Leadership Courage Series # 33

As with much of this Leadership Courage Series, I’m indebted to Edwin Friedman’s excellent book A Failure of Nerve for this ninth and final leadership trait: Go first!

Friedman says “To be a leader, one must both have and embody a vision of where one wants to go.  It is not a matter of knowing or believing one is right; it is a matter of taking the first step.”

Leaders go first. 

They just do.

And when they don’t, they fail to lead.

You may be an educator, an encourager, a chaplain, an historian, a counselor, an entertainer, a soother, or a caretaker, but you are not a leader.  And, leadership is essential for the Church to be the Church.

If you watched the HBO miniseries The Pacific you’ve seen the difference.  One episode features the grizzly beach landing by US Marines on Peleliu.  Before the landing craft can unload their fresh batch of rookie soldiers they come under devastating fire.  Soldiers are hit while still on the craft. Deafening planes strafe just overhead, bombs falling.


Dizzying.  Disorienting.  Soldiers reaching the beach freeze in fear as mortars and bullets take down their companions.  The wounded scream, some writhing, others whimpering.

Then, over the din of the guns and the bombs you hear just a few voices.  They are clear, confident, urgent voices.

Officers giving directions.

Compared to the rookies, they seem almost unconcerned about their own safety.  Their focus is not dodging bullets or ducking when a bomb explodes. Their focus is the mission.  They urge their marines to get up and move—in the face of fear.  “You want to live?  Get off the beach and move!”

Leaders lead by going first.

Politicians in our day are known to modify their message and methods based on polling data.  Seems to me, their concern is not “what’s right?” but “what’ll work?”  This is what passes for leadership in a culture of cowardice.  Friedman notes that American society has become obsessed with safety.  Our culture has become chronically anxious.  We have lost our appetite for adventure.


Leadership, in a context like this, is in scant supply.


Recently, the leadership of a church in Virginia publicly apologized for mishandling sexual abuses perpetrated by a youth minister.

Their attorneys and insurance carrier went nuts.  Admit to anything and you open yourself to lawsuits… maybe dozens.

It was a major national news story particularly because the leaders of that church did lead—with integrity.  They did what was right because it was right, whether it worked or not.

They led.

Or, as Friedman says: They took the first step.

Will you?