Valued Leadership

Wounded Leaders

I think Character might be the most important of the 4Cs. Before I tell you why I think that, let me take you to a Biblical story that you might not have thought of for a perspective on leadership.

The Emmaus Road

The Emmaus road story appears in the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament. It’s a compelling story. Jesus, the prophet, teacher, healer and sage had been crucified few days before. Cleopas and at least one other downhearted friend are walking along the road to Emmaus. A stranger comes upon them and asks, “Why are you so despondent?” They tell him that they’re sad because the one they believed in had been crucified in Jerusalem a few days before. The stranger continues on the road with them as they describe what happened. Only later over an evening meal together do they realize that the stranger is indeed, Jesus. He is with them again. And they don’t perceive it.

There are many themes or teaching perspectives to draw from this story. But I want to look at leadership and the character of leadership.

Character Trumps Competence

It’s been said that in the matter of organizational development, culture trumps strategy. Said another way, culture eats strategy for lunch. The point of these phrases is that the best strategy can fail if the underlying culture – the values and deep habits – don’t support the implementation of the strategy. Something of the same can be said of leadership. Character eats leadership competence for lunch.

We know that effective leadership requires measures of competence. Good people, people of high moral character, without some competence (tools in the tool bag) won’t lead very effectively. They can even be well –intentioned but dangerous.

But the reverse is even more critical. Competence without character can lead to incredibly unhealthy and destructive ends. Think about the moral failures of some high profile national leaders and the demise of some well-respected religious leaders. This is why so many authors and thinkers – such as Bennis, Barton, Maxwell, Bordas, Greenleaf, Kantor, Blanchard, Palmer, Kouses and Posner – say that at the heart of wise leadership is the heart of the leader.

Leadership Lessons of the Emmaus Road Story

The story of the Emmaus road can teach us about the heart of the leader. We may immediately think of the risen Christ as the leader in this story. But I think there are leadership lessons in the experience of the friends on the road. Let me suggest four that really get to the matter of spirit and stance that are expressed in character.

  1. Cleopas and his friend on the road were despondent, broken, at a loss for what to do. Jesus met them and revealed himself to them. In time, these same individuals became powerful leader s in the life of the early church. God took the broken ones and empowered them to lead. Many years ago Henri Nouwen said there is a mystery in how God uses our wounded-ness in the healing of others. Nouwen invited us to embrace the idea of the wounded healer. Perhaps the Emmaus road story invites us to embrace the fact that leaders are sometimes at a loss and don’t know what to do. We are in fact, “wounded leaders.”
  2. It was not immediately self-evident to those on the road that the stranger was Jesus. In time Jesus revealed himself and they had the capacity to see. Have we cultivated in our character an attentiveness to anticipate or look for the surprises of God’s presence in the everyday stuff we are dealing with?
  3. The friends who were walking grew tired as the day got longer. They rested. They even invited their new friend to join them for a meal. Had they not paused to rest, had they done fast-food at the drive-through, would the Risen One have revealed himself slowing down, resting, nourishing the body and soul nurtures the hearts and characters of leaders.
  4. Finally, after the followers realized they were in presence of Jesus, they gave thanks. Max DePree, a well know executive and author on leadership, suggests that wise leadership begins and ends with a sense of thanksgiving. Thanks that we have colleagues, that colleagues are leaning in and that we have followers. We are indeed debtors. The Emmaus road story reminds us of this.

Seek God’s Presence

May we understand that it is in our wounded-ness that God’s presence is known. May we take enough time to rest and stay attentive so that our hearts and minds are shaped by the power of God. May we look out for the surprising ways in which God’s presence is real in the challenges we are facing. And may we in all things, give thanks!

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