Lecture 1: Leader vs Leadership
Will you be the kind of leader that people want to follow or that they are forced to follow? Spiritual formation or discipleship only functions well in a healthy, authentic community context. Dr. Bruce McNicol begins the conversation on the difference between the Capacity Ladder and the Character Ladder and discusses how you form high trust leaders. Watch these three videos to begin the journey.
Hello, my name is Bruce McNicol and I have the privilege of serving alongside my co-authors Bill Thrall and John Lynch, our staff in Phoenix and adjunct faculty. We call our ministry, Trueface, a process of building and restoring trust in leaders. The organization accomplished this goal by helping leaders whether they are parents, executives, pastors or those who play any other such role, to experience the true power of what God’s grace means for their leadership. We do this through speaking, writing, training, consulting, social media such as podcasts or our online campus and partnership with organizations much larger than we ever hope to be. They will carry the Gospel of God’s grace to places we will never go. We have been invited by the leadership of Biblical Training for whom we have much respect to share with you some introductory teaching on character and influence from our certification in high trust leadership online course. We are glad to offer this to you and pray that these introductory teachings may profoundly bless you.
2. Case Studies Relating to Bad Character
Years ago, I was sitting in the Chicago office of an international organization which I had the privilege of directing for ten years. I received a call from the FBI telling us that our computers had been hacked. They asked how I wanted to press charges. I was shocked to hear that three different church leaders had done it. These three and their associates wanted some information on some families in our database and had paid money to find an illegal entry. However, the three had an explanation; they told that FBI that they had not stolen the database but instead made two copies, leaving the original where it was. The FBI is used to dealing with this kind of self-deception. But in this case, they were hearing these words from three respected Christian leaders and that is what makes this more hideous. This is like the identity thief saying that they didn’t steal your personal identity; I but instead just made a copy of it for their purpose. Can you imagine the crazy rationalization and the justification of these Christian professionals? In our work, we use a log of one line wisdom statements: first, sin makes you stupid. Sin also disintegrates you; that means lacking integrity. It separates who you say you are from who you really are. It separates what I do from who I am. Given all the emphasis and resources invested on this continent and others by churches, Christian universities and graduate institutions, training and mission organizations on discipleship and spiritual formation, Bible teaching, have you ever paused to think about why there are so many educated eloquent busy and successful Christian leaders who are nevertheless spiritually and relationally immature and personally unfulfilled? The disintegration of many leaders today is rooted in a common reality. There capacities have been extensively and expensively trained why their characters have been presumed, or in some cases people have attempted to form their character with a thin management theology which in the end will never develop character.
Moses struggled with integrity; he possessed the best competency training the world could offer in the courts of Pharaoh but in his forty years, his character development fell way behind. He was disintegrated and failed to mature. I am always amused at the phrase that Hebrews 11:24 uses when speaking of Moses. It says that one day after Moses had grown up; he looked this way and that way and then he killed a person and hid him in the sand. The very next day, he got caught. Like Moses many leaders don’t mature, they just get old. So Moses began life on the run; God knew that he lacked the integrity of the integration to lead. So he helped Moses with his character over the next forty years. Character formation takes time; in my late twenties as I was about to receive a role of leadership, an older leader asked me an important question. Bruce, now that you are about to receive this title that carries power and control, are you going to be the kind of leader people have to follow or want to follow? This was an exquisite question for every leader to be asked. Not once but many times throughout their careers, he was asking the integration question, the integrity question. You may know success in your field but to what extent will people follow you? What if you were falsely accused by someone inside or outside your organization! Would your people stand by you? What if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness? Would people openly express dismay, but inwardly find some relief in the possible transition of the role you occupy?
3. Character and Competencies
So, how does a leader actually mature? First, we must focus on leader development, not only leadership development. Leader development is about character; leadership development is about capacity or competencies. Character is intended to protect and leverage our competencies. So, my co-author Bill and I want to answer several questions over the course of these next several hours. Some of those questions are: what is character? How does character actually develop in a leader? Why do many character development programs not develop character and what are the costs of not developing character? To put all of this in a framework on which to hang these introductory teachings from our certification in high trust leadership course, we offer two ladders. One, a capacity ladder and a character ladder; God intended that these two ladders integrate into one amazing ladder of influence. You will hear this integration in a description of David in his later years from Psalm 78:72. There it says that David shepherded them with integrity of heart, with skillful hands he led them. Do you hear the character and competency in those words? We actually discover that our lives are like the capacity ladder. You could call it the career ladder or the competency ladder, because it is all about getting to the top of our game, to the pinnacle of what we think we are supposed to do in life. It includes our knowing and a lot of our doing, often summed up in our competencies. Like many leaders, we discovered this ladder a challenging and unpredictable climb. It is often stable at the bottom and shaky at the top; from the bottom, life at the top looks appealing, even alluring. Many young leaders attack the ladder with gusto, confident they have what it takes to conquer the rungs and many do have what it takes to climb this ladder.
