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

Rational Behavior

Written by: on October 17, 2015

Rational behavior…

I have often asked myself, “What in the world are you doing?”  Or, “what did you get done today?”  I can’t count the number of times that a person has asked me (quite innocently enough)  “hey, so what do you do?” and almost immediately I feel the anxiety creeping up the back of my neck…  I gulp a little, start with “well… ummm… it’s kinda’ like I help people be better…”  Truth is, sometimes I have no clue what I do!

Tina and I have talked about how much more simple my life would be if I just went over to the Lowe’s distribution center 5 miles down the road or the Shaw carpet mill 7 miles North and just got a real job!  Imagine that!  Wake up, eat some breakfast, drive to work, punch a clock, do my job, punch a clock, go home, play with the kids, watch a little tv, go to bed, actually get PAID REAL MONEY at the end of the week….  sigh.  Life would be great!  Right?  A very normal, rational kind of existence.

Go ahead and just shoot me now.

I’ve come to accept, no, embrace the reality that as a leader, I “don’t necessarily engage in rational behavior (or better, behavior perceived as rational), [I] don’t necessarily know why [I’m] doing what [I’m] doing…”1 and I am deeply grateful to Manfred Kets DeVries for helping me articulate that last sentence.  I am understanding more why my stress level increases when people ask “Jon, what do you do?”  Simply stated, I am feeling the pressure to provide a rational answer within a blatantly irrational context.

Think about it…  I –

  • start the day sending emails to people about stuff that I don’t really have any business emailing about but I do it because somehow I’m aware that they might be stuck on something and in need of a fresh perspective to get them jump started.  In general, they are appreciative.
  • -Skype or Google hangout with a person or two in entirely different geographies than me and ask them questions…  that’s right, I ask questions.  I don’t even really tell them anything useful!  I don’t demonstrate techniques or show them how do stuff that they don’t already know how to do.  I don’t sell them a product or make anything tangible, I ask them questions.
  • Recently, sell coffee (OK, NOW we’re starting to swerve into the world of rationality!) but even that really isn’t about selling a product, it’s creating space so I can talk to people about…..  well, I’m not really sure (BACK to the irrationality!) what about.
  • go away overnight with other people and play corn hole and watch football and drink beer all the while talking about how they develop and deploy new pastors.  It seems like they learn from each other but at the end of it, I didn’t really show them how to do anything.
  • introduce people to each other so they can feel the benefit of knowing each other and help each other out but they don’t really help me get anything done… After all, what do I do that they could help me get done?!?

My dad built houses for a living.  He bought building supplies, assembled them into livable dwellings and sold them to people for money.  How do you imagine I would explain to him how I feed my family?  Yet at the end of the day I can’t imagine “doing” anything else!  Because I am a leader.  That’s just who I am, I can’t help it.  Turns out, I’m really good at it too.

Without crossing the line into unhealthy pride, I can honestly say that the list of people who would say (and have said) that my presence in their lives has made them better at whatever it is that they do is a fairly substantial one.  Very few of them work “for” me (actually, I’m NOBODY’S boss nowadays, hallelujah!) but all of them have worked with me at some juncture and I hope I have served to elevate them and their organization.

Is that what we would call “leadership mystique?”  Maybe.  But what do I know?



Remember, I can’t even tell you what I do for a living!


  1. Manfred F R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed. (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006) 65.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

11 responses to “Rational Behavior”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, Funny connection. I met a guy today for the first time. We were exchanging pleasantries when he asked me what I did. Without hesitation I began stuttering (I know that seems like a contradiction) because in one sense what I do is so complicated it is hard to explain and in one sense it is so simple because I just basically live a fluid life of giving myself to things that seem important. It is a funny way of living you could almost call it a life of “mystique.” 🙂 Sounds like you had a great retreat!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      That’s the truth man. One of the challenges I have is that we feel a strong compulsion to simplify our lives around here… To take a slower rhythm of life, but the nature of our work contends against that doesn’t it? Our worlds are very complex and complexity argues against simplicity…

      thinking about this

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon, We need to hangout, play corn hole, and drink beer. That sounds like a spiritual gift to me!

    I love reading you play out the thought, ” [I] don’t necessarily know why [I’m] doing what [I’m] doing…” the very way you did that showed EQ and demonstrates some emotional health. There’s a self awareness and an ability to articulate our situations that really adds to leadership. Nice job Jon.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Thanks Nick. One of the things I am taking away from the recent season of my life is that I don’t ever want to find myself back in the place where I have it all “figured out.” I’ve been there! The eventual disappointment that comes when things don’t work out that way is really heavy.

  3. Dave Young says:

    Jon, I love your post and would gladly count you as someone who has bettered my life because of your presence in it. Yesterday I visited with a family friend, actually a lady who has deeply blessed our family with her grace and goodness. For several years she’s drifted, been disconnected from church for a time. I found out that she started attending a FourSquare church in Folsom and frankly a huge smile came across my my face – knowing that leaders like you are influencing the shaping of foursquare.

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    Jon welcome to the club. I feel that way some times too. I dont make the kind of money i used, i have been struggling with my church and at times that question pops up. But then i look at the brighter side of the story. I am doing a Doctorate Degree, i am helping a number of people, i have my family and i have a lot to be thankful for. More than that i constantly live in expectation knowing that God has a purpose for us and that keeps me focused more than anything! blessings

  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    There’s a mystic (now we’re really getting scary 🙂 that says let your head descend into your heart. From your rational behavior to letting the Spirit move in irrational ways sounds like a rollercoaster ride…full of times when your stomach loses it to exhilarating joy. For someone who seems to have words and questions for much of the time, the fact that you couldn’t really say much when asked the question of what you do reflects a person willing to step into the mystery of God…perhaps that’s where the mystique comes from, reflecting the one who created you.

  6. Brian Yost says:

    “Very few of them work “for” me…but all of them have worked with me”
    What a great statement. Some “lead from the front”, others “lead from behind”, but how great would it be if more leaders led by working alongside.

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