A digital commonplace for a Regular Guy called Charlie Pharis

Category: Leadership (page 1 of 3)

Leaders and Ambition…


I read yesterday where someone wrote that we are penalizing Hillary Clinton for being ambitious. The writer says a person must have ambition to even want to run for President. Up until now, the author argues, that has been a positive trait.

I would agree, to a certain extent. We do want our Presidents to be ambitious: ambitious enough to lead well, to faithfully execute their office, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, to make the tough decisions on our behalf, and to represent our nation to the best of their ability. After all, that’s what they swear to do when they assume the office. We want them to live up to their word.

But we also expect our leaders to temper their ambition with humility. We give them a lot of leeway to do the job we elected them to do. We give them the benefit of the doubt most of the time, because we presume that they know things we don’t know, that they are privy to information we don’t have, and that they really do have the best interests of the nation at heart.

We want our leaders to be servant leaders. Until recently, we never elected Presidents to rule over us. We elected them to serve us. We want them to be shining, noble examples of all that is good and right. All the while, we know they are flawed, imperfect humans. We want them to remember that, and act accordingly.

We want them to have bold ideas, dream big dreams, and do big things. But when they fail – as they all do – we want them to acknowledge it and take responsibility for it. We don’t want them to blame their predecessors or external factors. We don’t want them to cover up their flaws and foibles with misdirection or outright lies.

We want them to be ambitious, sure. But we expect their ambition to be directed toward the greater good, not their personal agendas or power or gain. We want them to recognize and navigate the tension between personal preference and public responsibility. We trust them to keep our national ideals and preserve the things we cherish, not to sacrifice them on the altar of momentary political expediency.

We want our leaders to value the great privilege we entrust to them. And we want them to live in the awareness of the awesome responsibility that comes with such privilege.

We want them to lift us up, not beat us down. We want them to bring us together around noble purposes, not tear us apart into selfish factions. We want them to put the nation’s good ahead of their own.

We don’t want them to blame us when their ideas fail. We want them to be people of their word. We want them to demonstrate honesty, integrity, and character. We don’t want them to have one face in public and another in private. Although we don’t really know them, we want to perceive them as familiar faces, intimate friends, and effective leaders who bring out the best our nation has to offer.

When they fall, or when they fail, we give them a great deal of grace. We offer our forgiveness. When they are threatened, we want to unite behind them. When they speak, we hope they speak for us. We hope they don’t apologize for the things that make our nation our nation. When they die, we mourn as one people.

All we ask in return is that they do the best they can, so help them God, to faithfully lead.

And so, back to the premise of yesterday’s article.

Let’s be brutally honest here: these two major candidates for the highest office in the land are perhaps the least popular ever to be nominated for the Presidency. Much of that they have brought upon themselves, and much has been foisted upon them by media and our own sense of expectation. A disinterested observer might note that these people are driven by ambition. That same observer might also discern theirs is a personal ambition: for power, for fame, for notoriety. And that observer might conclude that ambition is not the kind that best suits the leaders we want for the present and future of our Republic.

I refuse to concede the original writer’s premise. It’s not Mrs. Clinton’s ambition we fear. It’s that her ambition seems to be wholly aimed at her personal power and the advancement of her personal agenda. And some think that ambition comes at great cost to our identity as a nation.

From this observer’s vantage point, no one is penalizing Mrs. Clinton for her ambition. Rather, it appears her ambition is the only factor that matters to a less-than-skeptical press. We want better from those who presume to lead us. We’d rather she – or anyone whose ambition is to lead this great nation – put our interests first. We’d rather be confident that they are shooting straight with us, and that when they speak, we can trust what they say.

It’s not her ambition we don’t like. It’s that it’s her ambition above anything else.

And that deserves to be scrutinized and eliminated. It would be better if she realized it and fixed it before it gets the best of her and those she intends to serve.

My Biggest Blunders, Part 1…

I’ve made plenty of stupid, boneheaded mistakes in 31 years “in the ministry.” Most of them have been relatively minor, and the relatively major ones were graciously forgiven by God and His people.

