Leadership lessons from a storm rider – 1

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some critical leadership lessons I learnt from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible. After what seemed to be a whirlwind tour of duty, Jesus decided that He needed time alone. So He asked His disciples to go to the other side of the sea in a boat while He took time off to be alone and pray.

As the disciples made their way to the prescribed destination, a storm suddenly arose that threatened their very survival. While they were trying to evolve strategies for navigating their way through the storm, they were confronted with what seemed a more intimidating challenge. They saw in the distance, the dim figure of a man walking on the water. Grappling with the scare of drowning and seeing this unprecedented phenomenon, they felt like this was double jeopardy. Petrified in palpable fear, they screamed, “It’s a ghost!”. To allay their fears, Jesus identified Himself as the one walking on the stormy waters. Incredible! How could any human being ever walk not just on water but on stormy waters? As a way of confirming the veracity of Jesus’ claims, one of his disciples, Peter, threw out a wager. “If it is you Master, tell me to come”. Promptly, Jesus encouraged him to step into the water. Peter did. After taking a few steps, Peter saw the raging waves that looked like they would swallow him. He panicked. Seeing himself drowning as he saw his legs suddenly being in, rather than on water, he cried out to Jesus for help. Jesus reached out and pulled him up on the water while the duo made their way back into the boat. As soon as they got back into the boat, the storm ceased. There are several lessons to learn from this gripping story.

Have you ever been in that place where everything around you seems to be falling apart and every formula that you thought you knew seems NOT to be working, even when you were so sure that you were on the right path and doing the right thing? Storms are a regular feature of our lives and function. Everyone of us will get to that point or those points in life when we are swamped with pressure that threatens to drown us. Bills stacked so high you have no clue how they will be paid. The loss of a cherished job or loved one. Wondering where the next meal is going to come from. Outflow of resources constantly outstripping inflow. Betrayal by the ones you relied so heavily on. The one who entered as the perfect love of your life suddenly transforming to the monstrous bogeyman in your nightmares. In life, it is not about whether we will go through storms. It is about when! In a storm, it is not about what happens around you, it is about what happens within you. For a burnout to happen, there must first be a conflagration within.

There is only one way for every leader to avoid or survive a burnout. It is by taking time away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday grind that characterizes the life of a leader. Time alone is time to relax and to refresh. It is a time to get and hone perspective, a time to clear one’s head of the fog attendant on what can sometimes be a grueling work schedule and to strategize for the challenges that lie ahead. In my experience, I have found that to best help people, a leader often needs to withdraw from people!

Times of solitude provide us the required deep-seated sense of inner peace that enables us to walk on the storms that threaten the very existence of others. While His disciples were in panic mode, Jesus was walking on the very thing that was troubling them. As He came towards them and announced Himself to them, the darkness of the night and the terror of the storm made it difficult to come to terms with the reality of His announcement. Peter chose to put it to the test by asking for the same capacity to do what He was doing. Permission granted. Peter joined Jesus in making history by establishing the fact that the word impossible can be rewritten “I’m possible”! Without the peace within, anyone can be overwhelmed and swept away by the storm without.

Very often, your vision will shape your experience. While their focus was on the storm, all they could see was fear and possible death. When they saw Jesus, the perspective changed, confidence returned and at least one of them was willing to dare what their fear would never have allowed them to even contemplate. After all, He was the one who instructed them to get into the sea to sail to the other side. If God is the one who inspired or inspires your actions, trust Him to sustain what He initiates. When in a crisis, the upward look has never failed. Look up to God before you look within and then around you for a solution. God is not paranoid and has never been threatened or weakened by the storms that assail us. When I see or hear about people who spurn the God-factor in leadership or enterprise, I laugh at their foolishness. In reality, the severally fractured private lives of most of them is not anything worthy of true leadership.

True leaders do not perpetuate the fears of their followers. They inspire confidence in their followers by not only helping them identify and confront the fears but also by helping them overcome them. Jesus could have further aggravated his disciples’ condition by attempting to further mystify the circumstance through a display of exclusivity to the enigma of water-walking! Rather, He showed them that they too could do it by encouraging Peter, the only one bold enough to frontally request a change of status quo, to step out of the boat and dare the unprecedented. Insecure leaders close up possibilities to followers only because they want to perpetuate the mythical image of cultic leadership exclusivity. Real leaders wean their followers of their fears and the attendant reservations and actually give them wings to fly. When such leaders delegate tasks, they do so with the power of execution. They inspire possibilities in their followers and encourage them to stretch and grow beyond the mundane. They not only make their followers think outside the box, they train them to imagine that there is no box! Real leaders know that they are enlarged when others around them also grow in capacity. No wonder these same petrified disciples went ahead to pioneer the thrusts of the gospel which continues to grow over two millennia! Continuity is the strength of sustainability.

A leader who is the only one qualified to do what he is doing without deliberately raising others to replicate his capacity is small-minded and insecure; a micro-manager who is guaranteed to shrink, rather than grow an organization… continued.

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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