Raising Up Roadkill

Leadership development has been an interest and passion of mine for some time. I’ve always felt that the Lord has placed in me the ability to see the potential in his people to accomplish great things for his purpose and for his name. Nothing thrills me more than to personally see the Lord identity, develop, raise up, and then use a new leader in the Kingdom of God.

I can also say that in the past I have been very aggressive and at times presumptuous with my potential leaders. I have always assumed that with a little tweaking anyone can become a great leader. In the teaching series, The Eagle Life, I compare and contrast the majestic eagle, the turkey, and the roadkill (like you may have seen on the side of the road recently). The goal is to teach believers to soar victoriously in their service for the Lord. The turkey, which can run and fly for short bursts, is a vast improvement over roadkill but is still in development for eagle status. The “roadkill” defined as “the body of an animal killed on a road by a motor vehicle” or for our purposes, “one that has failed or been defeated and is no longer worthy of consideration,” has so much more to overcome to reach their God-given potential. Ever the optimist I genuinely believe that the Lord can take a case of roadkill and raise them up for fruitful and effective service for the Lord.

My presumption stems from my many attempts to raise roadkill up from the side of the road of life and breath life into them through the Word of God, spiritual life from the church community, and personal investment through mentoring and coaching to become effective and productive leaders. More often than not, the roadkill does not work out. A friend of mine says that’s because I start out with roadkill. Although he admires my spunk he recently made the observation that many of his own leadership development projects were successful because he started out with eagle eggs (cheater).

Through the years, I have noticed some common traits that indicate whether a budding leader (eagle egg, turkey, or roadkill) will in fact be successful in the leadership development process. Today when I consider raising up a leader I look for all four of the following factors:

The Potential Factor

Potential refers to someone or something that is considered a worthwhile possibility. Potential means that there are discernible skill sets and abilities that could be effectively developed over time or transferred from life experiences. While some leaders have a hard time seeing the potential in others, I have become so proficient that it feels like a special gift placed in my life. Despite a person’s best intentions, certain types of ministry and leadership are not for everyone (just like some of us should not pick up the guitar). Discovering raw potential that indicates future competency in an individual is the first step in the leadership development process. We do more harm than good when we try to push individuals to lead when they do not have the potential or ability to do so. We are, in fact, setting them up for failure and ourselves up for frustration.

The Character Factor

It is often said that character is what you are in the dark or when no one else is looking. Character is that internal moral compass consisting of values that guide our decisions and our actions. If after claiming to be a Christian an individual has repeated character issues such as dishonesty, strife, compromise, immorality, quitting, etc. it is clear that this individual will not make the cut for Kingdom leadership. Character is directly associated with our spiritual formation and as such cannot be just learned like a skill or task. Character is the sum total of who are and what we have developed into after many years of walking with the Lord. No amount of potential can make up for a lack of character in the life of the leader. No one cares about your business skills if you are secretly ripping your constituents off. No one cares about your political prowess if you step out on your wife. No one cares how well you swing the golf club if you have no self-control. No one cares how well you preach a sermon if your daily life contradicts the message.

The Teachability Factor

Teachability refers to the willingness and openness of an individual to receive correction and even rebuke from time to time as they are being groomed and developed for leadership. It doesn’t take long to find out if a person is teachable. If an individual is quick to take offense and emotionally withdraws during their developmental process it’s a good sign that they are not ready to lead others. In the story of the Centurion’s sick servant, Jesus marvels at the understanding the Roman soldier had about authority. When Jesus said he would come and heal the servant the Centurion countered, “just say the word and my servant will be healed.” He explained that he was a man under authority and consequently had the authority to tell one to go or come. He understood what many budding leaders do not get – you cannot walk in authority if you cannot cooperate with authority in your own life. In other words, the authority we have is derived from a higher authority. The inability to be corrected or to pout when corrected disqualifies an individual from promotion in the Kingdom of God. Leadership development requires strong mentoring and coaching and at times those coaches will come down pretty hard simply because of the potential they see in the individual. I found this out while swimming for an ex-marine nicknamed “Bones” by the swim team. I never understood why he seemingly “picked on me” when we had so many slackers in the pool goofing off while I was working hard. One day he finally told me why. He said that all the slackers did not have the potential that I had and with greater potential comes greater accountability and a higher standard. In the end, no matter how much potential or character and individual has, if they can’t be corrected, they will never make it in leadership.

The Interpersonal Skills Factor

Interpersonal skills refer to the ability to relate to people as a leader and the ability to get along with folks in general. For many years I did not have this on my list of key requirements for future leaders. I have since discovered that even with potential, character, and teachability, if we can’t (or won’t) get along with people we’ll never make it in Christian leadership (or any leadership environment for that matter). I have witnessed many leadership washouts through the years because of various dysfunctions that go hand in hand with poor interpersonal skills such as the inability or refusal to listen, the tendency to react inappropriately to situations, the adoption of a paranoid or victim mentality, the propensity for speaking out of turn, the tendency to hold grudges, etc. Certainly there are folks that are just plain hard to get along with, but as John Maxwell has described in his The Law of Conflict Factor, if Bill and Sue have a problem, and Bill and Bob have a problem, and Bill and Jane have a problem, and Bill and Sam have a problem, then Bill is quite likely the problem. Because Christian leadership and ministry involves people obviously we must be able to get along with people if we are to be successful.