Leadership Courage Series
#1: The Heart to Lead
This begins a new blog series. The topic is Leadership Courage. Courage is integral to leadership. The link between the two is inseparable. To attempt to lead anyone, without employing courage, will undermine the possibility of the enterprise you hope to lead others in.
Management is another bird entirely. A manager does not a leader make. I hold a management degree. An advanced degree. From a pretty good school. We learned and practiced sophisticated problem solving techniques. We got pretty good with multifaceted analytic tools: market, cultural, financial, logistical, and competitive analysis just to name a few. Maybe most importantly, we developed our abilities at strategic reasoning and planning. In no way is my objective to denigrate management or management education. Yet, leadership is an altogether different matter.
Leadership is the visible employment of courage in a way that changes people: their thinking, behavior, and the impacts of those changes. So what is courage? A friend and mentor often says: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but is moving forward in the face of fear.” So, what is it that moves one forward in the face of fear? The answer, I think, can be found in the etymology of the word itself.
Our English word “courage” comes from the French cor which means “heart”. Courage, literally can mean “with heart”. To live courageously is to live with heart. With your whole heart.
Your whole heart engaged.
Your whole heart invested.
Your whole heart at stake.
Your whole heart exposed.
Your whole heart vulnerable.
And, what makes this whole-heart living so elusive is this: we’ve all had our hearts hurt! You cannot live, be in relationships, and love without having your heart broken… rejected… crushed. In short: hurt. Since you’re not stupid, you learn from each heartbreaking experience not to play so fast and loose with that heart of yours. You’ve learned to be cautious. Protective. Watchful.
Once, you lived with your heart in your hand. You put it out there where someone could embrace it as a marvelous, generous, precious gift. And, sooner or later it was rejected, repelled, repulsed. That hurt. A lot.
And, since you’re no fool, you made sure not to make that “mistake” again. So, you pulled your heart back. You weren’t quite so willing to give your heart away. A person would need to prove himself before you’d loosen your grip on your heart. And, at the first sign of trouble, you’d be quick to retrieve it ASAP!
Then, maybe later, an opportunity presented itself. A good opportunity. A really, really good one. Possibly it was a venture, a business idea, a ministry, a job, a project. You might have been skeptical at first, but the idea grew on you and, as it did, you became more and more passionate. You began to see yourself in this. You decided that you could actually see this working out! As you gave yourself to this possibility other priorities fell aside. You invested more deeply. Past the point of “no return”…
Then, somehow, in some way you hadn’t anticipated, the bottom fell out. Words were spoken. Hard words. Harsh words. Again, you and your wounded heart retreated from this “folly”—and any future follies as well. From now on, you’d be playing your cards a little closer-to-the-vest. What a fool to risk like that! What an idiot to trust so indiscriminately!
With each experience, you pulled your heart back.
To a place less vulnerable. A little further from other people. Not so susceptible to their whims and vacillations. And, a little farther from your dreams. Closer to your chest. Eventually, you took that heart of yours and stuffed it back inside your rib cage. Back where you decided it should’ve been all along. Safe. Unexposed. Invulnerable. Impenetrable. Like everyone else.
Well… most everyone else.
In AD 185, St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his theologically important treatise Against Heresies wrote: Man fully alive is the glory of God.
A human fully alive is the glory of God. When you take your heart out of your chest and extend it at your arm’s full length to those you have affection for, are you not becoming more fully alive? When you put your heart in play, at stake, at risk for some great, worthwhile heart-engaging endeavor, do you not become more fully alive in the process? A human fully alive is the glory of God.
So, what does all this have to do with Christian leadership? When you lead with your whole heart fully invested, you inspire the rest of us to join you.
When you are fully at stake, with your eyes wide open and yet you are still “all-in”, you invite us in, as well. In fact, when you are engaged like that, you exude an almost irresistible magnetism that pulls others to get in with you. You and those you inspire become fully alive.
The glory of God.