I have often wondered how certain people have found their way into leadership positions, especially into ministry leadership positions. If “the cream always rises to the top,” then why does that not always seem to be the case in leadership situations? At least in my own experience it seems that sometimes just the opposite has happened. What accounts for this?
In her potent little book, Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader, Shelly Trebesch uses several Biblical, historical, and personal case studies to explain her views on Godly leadership development. She quotes Robert Clinton as she defines the isolation experiences of leaders, “Isolation is the setting aside of a leader from normal ministry involvement in its natural context usually for an extended time in order to experience God in a new or deeper way.” Perhaps part of the answer to my question above is that the leaders I am referring to have not yet been through an Isolation experience. I wonder why this is? I also wonder if it might be time to check out a theory I have held for a long time. I will spell out that theory now.
What would happen if churches (and perhaps other organizations as well) would build in what I might call “forced isolations” every few years for their senior leaders? Here are the parameters:
- The leader is assigned a job in a MacDonald’s (or similar fast-food restaurant) in a location where he or she is unknown.
- The job lasts three to six months.
- No promotions are allowed in this period. The leader starts and finishes this season as an entry-level worker.
- The leader is not allowed to reveal his or her real position to the new fellow workers.
- At the end of the period, the leader is to report to the board of the organization what she or he learned in the time away.
I would like to hear (and see) what changes occur in the leadership style of the leader after such an experience. My hope would be that he or she would return with a new set of eyes and with a new set of priorities. I cannot be certain that this would work for all leaders, but I would think that at the very least the leader would return with a humbler spirit. Perhaps I am only dreaming, but I would hope that my little experiment would bring some of the cream back to the top of the bottle. What do you think? Are there better ways of accomplishing this result? Have you experienced the same thing I am addressing here? I would like to know your thoughts.
 Shelly Trebesch, Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1997) 10.