He is in his early 30s. Despite his relative youth, he is one of the best leaders I know. He previously led successfully in the business world. His life took a dramatic shift to seminary and, today, the local church. Today he is the senior pastor of a large church with multifaceted ministries.
I wish I had his maturity and leadership skills when I was that young. In reality, I wish I had his maturity and skill set today.
He shared with me his leadership philosophy. In the course of the fascinating conversation, something caught my ears. He said that in every leadership situation he found himself, he sought at least one “helpful messenger.”
I asked him to elaborate.
This leader explained that most leaders listen too much to unhelpful messengers. That group of people can be divided into two opposite subsets.
The first type of unhelpful messenger only tells the leader how wonderful he or she is. These sycophantic people are attractive to leaders. We all enjoy having our egos built and our spirits lifted. We thus are prone to spend inordinate amounts of time with them. But if the messenger only has positive news, he or she is not helpful. We will not have an awareness of personal challenges and problems, and thus we do not address them.
Another unhelpful messenger is the constant critic. In opposite fashion of the sycophant, this person only has bad news. Something is always wrong. The leader always did something wrong. The whining is unending. Some leaders will give these negative messengers undue attention. The old metaphor of the squeaky wheel getting the oil applies in this situation. Leaders can neglect those who really need attention by spending inordinate time with people who will rarely be happy or satisfied.
Finding the Helpful Messenger
Helpful messengers are rare. Such a person has to have a clear understanding of the leader’s world, and he or she has to be willing to speak into that world and to that leader with frankness and clarity. If the leader is doing something well, the helpful messenger must be an affirmer and encourager. If the leader is getting off track, the helpful messenger must care enough about the leader to speak the truth even though it’s bad news.
I have been blessed to have a helpful messenger in most of the leadership positions where I served. My current position is no exception. His role is invaluable to me and thus to the organization. A recent example demonstrates his worth. The helpful messenger told me to be aware, that in some meetings, especially with people who don’t know me well, I can be perceived to be intimidating. That shocked me. My self-perception is that I’m as likeable as a teddy bear. He shared with me that my introverted personality is often seen as a form of aloofness. Because I tend to speak infrequently, my tone and words come across as very serious. And, because I have positional authority, my personality can thus appear to be intimidating. Now I understand that reality and can make adjustments accordingly.
The Need to Look in the Mirror
We all have a need to look in the mirror. We need to see ourselves with clarity, even if the metaphorical reflection is not so pretty. But the problem we often have is our inability to see ourselves objectively. My helpful messenger lets me know if I’m not seeing in the mirror clearly. He says what I need to hear, not what he thinks I want to hear.
Leaders without helpful messengers are handicapped in their leadership. They lack the objectivity to see themselves. The helpful messenger must be trusted. He or she must have courage and security. And that person must have the best interests of the leader as one his or her foremost priorities.
Great leaders seek helpful messengers.
And great leaders are willing to listen carefully to helpful messengers as well.