Stories of success of leaders who overcome adversity and succeed against great odds are inspiring. Whether it is the story of Abraham Lincoln overcoming political failure, after failure, to become our 16th president. Michael Jordon overcoming childhood awkwardness to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. According to Wikipedia “success is the state or condition of meeting a defined range of expectations. It may be viewed as the opposite of failure. The criteria for success depend on context and may be relative to a particular observer or belief system.” Simon Walker in his book The Undefended Leader explains that if a leader defines their life in terms purely oriented around success then their life may not equate to solid leadership. Walker alerts his readers that leadership needs to be redefined beyond the concept of success by using the example of Mother Teresa and that fact she did not seek to change world trade policies or transform Calcutta politics. He suggests that leadership should focus on “helping people to move toward fully mature, responsible personhood.” Much of life is oriented around rejecting or avoiding responsibly. We conceal and deceive ourselves. We blame others for our problems. We expect others to live by standards we ourselves refuse to live by. Enabling those we leader to take responsibility according to Walker is not just one of the tasks we are called to do as leaders, it is the primary task. All other tasks are of minor importance.
The ultimate goal is to lead ourselves and others into a place of taking responsibility for ourselves and bringing forth positive change in us as individuals. At the end of the day, the only thing we can truly change is ourselves. Walker states “It’s not in our power to create success. It’s not in our power to make other people do things. It’s not in our power to dictate the course of world events (though we may believe it is). We cannot predict, let alone dictate, whether the stock market will go up or down, whether our team will win the league or not. But what we can take responsibility for is ourselves, and those we are responsible for leading.” We are reminded it is God’s job to raise up and bring down rulers. God has the power of life and death it is not ours to hold. But we are accountable and responsible for our sphere of influence. Our ultimate task according to Walker is to grow up, to lead ourselves and others into what it means to be fully human. “True leadership is leadership of ourselves and others into this kind of life: embracing; our full humanity, discovering what it is to be fully human, to participate fully in the world.”
Leadership is a spiritual activity. It can happen at every level of life. What would it be like if all leaders engaged in a holistic leadership plan? One that focuses on every area of our lives not just our lives at work. If leadership is truly a spiritual activity and needs to happen in all levels of life shouldn’t it change and balance our lives? How should it dictate our current priorities? Walker wisely points out we are often focused on the “Chronos”, the time dictated by minutes and seconds. We don’t often focus on “Kairos”, a significant specific event or moment in time. Much of our consumer world is bases on efficiency and productivity driven by the dictation of minutes and hours. 1 Chronicle 12:32 tells us of the sons of Issachar who understood the times and knew what to do. For such a time as this (Kairos), in this moment as leaders “we are called to have moral courage, to pursue an undefended life, to resist the forces in and around us that lead people into defended places. That moral choice begins in simple ways with our lifestyle and ends, simply in our own enjoyment of undefended freedom. The happy coincidence is that as we ourselves enjoy this undefended life, so others, too, begin to be led into freedom.” If all leaders saw themselves as dispensers of undefended freedom life would be less focused on the demands to being productive and more on lasting personal change. Personal change and freedom come with a price. We must have courage, daily resist the things that cause us to be defended and make daily moral choices that promote undefended freedom. The result according to Walker is that as we gain freedom, we too can lead others into the same freedom. With this in mind maybe Martin Luther King’s words “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.” can have a broader meaning as we lead ourselves and others into a place of undefended freedom.