Inconceivable

That’s what Vizzini repeatedly exclaimed as the Dread Pirate Roberts advanced on his well-oiled kidnapping of the lovely Buttercup (The Princess Bride).  After the apparent incongruence of the word’s repetition and the obvious closing of the gap that existed between the two parties settled in, Inigo Montoya (the Spaniard Swordsman) finally responded – “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I think the same could be said for leadership.  There’s often an apparent gap between popular or “successful” leaders and good ones.  It can be frustrating to know who to follow; who to believe.

The residual questions remain… How do you influence others?  How do you guide through an ethical dilemma?  How do you urge redemptive progress in a deep canyon of unmovable circumstance?  How do you build reliable superstructure on the quicksand of poor decision making?

These are issues leaders constantly face (you may face them).  Some appear better than others.

Some seem to lead with a chainsaw (see Al Dunlap, ex-CEO of Sunbeam).  Others appear to lead with victory and diversion (see Lance Armstrong, ex-7 time winner of the Tour de France).  The fact of the matter is this – it’s often hard to tell a good leadership “engine” from a bad one until it’s got a lot of miles on it, and you have a chance to “pop the hood” and learn how it really works.

Time will tell.  Maybe we should be slower to emulate until we have time to extrapolate.

The Apostle Paul ranks pretty high on the historical leadership chart.  His “engine” acquired a lot of miles.  With the hood closed, you’d tend to see him as harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving… an emotional IQ of “0”.  If you like his level of success, it’d be easy to make that approach your own, thinking to yourself “if I’m the same way, I can get things done, move people, and change the world!”

Read Philemon first.

In it we find clues as to how the engine of Paul’s leadership really worked.  He found himself in between a run-away slave, an angry owner, the bizarre ethics of slavery as an accepted culture in the ancient Roman world, and a freshly minted follower of Christ in Onesimus – wondering if change mattered.

This letter ‘pops the hood’ and lets you see beneath the appearance of how Paul led to how he actually led.  You might be surprised at the differences.

Specifically, that he led with relationship – the letter is laced with the request of one man toward another based on partnership, friendship, fellowship, and gratitude.  Philemon wasn’t merely an employee or church member to Paul.  He was known by Paul.  And on that basis Paul requested cooperation and forgiveness on behalf of another.  Paul didn’t just know Philemon.  He had served Philemon.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… Who are you presently serving?

He also led with product – the heart of the letter concerns a run-away slave who’d been changed in a way most of us need to be changed: from “how can I escape?” to “how can I do what’s right?” Nothing helps a matter more than actual product.  Superior to marketing, diversion, and political pressure, true product influences.  Content is king.  Paul didn’t change the world with religious sleight-of-hand.  He changed it with reformed men.  His “product” wasn’t preaching.  His product was embedded in his message – the power of Christ to change lives from the inside out and alter character.  He could’ve tried to change the system.  Instead he focused on people who make and unmake the system.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… What are you relying on to create change?

And he led others with trust – Paul sends a transformed slave home to face the unknown; and it could have gone badly.  He sends him home with trust.  He extends confidence to a man who had a choice.  But he does so with trust that his request will be honored because of the relationship and the product.  He had confidence Philemon would do what he asked and more.  And I think he did just that.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… What level of trust are you offering?

I’m thinking about the last picture above.  Could be you or me.  There are a lot of leaders out there; lots of models to choose from.  Choose wisely and change your world.  But some of the best leadership happens “under the hood” or behind the scenes.  So lead on… where it counts.

-Anthony