4. Rungs of the Capacity Ladder
First and typically, the capacity ladder starts young with a person’s natural leadership, their inclinations, a winsome personality, a dynamic influence and an ability to persuade or tell a story or craft a compelling vision. More influence is added as a person steps on the second rung of developing talents and gifts. Second, rung two is often part of the training in trade schools, colleges, graduate schools and homes in the leader’s first jobs. Companies, institutions or military units successfully scaling the first two rungs attracts the attentions of executives, officers, professors and thousands of people who choose their leaders. Third, this catapults the person to the third rung where decisions makers award a title, position or rank leading naturally over time to the fourth rung, achieving potential. After a season or two of influence, many leaders begin to reflect on how they got to the top of a short ladder. They remember who they have stepped on during their climb and what they didn’t deal with on the way up. You can almost be certain they will not disclose their issues, their dark side, the things they still struggle with, the areas where they need to develop and why? We have moved them to a place where what they are going to lose is so great that they can never share what is true about themselves within their system. This is what happens when we promote based on brilliance, capacity, rating, charisma and proceed with the mere appearance of character. A system that rewards talent at the expense of the leader’s disclosure will create leaders who hide their issues in an attempt to reach their goals. This is called isolation, unhealthy isolation; this is also called pressure. I have been there. If you are at the bottom of the ladder and if you fall, it is not a big deal, but falling from the top could be life threatening or career ending or at least promotion impeding.
Yet, many leaders do not show evidence of cracking until they are at the apex of their influence. When the weight of the fruit of their leadership is greatest, here hairline fractures become gaping chasms. That is because; at the top of the ladder are stressors and strains, one never experienced at the bottom. Things that one could not have imagined at the bottom come into clear view. Issues like the pressure of success, the temptation of privilege, the demands of followers, and the drain of critics. Who painted this target on my back they ask? There is the isolation of leadership which by definition is isolating. All of these pressures leave white knuckle impressions on the rungs and this all starts when we are so very young.
5. Classic Skills of Typical Leadership
One day when I was in the second grade when I was nearing the front of a long lunch line, I slipped out of line hoping no one would really notice, but a couple of friends did and the lady behind the macaroni and cheese counter noticed. When they ask why I was leaving, I quickly responded that I wasn’t hungry today. I went back to my homeroom, but something else had just taken place. In truth, I had this strange habit which my mom didn’t have anything to do with of keeping my government subsidized lunch money safe by putting the quarter in my mouth. Somewhere near the front of the line, I must have swallowed it. I couldn’t admit to the habit let alone to the fact that I swallowed it. So to save face within a matter of seconds, I made up a plausible story that both the teachers and students believed. At seven years old, I had just tested and refined one of the classic skills of leadership. That is, when in doubt, deny it; when at risk of discovery, conceal. My doing was already separating from my being at seven years old. There is another way to look at this subject. Here is the real question behind that story. If I could create that convincing of a story at that young of an age on that short of notice, how cleaver and articulate a deceiver do you think I could become after say, thirty years of practice in systems that exclusively rewarded external appearances, performance driven and climbing ladders of success? On first impressions, this story may sound juvenile but it is really an adult story. Leaders in significant roles of authority and responsibility make these same kinds of deceptive choices every day. They are convinced that pretense on the capacity ladder works better than authenticity. That their system can somehow absorb deception at the expense of integrity and truth, but pastors, presidents, parents and executives at thousands of companies have discovered that this approach doesn’t work. Have you ever been tempted to conceal, to deceptively powering up on a competitor? Have you ever swallowed a quarter and then dissembled under pressure? If so, you need, like me, an environment of grace and relationships of trust to develop integrity, to heal and mature and to live in the destiny that God has specifically planned for you.
