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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Leadership Advice

Have you ever considered where the world goes for wisdom? I mean, who do we listen to when we think the topic is important? It seems that there are some pretty notable regulars that show up ... giving business and leadership advice ... on a regular basis. And we listen to them. In fact, we spend quite a bit of money listening to them. (They are paid well to advise us!)

Tom Peters, John Maxwell, Larry Ellison, Jack Welch, Jeff Bezos ... they're all in some sort of club. Most of them have had some measure of business success of their own.

Some have had other non-traditional successes in life. They may be best-selling authors. It doesn't seem to matter whether what they write is true or not, or even if it's useful. If it's best-selling, it's deemed to be valuable. Worthwhile.

Or they may be religious, political or military leaders. Bill Hybels and Joel Osteen are notable preachers. They're paid well for their advice on leadership (amongst other things) because they are the heads of some of the biggest churches in the world. We don't measure the quality of their church for example. (Bill Hybels publicly admitted that his church was spiritually weak.) The fact that they're big churches seems to make whatever their leaders have to say that much more relevant.

Perhaps they're military leaders. Colin Powell is making a ton of money speaking on leadership nowadays. He successfully lead the first assault in the 90's to free Kuwait from the hostile invasion by Iraq. And he was a decorated military leader otherwise as well. Now we aren't sure if his leadership style was successful. But his superiors seemed to think so at the time. And the fact that he had the world's largest military arsenal behind him in his "shock-and-awe" strategy with Iraq seems to have been all he needed to become a credible author of leadership principles.

Or maybe they're political leaders. Bill Clinton took an interesting foray into leadership principles. He was, by most measures, a decent President. Never mind the personal scandals that rocked his presidency (and his family). We look at people like Mr. Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and already Barack Obama ... and we conclude that they are exemplary leaders. So society concludes that they have something important to say about leadership. Are there metrics to measure the success of any political leader? Or does the fact that they were elected and served make them great leaders?

Do all these people have something important to say about leadership? Frankly, I wonder. John Maxwell wrote a book, called "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership." It's been widely read; it's a best-seller in both religious and secular circles. Some churches even use it to train what they hope will be great spiritual leaders. Frankly, this alone should make us pause and question what voices we're listening to and why.

Mr. Maxwell is a Christian preacher-turned-management consultant. When I read his book, I expected to be profoundly influenced. I wasn't. Instead, I came to the conclusion that the book was a load of hooey - a waste of time. It didn't offer any real insights into how someone could be an effective leader or a more effective leader. Rather it seemed to expose realities or facts ... based on observations of good leaders in action.

So what's wrong with realities or facts? Well, for starters, they are not necessarily truth. Maxwell, for example, doesn't cite much Scripture in his 21 Irrefutable Laws. Call them principles, rules, standards or whatever else you want to call them - but don't call them Biblical. They're not. It's not that they're necessarily unbibilical either. Rather it's a case of there being nothing particularly wrong with Mr. Maxwell's laws ... but there isn't much about them that's particularly right either.

Now I'm not picking on John Maxwell today. His is just a poignant example of the problem though. Let's consider Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (GE). At one time, he was called "America's most-admired CEO," whatever that means. He became most known for his habit of firing the lowest performers in his company on a regular basis. So he took good, decent, hard-working people ... and fired them ... because 80% of the other people were performing better than they were. It didn't matter if they did their job or did it well. If someone else did it better ... you were fired.

Of course, in his personal life, Mr. Welch took up with one of his employees, then divorced his wife of thirty some years and married this woman half his age. (Apparently that's leadership in America.) Today, Jack and Suzy Welch (his new wife whom he plucked from the ranks of his staff) co-author and speak on leadership. And we pay handsomely to listen to what they have to say.

So what's my problem with all these notable experts on leadership? Why do I think it's a travesty that we pay tons of money to hear what they have to say? Why do I think they're such a poor place for the world to be seeking wisdom? It's simple really. They aren't really experts. Their measures of so-called success ... which apparently form the basis of their qualifications ... are not the measures God uses. And what they're saying doesn't line up with Biblical truth.

The Bible tells us that we are to test everything we are told or taught against the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21). So, for example, if I test John Maxwell's 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership - or I test Jack & Suzy Welch's views of successful leadership in business - I don't seem to find it aligning with Scripture. And therein lies the problem. If it doesn't line up with Scripture, God says it isn't worth anything. Where, for example, is firing the bottom tier every year in the Biblical principal of loving others the way you would like to be loved yourself - or the way that Christ loves you? (I'll give you a clue: it isn't there!)

What are the most important Biblical truths about leadership ... which the entire world (including Christian churches) seems to be missing? The first one is to put God first in everything you do. The second one is to love everyone else the way you would like to be loved if you were in their shoes. (Both are found in Mark 12:28-31.) These two principles are the foundation on which all successful leadership rests. There are no others. Everything about good, solid, godly leadership in politics, business, religion or anywhere else rises and falls on just these two principles.

Isn't it time that we put away all this malarkey that the talking heads are spewing? Isn't it time that we quit wasting boat-loads of money on leadership advice ... and start listening to God's truth about leadership wisdom? And isn't it time that we stopped being consumers of leadership styles, tips and strategies ... and instead become practitioners of leadership truth?

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