On Being A Work in Progress (Why I Wrote My Book)
I wanted to explain why I wrote my latest book — what I think is unique and motivating about it. And share some thoughts on what I’ve been learning in the very process of writing it.
The current version of What Really Matters in Leadership? is actually a little different from the one you may have read or downloaded a few weeks ago. I probably won’t change it again for a while, but I do want to explain the changes I made and why they’re exciting to me.
First of all, let me include an excerpt from the part that I’ve revised in the preface of the book:
Throughout my past decade of working in leadership development, I’ve benefited from countless books, seminars and articles on what makes a great leader. Over time, it seemed that much of the wisdom I was gathering came from two major camps of leadership. First, the Christian leadership material that taught me to be ethical, kind and loving — to be honest, not cheat or be too negative. Second, the business leadership material that encouraged me to work hard, stay disciplined in pursuit of my goals, and do what it took to get my name out there and move my agenda forward. I learned a lot from both camps, and found myself trying to live in both worlds, borrowing the best from each. But something always felt missing.
When I opened the pages of the Bible to see what Jesus Christ himself lived out, I discovered a different kind of language and vision. There was talk about “strength in weakness,” “compassion in suffering,” noticing people that others had overlooked, and doing things in secret when nobody else was watching. I read phrases like “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” There were examples of people living for a bigger purpose than just their individual happiness. What I saw in the life of Jesus wasn’t just about ethics or virtues in the classic sense of those words. And they also seemed to fly in the face of pragmatic thinking about ambition, aggression, and promotion.
However, the reality is that this vision and life that Jesus lived out caused a following of billions of people, whose heart he captured. This seemed to be far more than good teaching; it was as if Jesus could see into the depths of peoples’ hearts, and knew what really mattered to them before they could even articulate it themselves. This was just as supernatural to me, as any miracle Jesus performed on earth. The Bible had been sitting on my bookshelf all along with these insights, and I was ready to dive in and read it in a new way.
What motivated me to write this book was that I believe Jesus had a vision for leadership in the “kingdom of God” that transcended morals and virtues. The ways of weakness, suffering, and purpose don’t have much to do with being honest or nice — they’re about an entirely different way of seeing life, people, and God. And although they appear counter-cultural to much of what we see and experience in pragmatic leadership contexts, they also seem to deeply resonate with people and ultimately are more effective! They’re not just a random assortment of skills and advice, but a wide-sweeping vision that Jesus laid out and lived out — with purpose and passion.
This vision is also incredibly practical, in that I keep coming back to it in my leadership every week and day of my life. I can’t tell you how many times a week I think about what it means to lead in the midst of pain and reality, or in times of weakness. I’m constantly wrestling with how to deal with conflict and work for justice in numerous relationships and situations in life. These topics — purpose, meaning, and sacrifice — are the ones I come back to time and again, and especially when facing my biggest challenges and most pivotal decisions in leadership. These are what has really mattered to me in leadership, and it’s no surprise to find that they came from the life of Jesus, who was more in touch with what really matters than anyone!
If We’re Not Changing and Growing, Are We Really Following God?
So why revise and update my book? In the preface, I also acknowledge that I’m a work in progress. A few years back, I wrote an article about intellectual pride and egos. The idea was sparked by how discouraged I felt after watching debates between Christian philosophers and atheists. It seemed that both sides were just trying to bash each other, without ever acknowledging any truth in the arguments of their opponent. Having spent a lot of time in the worlds of academics and writing, I understand the pressure to get everything right. It’s a huge fear that we might be inconsistent in our beliefs or positions, and be exposed.
The problem I’ve always had with this mentality is: where is the room for us to change and grow, as we discover truths about people, the world, and God that we didn’t previously understand? To me, this is so fundamental to the idea of humility and even of following Christ, as we confess that true wisdom and insight comes from God, and God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. If we truly believe that, shouldn’t we always be tweaking the way we look at things? Not necessarily on a huge, fundamental level… but shouldn’t we expect to discover new and more accurate ways of seeing and explaining truths about life and the world, as we grow? So then, if we’re not willing to change and admit we’re wrong, are we really following God?
I would have a ton more respect for the philosopher or debater who was willing to acknowledge the validity of some of his opponent’s arguments, but also offer some correction or revision to it. If he or she affirmed some truthful points with some humility, I would take the critiques even more seriously.
As a writer, I’m always evolving as I discover new ways to articulate things. Often this happens as I talk to people and learn from their wisdom and experiences. I once told a friend, “I consistently find myself disagreeing with 10% of the things I’ve written a few years ago. But that doesn’t bother me… it excites and motivates me, because I’m growing and getting a little closer to the truth!”
So this is part of my ongoing process as I continue to learn and revise What Really Matters in Leadership.
If you haven’t made it through the entire book yet (or if you have), I hope the background and framing above provides some insight into my approach and choice of topics in the chapters. I hope you find insights that are helpful in your own leadership journey. And if you find new wisdom or things you think could be refined or improved, I thank you in advance for helping me to learn and grow! We’re all works in progress, but together, we’re better able to see what we struggle to see alone.