back at those narratives, we can see how God has moved and nudged us in different directions to put us precisely where we are for “such a time as this.” We can see the forging in the crucible as you mentioned and despite the pain of the moment, we can also see the growth that comes out of it.

    What were some moments in your life that as you reflect back, were crucial for you in preparing you for the time we’re in now?

    • John McLarty says:

      Too many to list here, but your point is well-taken. And it’s funny the things you don’t really think about in the moment that either stick with you or return at the appropriate time. Our mind files lessons and experiences away and invites us to reference them at the right time.

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    Finding our place as leaders is not always so simple. It sure does require a lot of learning (often the hard way) and humility.

    I appreciate the lenses of Friedman and Walker that you’ll be looking through as you consider the leadership style of presidents in turbulent times. Application is everywhere…analogy too! Do you think it’s too much to engage with life, other humans, leaders with the intention of learning, asking questions, finding application?

    We can look for leadership models in big places but, what about little places? I’m curious to hear more of the inspiration of the presidents you will be following through these next weeks, as you consider their style and find application. I wonder how leaders who have aspired to and attained positions of great honour, leading countries, find inspiration?

    Thankful to learn with you, John 🙂

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