Q: At Midwinter, you talked about two aspects of being a leader… can you summarize that for us?

A. I believe that as every ministry leader ages, they do everything they can to glean what they can out of their stage of life.  And it seems to me that leadership development involves two lifelong works. I’ll use a sailboat to illustrate:

When you look at a sailboat sitting in the water, there is the above the waterline part of the boat, which is seen. That represents work #1, the work of the work.

The Seen – the work of the work - is the work on which God has my name written.
It’s the skills and actions we take as leaders to lead. That work flows out of my talents, gifts, and passions; it flows out of the sacred trust God has given us. You find your work of the work by discovering and developing who you are in the world and what your contribution is to make. My bias is that the first 30-35 years of life are spent trying to sort out it all out. I believe that the work of the work is critical for us to get better at every year no matter what your age.

Work of the work prayer: “Lord, what is the work you have for me today, and how do I do it and bear much fruit?

Q: What about work #2, the large part of the boat below the waterline?

A. Beneath the waterline is the bottom of the boat, the keel that cannot be seen from above the water line. This unseen is more important than the see. As a matter of fact, in sailboats, more energy, creation, and money is put into the keel design than any other part of the boat, even the high tech sails. The keel counterbalances what is going on above the waterline and is absolutely essential.

In leadership, this unseen portion I call the work of the heart.  It’s the character of the person doing the leading. It’s total surrender and abandonment to God. As a leader, you need to wake up and pray for the skills for your work, as well as the right heart for your work.

Work of the heart prayer: “As best I understand, I surrender myself to You, Lord, to the work of your Spirit, to the work of your Word in my life, to the work of community. I want to be transformed into the image of Your Son.”

Q: Is it wrong for a leader to be focusing on the seen, the skills? The unseen seems more holy, more Christian, if you will…

A. No, it is absolutely critical and important for leaders to develop their hands for the good work God has called them to. After the first year or two in a role, you may find that you are missing some fundamentals. You need to get these fundamentals down in order to be a successful leader. You have to get your arms around these fundamentals if you’re going to move ahead. It is absolutely right to attack, to identify these fundamentals and get after it: What do I need to read? Who do I need to talk with? For example, if I were an executive director, I’d identify some fundamentals I am lacking, find someone who is good at those fundamentals, and travel to them. I’d be with them for a day or two and suck every bit of knowledge out of them I can.

So fundamental development is critical in your growth as a leader. But you can’t just learn, you have to practice also. If you are going to learn how to hit, you put the bat in your hand and you swing. You could get a PhD in leadership development, but you still have to lead something. You must try things as a leader in your skill development. You lead; you fail; you succeed; you grow. It’s a dance between theory-practice-feedback-growth, theory-practice-feedback-growth, etc.

Q: Learning how to develop the above the waterline skills seems easy… I could go to a conference or read  book. But what about the below the waterline character… how do I develop that?

A. You are right, it’s not too difficult to develop a plan for above the waterline growth. When I coach people on growth below the waterline, I first help them assess. You have to assess where you think the needed place of growth in your life is. I like to ask: “Where are you bumping into life right now?” Are you having a hard time with a child, a board member, a ministry challenge, your own disdain with a character trait inside of you, or a certain type of individual you can’t stand?

At that point the discussion is: how does the fruit of the Spirit play a role in those areas of tension? What does it look like for me to pursue maturity and wholeness? What does it mean for me to be going after that? And you need to discuss that difficult person or area with your brothers and sisters in Christ. That on-going dialogue, friendship, and support leads to your heart development.

Another resource is Peter Scazzero’s work. He has written some great stuff on emotional health. Recently, he wrote the Emotionally Healthy Church (http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/). Many of us are wounded and need to address our own issues in order to mature.

Also, if you are going through something in your life that is preoccupying you or preventing you from moving ahead, you should see a certified Christian counselor.

Q: Tell us your story as it relates to these two areas of work.

A. I worked in student ministry for 20 years and was really getting the work of the work right. I had a death grip on those skills; I was leading the largest youth ministry in the nation and doing great work.

But after 20 years of having a lot of fun, I walked into the auditorium of over 1,500 kids and no longer wanted to be there. Up until that point, the energy of the work of the work had fueled me. Then that fuel hose was crimped. I realized I didn’t want to do this any more. I had this awakening that something had to fundamentally change inside of me if I was to carry on in ministry. I had focused disproportionately on the work of the work. I walked through this valley that led me to disproportionally focus on the work of the heart. I had to deal with issues from my family of origin and tasks I had been doing that weren’t true to the core of my person. God wants us fully mature in both areas of work, and He made that happen in me.


Dan Webster is a coach, author, teacher, and founder of Authentic Leadership. http://authenticleadershipinc.com/.
He loves spending time with Kingdom Leaders and would gladly assess the opportunity to work with you as an executive leader in YFC.

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