Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Building a Better... Motivation (Part 2)

In last week's blog post, I began to examine my motivations for being a leader. Three motivations stood out to me, obligation, pride, and calling. This week, I'm going to take a step back, and find out what other leaders in the past and present have said should be a leader's motivation. Jesus, in the book of Matthew, warned his disciples against what he called "false prophets". He warned them with the example of a tree, saying that "every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit". (Mat 7:17) I think the same applies to leaders. "Good trees", that is, good foundations, will produce "good fruit", or good leadership. The same is true with bad foundations. So, lets first look at the foundations, and judge them based on what fruit they produce.

My first motivation that I examined was obligation. Oddly enough, there is not much material on leading because of obligation. Perhaps it is because obligation doesn't have the fire to sustain anyone in the long-term. Likewise, it does not instill a passion or love for the work you are doing. An episode of "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" illustrates this well. The main character, Ned, had a hard time saying 'no', and ended up taking responsibility for many different projects around the school. Eventually, he upset everyone, and burned himself out. Although it was only a kid's show, it understood what obligation does to leaders. Eventually, leading solely on obligation will lead to burn out.

My second motivation was pride. I guessed last week that this was not the right motivation for leading, and I believe I was correct. Both secular and sacred writers have agreed that pride is destructive. The often quoted proverb: "Pride comes before the fall" spells out the inherent danger of pride. Even modern business agrees. Author Jim Collins discusses why great leaders fail in an article in Businessweek, A Primer on the Warning Signs. He explains the process of a company's collapse, and the root cause of it. The bad foundation for Collins is something he calls "hubris" (Collins). Hubris is "exaggerated pride or self-confidence"(Merriam-Webster). This hubris is the foundation for destruction for both secular and spiritual leaders. Pride is a universally bad tree for leaders.

The third motivation last week was calling. Calling seems to be a word thrown around in Christian circles a great deal. Most pastors will say they were "called" to the ministry. Calling to most people means a emotional excitement or passion for a topic. This was similar to my experience with a "calling". Yet, when I take a look at how great church leaders were called, it was a command, not a emotional experience. An example of this would be the call of the apostle Peter. Jesus commanded him to be a pastor, and then explained the horrible things that would happen to him, and then says "Follow Me" (John 21:15-19). Quite an radical way to recruit someone to leadership! There are then, two callings. An emotional calling, and a command calling.

Which calling is a good tree, and which is a bad one? An emotional calling is by all appearances, a good tree. Emotionally called people love what they do. Their vision, commitment, and passion are likely to fuel successful leadership. However, much like young love, passion is fleeting. The command calling is more like a marriage, a commitment to "follow" through the good and bad. The command call is a "good tree". It takes work, commitment, and is tougher than the emotional call. Nevertheless, this call produces good leadership. 

My personal application this week is to take an inventory of my current motivations for the various things I lead, and see if I have 'good trees', or 'bad trees'.

(1) Collins, Jim. "How the Mighty Fall." N.p., May 2009. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
(2) Merriam-Webster. "Hubris"  Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.


  1. This was a fascinating post, and I found myself absorbing your content and asking myself questions all along the way. That's the sign of an engaging post! I find it interesting that you declare that the tree is the foundation. I would have guessed the soil--but then again, this is your metaphor, so use it as you will.

    And would a command calling be like a marriage? Or like a decision made by someone in power over someone who has less power? Did Peter really have any choice in following Jesus? Think of it this way: he could have said no, and there are plenty of stories in the bible that showcase those who do not follow the requests, offers, or demands made by those in religious authority. But for a true believer, was there really a choice for Peter?

    (I haven't written so much about religion since I was in Catholic school!)

    1. Certainly Jesus had the authority to demand Peter follow him. However, the character of Jesus as we have recorded in the bible, suggests that what he said to Peter was not a 'you had better do this, or else!', rather a 'Come, and join me in this adventure.' There was a choice for Peter, even as a "true believer". Much like there is a choice for every young woman who is proposed to. As anyone who is proposed to can say no, Peter could have said no. But out of love for the man whom asks the question, the answer is most certainly yes.
      Perhaps command is not the proper word. Perhaps invitational calling is a better fit. An invitation to be a better leader, to become part of an adventure, to follow Jesus where He would lead. I'll have to think about that.