How The Mighty Have Fallen - Gregg Johnson's newest book on leadership
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Dr. Charles Crabtree
Dr. Paul Frimpong Manso
Click to Read an Excerpt from "How The Mighty Have Fallen"
SAUL SURRENDERED TO A SPIRIT OF FEAR
“A leader once convinced that a particular course of action is the right one,
must remain firm and undaunted when the going gets tough.”
The true quality of a leader is revealed when he is confronted by a Goliath.
Almost any leader can develop a vision and lay out a strategy for achieving it. Almost any leader can recruit people, motivate workers and supervise a team. The real test of leadership comes, however, when that leader faces obstacles. When resistance rises and adversity threatens success—when challenges loom as insurmountable—what does the leader do? Does he hesitate? Is he intimidated? Does he second guess and back peddle or does he remain firm and undaunted when the going gets tough?
The duty of leadership is to confront status quo and pull the people to a better place. Rosalynn Carter, wife of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but where they ought to be.” In the course of such an act, a leader will undoubtedly face resistance. “Goliath-sized” obstacles will rise to challenge both the leader’s vision and his resolve. How a person responds to Goliath reveals if he or she is a true leader, or just a custodian sporting a fancy title.
Saul had a title, but that didn’t make him a leader. Men may have called him king, but that didn’t give him command. Sure, he could organize the infantry for a march and arrange the chariots for a parade, but when it came to the business of battle—the hard work of overcoming obstacles to success—he fell apart. Rather than meeting the antagonist on the battlefield and inspiring his followers forward, he brought the people to a halt and the ranks became stagnate.
Leadership is ten percent vision and ninety percent overcoming the obstacles that hinder the vision. There will always be obstacles. People will always see some giant standing in the way of their progress. It could be a lack of resources, conflict within the organization, or resistance from outsiders. Whatever the obstacle, the leader’s job is to stand with confidence against it, plot a course to overcome it, and cheer his followers on to victory.
To the contrary, nothing will destroy the credibility of a leader like a spirit of fear. It wasn’t Goliath that paralyzed the Israelite army. They were paralyzed by their own leader who surrendered to fear. King Saul, frightened by Goliath’s challenge, retreated from his post and Israel’s advance was halted. If he had faith, if he had met the challenge with confidence and courage, his army would have followed him like they followed David. When David entered the scene and demonstrated his faith, the Israelites arose and defeated the Philistines. All they needed was a leader who believed God for success no matter how dire the circumstance.
People need leaders who have faith—even those who are critical and defiant. They may say, “It can’t be done; it’s impossible; we don’t have the means or resources.” But, in reality, they are hoping for a leader who will stand with confidence and say “God is able.” They will respond to a leader like young David who declares, “If God is for us who can be against us. Don’t give up; we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”
Therefore, if there was one thing I could pray into the leaders of my church it would not be a new vision, smart ideas, fancy programs, or even great resources. The one thing I would pray into our leaders would be a good attitude—an attitude of faith.
FAITH IS AN ATTRACTIVE ATTITUDE
John Maxwell wrote, “Many people who approach the area of vision in leadership have it all backward. They believe that if the cause is good enough, people will automatically buy into it and follow. But that’s not how leadership really works. People don’t at first follow worthy causes. They follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes. People buy into the leader first, then the leader’s vision.”
In the early 1900s, the London Times reportedly carried an advertisement that read, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”1 The man alleged to have run the article was the famed explorer Ernest Shackleton and his vision was to make the first crossing of the perilous Antarctic continent by foot. He was hoping, by use of the controversial article, to recruit twenty six men to make the dangerous journey with him.2
Of course, it wasn’t a very inspiring vision statement and one might think that no person in his right mind would respond to such an uninspiring help wanted ad. However, historian Julian Watkins reported that over five thousand people applied for the job.3 Why such a positive response? Because in London at that time, Ernest Shackleton was a man greatly respected. He was well-reputed as a trustworthy leader and a capable explorer. And, as a man expected to achieve greatness in his lifetime, people wanted to be a part of whatever he was doing. Those five-thousand men were not signing up for a great vision—they signed up for a great leader.4
Ernest Shackleton exemplifies an important principle of leadership: people are not attracted to smart programs or good ideas—people are attracted to people. In other words, people don’t follow us because they like our vision or are impressed with our plan. They sign up for our vision because they believe in us; they have confidence in the quality and content of our character. This is why powerful advertising firms hire popular personalities and successful athletes to promote their products. When people feel good about the presenting individual, they buy into their product—or vision. For example, people buy Nike sneakers, not because they necessarily like the shoes, but because they’ve bought into Michael Jordan. Once people buy into someone, they will give his or her vision a chance. Therefore, before you ask people to buy into your vision, you need to ask, “Do people buy into you?”
