[There are] no bad teams, only bad leaders.
– Leif Babin, Extreme Ownership, p. 41
That’s a pretty bold statement to make, but Leif can (and does) back it up. Now, before you think this has nothing to do with you, pause for just a moment and ask, “Who (and what) is leading me?” And why are we asking this question?
Because following a poor leader will give us poor results. So, how do we find a good leader?
Leif relays a story in the second chapter of the book, Extreme Ownership. By the way, I highly recommend this book for the hard-won lessons it passes on.
The story goes like this: during BUD/S (SEAL training), the candidates are grouped together in boat crews. These boat crews must learn to work together under tough conditions that involve competitive races through rough surf with other trainees and their boats. Winners get rewarded. Losers have to work even harder.
One boat crew consistently came in first. However, there was another boat crew that consistently came in last. Not surprisingly, the last place team began to unravel with finger-pointing, blame, complaining, etc. The instructors decided on an experiment to determine if leadership had any influence on the situation.
So, they swapped leaders. And guess what they saw…
The former last place crew began to challenge for the lead, and then began to win. From last to first place, and the only tangible change was a new leader. Hence the saying, “No bad leaders, only bad teams.” Leadership matters!
Two Questions to Ask
So, how we do find a good leader to get the best results from our pursuits? Ask two questions:
1. Who (and what) is leading me?
Sometimes we don’t get much say in who leads. Perhaps you’ve already experienced what it’s like to work under a last-place leader. My hope is that you’ve experienced what it’s like to be a first place leader.
There are lots of techniques to lead from the bottom up and help your leaders develop and lead better. Did I mention the book, Extreme Ownership has lots of hard-won lessons that can help with this? Read the chapter on leading up and down the chain of command to get more ideas there.
But for our purposes, let’s focus on something more within our direct control. We can’t always control who leads us, but we can have great influence over WHAT is leading us. Start by asking, “What is leading me?”
This question opens the veil to reveal our motivations. It can point out why we do what we do and how we’ll show up in given situations (or if we’ll show up at all). Here are some of the “whats” that I’ve seen leading myself and others:
- Fear – it could be fear of missing out or fear that you’re not enough to handle life
- Comfort – When comfort is King we won’t push ourselves to grow and learn
- Addiction – These are many, and few result in a life well-lived
- Image – As Confucius say, man who is wrapped up in self make very small package!
Maybe you’ve seen others (feel free to add to this list in the comments). But how do you tell what’s leading you?
Try checking your calendar and your bank statement for starters. When we examine where we’re willing to put our time and money, we’ll reveal motives.
Add to this the ability to ask why (e.g., why did I put that on my calendar? Why did I buy that?) and you get a glimpse of what’s leading you. If this doesn’t add up to who you would like to be, congratulations! You’ve just discovered an area you can work on.
2. What are the results?
In short, are the results of whatever you’re pursing (i.e., following after) life-giving, or life-stealing?
In the case of addiction, some desire is leading me, but is that desire life-giving, or life-stealing? We have to be careful, because left to ourselves, we’ll rationalize that our addiction is a good thing… even a necessary thing. But if we’re honest, and we take a step back and look at the results, there aren’t many addictions that are life-giving.
That’s the hard part: getting a good, objective view of the results. For that, we either need a good hard look at ourselves (which usually comes when we hit rock bottom), or we need some accountability from a supporting community.
Who is your community? If you don’t have one, trust me when I say, we all need that kind of community. Be relentless in your pursuit of that kind of community!
The Bigger Who
There is good news here. There is a leader that promises a full and satisfying life and anyone can follow him.
In John, chapter 10, we see two distinct leadership styles compared. One is a thief, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The other is like a Good Shepherd who guards the gate (to keep the thief out) and lays down his life to protect the flock.
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10 NLT)
Scripture tells us that the sheep know the Shepherd’s voice and will follow as he leads them. And where does He lead them? To a rich and satisfying life… to a place called “life abundant.”
If we’re serious about wanting a fulfilling life, it’s time to take a hard look at who (and what) we’re following.
“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” —Richard J. Foster
If we want this life abundant, we have to train ourselves to listen for His voice. How do we do that?
The good news is, there is more than one way. You can pick the one(s) that work for you. Here are a few:
- Read Scripture
- Pray (and take time to listen… not just talk!)
- Serve someone else
And there are many others. This is the realm of Spiritual Disciplines. And while that phrase might not sound appealing, remember it’s just a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to hear and follow the voice of the One who calls us to follow to a rich and abundant life.
But be careful, His voice is not the loudest and there is a great deal of competition, some of which desire to steal, kill, and destroy.
So… ask Who, and answer, “Christ.”
Ask what, and answer, “A desire to live a rich and abundant life as a child of God.”
Ask how… and listen... and follow…
You’ll be well on your way to a rich and satisfying life, under the best leader ever!
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psa 23:1–3 ESV)