6. Rungs of the Character Ladder
I have discovered that I cannot get well; I cannot grow in health without an environment of grace and committed relationships of trust. The ladder that often slides out of sight, out of development in our lives is this character ladder with its seven components. The two rails plus the five rungs; I will focus on the rails and Bill will address the rungs. This character ladder is the one which protects and leverages the other ladder by integrating the two. Like the capacity ladder, the character ladder has a natural progression. However, it is longer and goes higher. In constructing the character ladder model, we look for someone who lives with the pressures and temptations for success for leadership. And also who understands war and peace. The third point, they process uncommon savvy about human design and four, who was imminently successful in his mission and thus a respected leader. We looked around and we chose Jesus; we crafted the character ladder after the model of his life. We discovered the sequence of the character ladder is rooted in the first rung of humility and continues with the second rung of submission. It moves on to the third rung which is obedience or aligning with the truth, followed by our favorite rung, suffering or paying a price for making a choice of integrity. Ultimately, the fifth rung leader is exhortation or destiny, the influence that God intended for you all along. Do these rungs remind you of any Scriptures? The entire sequence of the five rungs is anchored in Philippians 2 and the first and fifth rung along with the two rails of the ladder are rooted in 1st Peter 5:5-6.
7. Results of Non-Integration
Not integrating these two ladders, eventually leads to such unresolved life issues as relational struggles, emotional immaturity, and a lack of authenticity or hiddenness, lost opportunities, failure and falling off the capacity ladder. This is based on the six criteria we wrote about in the accent of a leader from Dallas Seminary and Fuller Seminary. Do you know leaders who have all the capacity and ladder rungs in place including the success from their influence and yet you sense something wrong. Talent, performance and intellect shine in these people but immaturity and character illustrated through relational issues tarnish their influence. Even at the top of the capacity ladder, they may not have begun to climb the character ladder. This cap creates the phenomenon we call we leaders on short ladders. Many look for ways to shore up this situation but too many leaders come crashing down and when they land, few are there to help. Fewer still know how to help; many will simply tell the fallen leader that they are an embarrassment to us. Have you heard of the word, transfer? Or isn’t God calling you somewhere else? Why don’t you pick up your little capacity ladder and take it somewhere else. Better yet, take is to another company or another church. This is why so many leaders in business, military, government, and the church has lost way too many opportunities and too many key relationships, colleagues, friends and even spouses and family members by their fortieth or fiftieth birthday. But here is the kicker; nothing hides this disintegration in a leader’s life like success on the capacity ladder for a season. So it looks like things are going along just fine, making money and moving up, writing a book, getting new opportunities with pastoral leaders who have finally developed capacity ladder gifts in which people are benefiting. They presumed by those same people because they really hope it is true, that their leader is full of authentic character and emotional maturity. Sadly, too often they discover the appearance of character was only a ruse.
8. How is Character Developed?
We believe that character is developed in relationship and proved or tested in isolation. This may sound counter intuitive to you so we will take a while to look at it. There are many reasons why we say this which will become clear over the next two hours. However, let’s focus on just one of those reasons just now for the purpose of showing you the rails of the character ladder. All character words or words of relationship and as such, it would make sense that God being a God of relationships to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and having established a faith of relationship in Christianity would see to it that our character is shaped and matured in relationship. Here is a list of character words which are all relationship words: humility, submission, obedience, suffering, exaltation or influence, integrity, honesty, authenticity, etc. Now we have two relational rails; one called an environment of grace and the other called relationships of trust. You need to give close attention to these rails for the truth in them is the components in many discipleship or spiritual formation programs today that are missing and what causes those programs to eventually fail to form and sustain character development in both the established and emerging generation.
a. The Environment of Grace
So the Environment of Grace is one of the rails of the character ladder. In Hebrews 4, we learn that God is inviting us to freely and confidently enter his throne room of grace to find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. This is something special since we routinely need help. We absolutely need his grace to deal with our questions and relationships and unresolved life issues. You realize that this is not a throne made out of grace. No, grace is foundationally an environment, a realm, a community. Before studying environments of grace, it’s important that you understand what we believe in regards to environments in general. A rare assumption underlines this basic teaching on grace which many never ponder. We believe that environments are more powerful than words when the two conflict. This is due to a simple law of communication which states that when two forms of communications conflict, the one that is most crafted is least believed. When you say you believe but act like you don’t, people believed the latter one. Another variation of this law states that what we see defeats what we hear. Words are powerful for building up or tearing down, but you will believe what you see in the community of how people actually live with one another more than what you hear than saying over time. St Francis of Assisi famously applied this law to the Gospel when he said, ‘preach Christ always and if necessary use words.’ What do you think are the possible implications of this law for spiritual forming people of character and destiny in your community? Ponder this, if you participate in a faith community, what is the most carefully crafted message of your week? Typically, the weekly teaching session; this law of communications says that over time, sermon truth will lose to environmental truth when the two conflict.