King David attracted many followers. In 1 Samuel 22, we see him living in the cave of Adullam. He’s been branded a fugitive by Saul, considered a traitor to the nation and is being hunted like an animal. One would think that no one would want to be associated with him, let alone follow him as a leader. Yet Verse 2 says, “…everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.”
What was it that drew so many people to this outcast leader? Did people follow David because he had a great vision? Did people flock to him because he gave them such promise for their future? Of course not—he was living in a cave, being hunted by the king, acting insane to avoid punishment from the Philistines. Yet hundreds came to him. Why? Because there was something about the man—something about his spirit, his disposition, his attitude.
In Psalm 57 this attitude is revealed. While running from Saul and living in caves, at the lowest point of his life, David writes songs of praise in which he declares his confidence in God’s deliverance. His spirit never wavered. He never grew discouraged. He never complained or succumbed to fear. That’s what those four-hundred despots saw. They saw the way he kept singing praise songs and the way he rejoiced in the Lord. They saw his confidence and optimism despite the gloom of the cave and sentence of death upon him. They came to him because of his spirit—not his vision. They came to him because he inspired them; he encouraged them and made them feel better about themselves.
Faith, optimism, confidence: these are the attitudes people are attracted to. If a leader is going to build a following, then he needs to demonstrate these qualities.
Former president of the United States, Ronald Reagan—one America’s greatest leaders and foremost optimists—often told a joke about twin boys about five or six years old. Their parents were worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities: one was a total pessimist and the other a total optimist. To allay their concerns, the parents took their sons to a psychiatrist. First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the doctor took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What's the matter?” the doctor asked, baffled. “Don't you want to play with any of the toys?” “Of course,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I'd only break them and get into trouble.” Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his ridiculously positive outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist shouted in delight, clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you're doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
Presidential Advisor Edwin Meese recalled that “Ronald Reagan told this joke so often that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of the staff. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, “There must be a pony in here somewhere.”5
This is the kind of spirit people are attracted to. The spirit that says, no matter what kind of difficulties life throws at us, there are sure to be benefits buried in there somewhere. It is the kind of attitude that refuses fear, refuses to believe that something bad will happen, refuses to say, “We can’t do it. Goliath is too big, the giants are too many, we don’t have enough resources or money or people; if we try, we will fail.”
For this reason, when God calls a leader, the first thing
He commands him is “fear not!” At Joshua’s coronation, the Lord said, “…be strong and very courageous…do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:5-9). One of the most important qualities that God looks for in people who lead is the ability to demonstrate faith over fear—to believe God for success in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
FEAR IS A CONTAGIOUS POISON
Attitudes are contagious and bad attitudes are more contagious than good ones. It is easy to be infected by someone’s sickness but nearly impossible to catch their good health. The same is true of attitude. Fear spreads quickly. Unabated, it spreads like wildfire gaining more momentum with each person it infects.
Saul’s reaction to Goliath shows us the worst thing a leader can do. He hid himself away, afraid to confront the issue, unable to rally the troops with faith, optimism and a “can-do” attitude. As a result, fear spread throughout the camp like a virus devouring it’s victim.
The same dynamic occurred in Numbers 13 when the spies returned from the land of Canaan with a bad report. Although God promised them victory, they complained, “‘The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants…and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.’ So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night” (Numbers 13:32-14:1). Despite the fiery words of encouragement delivered by Joshua and Caleb, the dire prediction of the spies spread like an infectious disease throughout the camp. Such is the effect that fear has on a group of people.
Faith and fear are opposite twins. Faith is the expectation that something good will happen. Fear is also expectation, but it expects that something bad will happen. It is an attitude of discouragement that says, “We can’t. Goliath is too big, the giants are too many, we don’t have enough resources or money or people; if we try, we will fail.” This is the attitude that most people will take. When the twelve spies surveyed the land in Numbers 10, it was the majority who feared the giants and said, “It can’t be done; we’ll be defeated.” Anytime a vision is pursued, there will be those whose natural expectation is the worst. There will always be those pessimists who focus on the negative, who see the potential for failure and retreat because of it. But God is looking for leaders. People who can see the possibilities, expect the best and challenge the attitudes of fear.
To read more, check out "How The Mighty Have Fallen"