There’s a scene in the movie, We Were Soldiers where Mel Gibson’s character assures the men he is leading into battle that he will be the first person off their helicopter and the last man to step back on when they leave the battlefield. He’s upfront and transparent with his men.
Good leaders are transparent. When leaders aren’t transparent, when their behavior doesn’t model what they say, people find it very difficult to follow them. Few mistakes shine brighter in an organization than when a leader violates the principles, traditions and ethical standards that shape the culture of that organization.
Gather people to your vision and show them what it looks like to walk through life in pursuit of that vision. This is true in both normative and catalytic seasons within your organization. Change brings uncertainty and resistance. No amount of instruction will pry people away from the golden myth of the past as effectively as a leader who models what it looks like to live out a new rhythm of life.
This goes deeper than the hard work of crystallizing what matters most to you into pithy statements or a set of bullet points that you post on your office wall like an alternate set of ten commandments. For example, it’s one thing to capture a conviction about a life shaped by God’s calling to community and mission. And while we never want to minimize the beauty of a life that’s built around other people as we declare and display the greatness and glory and goodness and grace of God in everyday life, there’s something else at work in the lives of leaders who change the way other people think and live and love.
We don’t grow into a family of missionaries – ultimately – through the collective adoption of best practices. What changes the people God has given us to lead is not merely their observation of our hospitality or incarnational posture. It’s quite possible that they’ll watch you live out this new way of life, provide the occasional word of encouragement, or offer of help – yet never embrace any of it as their own. This can be particularly problematic in established churches or Christianized cultures where the work of community and mission remains the sole work of professional ministers.
If we intend people to become part of a family of missionaries in our cities, we must lead with a transparency that is far more foundational and pervasive than missional convictions and communal methodology. I’ve spent this year meditating on the book of Colossians and this morning I was back at the beginning of the letter, greeted with a reminder that grace has been given and peace has been secured on my behalf. On one hand, this means that I am loved – lavishly – with an affection that is settled and steadfast. There is much that is uncertain in my world, but the love of my heavenly Father is not in question. On the other hand, this love that has rewoven everything that could possibly unravel my relationship with God is a tapestry of grace. It is love that is undeserved, even as it is freely and abundantly given. The very concept of grace is a reminder that while there is nothing that can separate me from the love of God, it is a love given in lieu of the actual content of my life.
Grace creates transparent leaders in two particular ways: it convinces us that we are loved with unbreakable and unyielding affection; and it compels us to own up to the manifold ways we reject such love. Beyond our principles and practices, Gospel-centered leadership models a life of repentance and faith. The call to community and mission protects this from discombobulating into a life of flaccid passivity. Yet in a culture that threatens to careen into a hyper-active obsession with all things communal and missional, here in the simple language of grace and peace is a patient and persistent reminder that the life we are called to is a life that never disconnects from undeserved yet unwavering love.