When I was 17 I joined the Naval Reserves. I don’t exactly remember why. Perhaps it was because I grew up thinking that the sailor on the Cracker Jack box was really my older brother Smokey. No matter the reason as I marched into my boot camp experience the question of “why” did not matter much. The thing about military training is within the first couple of days you become completely stripped of your identity and your ego. Naked, I had become my social security number. I knew nothing; I didn’t like to swim and lived in Nebraska. Desperately, I clung to the hope that canoe racing down the Platte River would account for some type of nautical tenure. It didn’t.
At 17 years old I was one of a handful of young recruits to enter the US Navy and become a member of a company of trainees. I don’t remember how many started with us but quickly our ranks faded as people, having been reduced to a number, broke – like the hull of the Titanic never to emerge in-tact again.
I, on the other hand, found a new rhythm to life and was asked to lead a squad of “real” men and even earned a promotion upon graduation. Looking back, I would not have considered myself a leader at all. But someone did…and that was a bit scary.
This is why I believe that we all lead. Some leaders are great at it, some OK and some are horrible. In boot camp I had no idea I was a leader. I just didn’t want to get yelled at. It was embarrassing. Looking back on my first real leadership experience I realize that there are three distinct elements leaders go through before they become functional. These can best be described as understanding, belief and maturity.
As a young man I needed to come to the understanding that I was, in fact, a leader. You see, of the kinds of leaders I described; great, OK and horrible – there is one level that’s the worst. It’s a person who is leading but doesn’t know it. That person tends to live in a “stupid-zone” and takes people along with them. Boot camp reminded me that I was a person who leads. A man made in the image of a Creator and given the keys to a huge house called the earth. To get past, “dangerously stupid” in my leadership life I had to understand that people are actually following me. Nobody leads in secret.
Leading requires a high level of belief but sometimes with a twist. I had to learn to believe I was an OK leader. When times were going good I had to believe it was sustainable. I learned to believe in every task I put my hand to and every idea that was born around me that made good sense. I learned to believe in others -it’s easy when you see only good things being produced from them. But at times I learned that belief needed a twist called faith. This happened when people and results were less than desired. It seemed like belief got me going as a leader but my faith allowed me to grow. In my leadership life I admit that Jesus helps to bear the weight of my decisions. This helps my confidence grow – in every victory or defeat.
Finally, I learned about maturity. The Bible talks about being changed over time into the image of Jesus. What that says to me is that Jesus is the perfect leader and we are to become more and more like him. You know, lead like him. Jesus never took short-cuts, and for a growing leader this can be a challenge. As we mature in faith, we must mature in our leadership abilities. This is very helpful to know. (Especially if to you leadership is a sprint, rather than a race of endurance.) maturity in leadership takes time and perseverance.
Many of us find ourselves drifting hopelessly in a sea of leadership confusion. In my opinion, everyone is a leader of something so it’s helpful to think about the three elements of leadership: understanding, belief and maturity if we ever want to grow into the excellent leaders we were all created to be.