Therefore if your faith community eloquently teaches forgiveness yet your environment in critical, cynical, fragmented, judgmental and blaming, you community will learn alienation better than reconciliation. The obvious implication for all of us is to ensure that our environment align and conform to, rather than conflict with our important well intentioned messages. Would you agree that far too many groups of Christians live in communities with such service disconnect between what they say and what they believe and how they live; it is not only disillusioning the Christians but it is repelling those without Jesus. Environments of grace fundamentally offer us all the opportunity to integrate what we do with who we are. This law of communication is not the only reason an environment is more powerful than words. From a scientific perspective, God designed the emotional center of the human brain to work in what are called open loops. A closed loop system such as the circulatory system is self-regulating which is why what is happening in the circulatory system among others around you doesn’t impact your own system. But the emotional relational system doesn’t work that way. It is an open loop limpid system and it works to depend largely on external sources outside itself to maintain health. For example, the American Medical Association surveys show that cardiac care units where the nurse’s general mood was depressed had a death rate among patients four times higher than in other comparable units. So, choose your cardiac care units for their relational and emotional health. Add this criterion to your faith community selection as well. When you walk into some places, you can feel freedom and joy and safety before anyone has spoken to you. It is an atmosphere. You can also sense intimidation or power in the room or even evil. Environments are determinates for either good or evil, for growth or for degradation, therefore it matters, not only what we as parents and leaders say, but how we do what we do in community.
Spiritual formation or discipleship only functions well in a healthy authentic community context whether that is a marriage, a family, a business, a university, a faith community, a mission, military unit, etc. We call this the throne room of grace in Hebrews 4, the original safe place. The Father has intentionally prepared a place for us to feel comfortable and safe enough to talk through our needs at any time. Here, we glimpse the most primal essence of the universe. This realm of grace where the trinity live and love and lead and where they operate, and they would like for us to live and love and lead in the same way. The Christian faith is a faith of relationships rooted within the sacred relationship of the trinity. They have invited us into their presence, their community, their authentic light place. What has happened to us that our theology became so warped that it produces thousands upon thousands of faith communities which are anything but safe. And thus we have millions of Christ followers who cannot or do not know how to fellowship in the light as 1st John urges us to do, but rather live in hiddenness which ultimately defines them. Darkness is the petrie dish of sin. The degree to which I wear a mask is the degree to which my character development will be hindered. Recall, character is developed in relationship, so that is why the degree to which I wear a mask is the degree to which my character development will be hindered due to superficial environments of ungraced which lack deep trust. Integrity is developed when I am free to be honest about who I am and who I am not, what I can do and what I cannot do. Therefore integrity requires a safe place, not a soft place, to develop. I need that kind of environment, I needed it in the second grade and I need it today. A safe place is not a soft place; grace is not soft on sin; sin management is soft on sin. God’s grace is the only reality that can deal with sin. Our self-deception and the deception of the evil one blinds us to the power of God grace to deal with our sins and develop our character. Grace is the place where the truth will flow most freely. The truth about God, the truth about me, the truth about how I am doing, the truth about how we are doing. It offers me an environment in which I will trust truth much more readily and more often than in an environment with a lack of grace, an environment of trying harder, why can’t you and when will you. There is much more to be said about this rail; the environment of grace which is outside of the limited time we have together. The second related rail is the relationships of trust.
b. The Relationships of Trust
As you will hear from Bill, relationships of trust are the most crucial component for attracting God’s grace. Consider 1st Peter 5:6, therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you. For God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Here we understand that while God’s grace can never be earned, it can be spurned. And while God’s grace is never merited by us, it appears that it can be initiated by us for humility attracts God’s grace. The working definition of humility trusts God and others with me. There are several good definitions of humility, but any definition which does not include healthy dependency on God and others is in our estimation is deficient. The relational duty in this relationship of trust which first is learning how to trust God with me; this isn’t easy. For who he tells me I am, is different from who I tell myself I am. The person he declares me to be seems different than what I observe myself to be. This is why the Scriptures say, the just shall live by faith, that is by trust. Therefore, I learn trust who God says I am rather than to trust who I say I am. This is the only way to experience the freedom in which Christ set us free. This is how I met Jesus Christ in the first place and this is how I relate with him every day, if I choose to trust him. In our book, The Cure, we ponder this question, what if God isn’t who you think he is and neither are you. These are not easy questions. It is one thing to believe that Jesus loves me unconditionally; it is a whole different freedom to believe that I actually am who he says I am. For example, when God says I am a saint and calls me saint in the New Testament, do I respond, oh, that can’t possibly be true. Look at my track record, or do I respond, Okay then, I am a saint who sins. This is my identity; I am not longer a sinner striving hard to become a saint. See the profound shift in identity.