The biggest blunder in my ministry – and the one which has impacted me the most since – was going to a church without really “going to” that church. The second biggest was leaving that church before it was time, because I had never really “gone to” that church in the first place.

One of my heroes in the ministry once opined that there are two kinds of pastors in Georgia: the ones who want to go to Atlanta, and the ones who want to leave. I’ve been both.

Sixteen years ago, I was serving my first church out of seminary. It was small, rural and south of metro Atlanta. Our church was the product of that Southern Baptist phenomenon, “evangelism by church split.” A friend got himself recommended to the search committee of a 100-year-old church in the city of Atlanta. At the same time, he had just accepted a position at one of our seminaries. So he passed my name along to the Atlanta committee.

Long story short, God led me to northwest Atlanta. I went.

About the same time, I was learning about the strategic nature of cities in God’s redemptive plan for the nations. It seemed like a perfect fit: a city church in need of renewal, a neighborhood on the cusp of renewal, and a pastor who was hearing God talk about the importance of cities. There’s where the first big blunder happened.

Instead of embracing God’s call “to” that church in that neighborhood in that city, I chose to carry on the myth of suburban pastor commuting with the majority of his people to a building in that neighborhood in that city and then retreating to the “safety” of the suburbs. Like the majority of my people, I paid lip service to the desire to see God do something new in that church in that neighborhood in that city. I listened and nodded as the older members spoke lovingly of the church’s “glorious past,” and commiserated with the long-time members about the glory days. All the while, we met, we ate, we sang, we prayed, we wrung our hands, we wondered, we reminisced, and we went home to our comfortable and safe suburbs.

Rush Was Right…

One day last week, Rush Limbaugh opined something like…

You mean to tell me that there are over 300 million people in our country, and these are the best two we can find to run for President?

The more I hear, the more I agree…

Lincoln Quotes That Should Be Required Reading…

…for the two Bozos running for President of the United States…

From Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861…

We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bond of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearth stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they wll be, by the better angels of our nature.

From a message to Congress, December 1, 1862…

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

And this one, from a letter to General Joseph Hooker, January 26, 1863…

The Government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit pervades in it. And now beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward, and give us victories.

That last one is most appropriate for this election, and the constant, but misplaced campaign against an incumbent who is not on the ballot. It’s most appropriate for candidates – both of them – who appear to masters of the blame game, but who are short on positive, inspiring vision.

We’ll end up with the “leaders” (and I use that term very loosely, because both of the major candidates appear nothing more than political hacks!) that we deserve. And God help the one who gets elected by inciting distrust and disunity among our nation, for what goes around will surely come around.

Just some thoughts post-debate tonight. Of course, your mileage may vary…

Tennyson, on American Politics…

Did you watch the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency Saturday night? Rick Warren hosted Senators McCain and Obama in a conversation format that was pretty interesting and insightful.

I’ve got to tell you that I’m not really enamored of either of these guys, and there was at least one moment in each of their conversations where I thought of these lines from Tennyson’s Maud

Ah God, for a man with heart, head, hand,
Like some of the simple great ones gone
For ever and ever by,
One still strong man in a blatant land,
Whatever they call him, what care I,
Aristocrat, democrat, autocrat–one
Who can rule and dare not lie.

More of What Leaders Do…

(And it even comes with another E…this good stuff from Bill Easum’s Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

In the absence of strong leadership, leaders leave and dysfunctional people take charge.

Leaders always take responsibility for whatever situation in which they find themselves. Leaders never blame the system for their own failures. If the system destroys them, they allowed it to happen.

Leaders set their own agenda and set out on the journey to make it happen. It is silly to think that a pastor should do whatever a congregation wants him or her to do. That would be a violation of a pastor’s call.

Leaders get what they look for.

Where Should Ministry Decisions Get Made?

On the front lines of ministry, of course! Where else?!?!?

I was reminded of this lesson again in a powerful and practical way today. I’m sure glad the “guys in the field” understand and appreciate that principle. Now if only the “higher-ups” understood the same thing, that “service” is about people and their needs, not necessarily about policy and procedure.

I’ll be chewing on that one the rest of the day today.