A Feature Article from Leading by God's Design
November, 2016 | By Dan Gaynor
Christian leadership is so often corrupted by worldly culture and the thinking it gives rise to. Indeed, one of my missions for this blog is to expose these situations and contrast timeless biblical principles with the often trendy faddish thinking I see so much of. My target for this instalment is the current popularity of Authenticity and Vulnerability. These are hot leadership words that are attracting big audiences. I suggest both are problematic.
Let's take authenticity first. The thinking generally goes something like this: be authentic, be who you truly are, to become a great leader. But what if who you are isn't so great? The call to authenticity seems to assume a certain goodness of character and this is a deeply flawed assumption. A few years ago I was seated beside someone on a plane who told me that when he simply gave way to the really nasty guy he is and embraced, his nature to cheat and exploit people, he found real contentment. Yes, this is a true story. At that point I had to tell him that as a Christian such an approach would be totally unacceptable for me.
Remarkable as the exchange was in its candour, it pointed to a truth and to the problem with authenticity. We are all born sinful. Christians are called to resist the sinful nature and to be led by the Spirit. All Christians enter into a lifelong process of sanctification, one we are expected to be active participants in. So Christian leaders should not strive to be authentic. Rather, we should strive, in the power of the Sprit, to be more than we are today. To more closely reflect the likeness of Jesus in all things, including the way we lead others and the example we set. This should encourage the Christian leader to an ongoing process of prayerful introspection to uncover and remedy faults. King David demonstrated this well, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24.)
Now for Vulnerability, The Oxford Dictionary describes it as "exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally." The problem is that people just don't follow weak leaders and vulnerability often leaves the impression of weakness when people need confidence.They don't want arrogance but they do want courage and strength of character. Teams take their emotional strength from their leader. There challenging times, even a few frightful ones (two tough labour disputes come to mind) during my years leading newspapers that I knew if my knees buckled many others would have as well.
This is why God instructed Joshua as he was about to lead Israel into the Promised Land, "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them." (Joshua 1:6) God repeats his call for strength and courage three times in the opening ten verses of the book. He does not instruct Joshua to be vulnerable. The bible offers a great illustration of the leadership vulnerability. When the 12 spies Moses sent ahead to the land God instructed them to take returned, 10 expressed real vulnerability, "But the men who had gone up with him said, 'we can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are.'" (Numbers 13:31) Moses, Joshua and Caleb were unable to undo the harm and it incited chaos and rebellion that set the mission back 40 years.
Authenticity and Vulnerability have become hot words these days. I suppose in some contexts there is nothing wrong with them. They may play well with academics, writers and consultants but they don't stand up well against timeless biblical practices and they still give rise to the same problems.