When God says that we are created righteous and holy in 2nd Corinthians 5:21 and Ephesians 4:24 and other places, we say thank you God for making me a new creature; for giving me a brand new shame free identity. We no longer say, you know what, my shame and my actions tells me that this couldn’t possibly be true so I am going to go with my formula. And perhaps if I work hard enough I will feel better about myself and not so distant from God and maybe someday become the person he always had hoped I would be. That kind of moralistic rational totally devalues the work of Christ on the Cross and the resurrection and it keeps us immature. God is no longer interested in changing you because he already has; your DNA is already rewired and you are made new by the miracle of the Cross, God has changed the things that needed changing. The big ‘C’ changes have occurred; now there will be small ‘c’ changes as you trust him and you mature into who he has made you. Just as baby changes and growth takes place, so we will change, but the baby in us will continue to carry the same DNA because we are the same person. When in Hebrews 11, God says that without faith, the noun form of the verb to trust, it is impossible to please him. We get to respond, this is so amazing and this faith of the true God is different than any other religion in the world. All other religions are based on a pleasing or performance matrix. You strive to please your deity, you fall out of favor with you deity, you bear the consequences and so you strive hard to get back into the deities’ favor, so that once again the deity will be pleased and you will be accepted until the next time you error. This hopeless hamster performance will keep spinning.
Similarly, if I choose not to trust who God says I am, for me, the brand distinction of Christianity is lost. I have not learned to trust the Father and neither have I pleased him. When the primary motive of my heart is also to please my deity and I live hoping that my pleasing will lead me to trust, alternately I end up neither pleasing nor ever experiencing trust. But if I begin with that primary motive of trust as Hebrew 11:6 instructs the foundation of my worldview, I will end up pleasing God. So, this rail of growing in relationship to trust could not be more valuable. Because it touches everything; character is nurtured as truth touches my soul and my heart and I act upon it. In other words, I trust it. That committed relationship of trust is both vertical and horizontal and therefore a relationship of trust in absolutely crucial for me to be able to submit to the strengths of others so they can protect my weaknesses. Recall, that without trust, I cannot meet God; without trust I cannot learn how God made me; without trust I cannot learn who I am and therefore I cannot tell my story with authenticity and power. Without trust, I cannot experience truth; the truth doesn’t set me free unless I trust it. Without trust, truth is relative; I live as my own expert. Without trust, I can’t be transformed. Truth only transforms when it is trusted. Without trust, I cannot experience God’s love, no matter how much love he has for us. Perfect love doesn’t cast out fear unless I trust that love. I can’t experience the peace that passes understanding unless I trust God’s peace for me. Without trust, I cannot develop character or cultivate safe communities where truth can flourish. Without trust, I live in isolation and I am susceptible to my own weaknesses. Two isn’t better than one unless they trust each other. Without trust, I cannot experience my destiny.
Even if I do develop my talents and produce wealth and power; without trust children live without their most valuable asset, a trusted parent. Without trust, power is pursued and the weak are ignored. Without trust, rights are demanded as the presumed basis of fulfillment. Without trust, pleasure is substituted for intimacy. Without trust, I will not develop through generosity. Without trust, the power of team work and mission cannot be protected and leveraged. Without trust, eagerness and its symptoms are syphoned away from family, teens and nations, the energy that they would otherwise have. Trust is the first vitalizing principle for all the basic issues of life and the most profound reality for personal development and organizational health and geopolitical process the world will ever know. Trusting God with me rather than trusting me with me is called attractive grace.
And now you begin to see how these two rails of the environment of grace and relationships of trust are related and why they are crucial for integrating the capacity and character ladders to create one huge ladder of influence. 1st Peter 5 says that God has a plan to exalt you and it will always be greater than your imagined goals or strategic plans. Someone said, do you want to see God laugh, show him your plans. The next generation longs for authenticity and when we learn to trust God and others, only then a safe place of grace starts to be formed; a place where I can be known and loved and what I can learn to trust truth. And what I can experience the security that leads to resolving my sin and character failures. This is authenticity, that kind that you can genuinely experience. And when by his grace, I learn to trust his word without moralistic filters, God’s truth heals and matures and moves me into God’s destiny. We all benefited eternally in the 16th century Reformation of salvation by grace through faith. And now we believe the Spirit of God is propelling a 21st century of Reformation of sanctification by grace through faith which may touch everything that we are and do. It is the same Gospel of grace in Christ Jesus. We have simply buried sanctification, just as centuries ago salvation was buried under the rubble of biblical misunderstanding. The moralistic filters we have applied to the Scriptures have prevented us from trusting who God says we are. And instead, we have religiously trusted who we say we are. We pray that these points will enrich your life, your marriage, your family and your leadership.