What It Means to Lead Well: Part I

by Mary

Here’s the truth …

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?’  And I said, ‘Here I am.  Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV).


There is always a bustling energy in a large city.  You step off the escalator from the underground subway into a new world of lights, aromas, and diverse people everywhere.  But there is nothing quite like the feeling of being in Washington, D.C.  An indescribable sense of democracy seems hidden within the usual big-city excitement, especially when you can gaze around the tall buildings and sneak peeks of the radiant dome of the U.S. Capitol building where legislation emanates.  Then, there’s the Rapunzel-looking tower, the Washington Monument, which points skyward and makes you feel like the city never ends.  And the chills you get while inside a taxi and suddenly driving by the Jefferson Memorial or the National Mall seems unlike anything I’ve experienced while visiting other cities.  All of the history that our young country has seems rooted in this particular city, and it takes your breath away. 


Why is that?  Is it the actual buildings and monuments that make you feel like truth, justice, and the American way is happening all around you, or is it the leadership of the people who made the decisions that framed our country that wafts through the city and fills your lungs as you breathe it in?   

While at Mount Vernon where George Washington resided, I touched the bannister railing as I climbed the stairs of his plantation home, and that same feeling washed over me.  I realized in that moment that he probably touched that railing a million times, and I yearned for the ability to capture some of that DNA and mass produce it.  But it was when I listened to a professor at The Washington Library that I realized Washington’s power was merely because he was a leader for the right reasons and that he worked hard to recover from his mistakes via research.

Obviously, I have just returned from our nation’s capital after spending a week there studying leadership.  And what I learned was that to be a good leader like Washington was, you need the frame of mind that you will lead not for the title of it nor for the accolades that come from it but for the idea that you must shepherd the flock who asks you to be its shepherd.  His desire for everyone to work together could only transpire if people saw someone posturing himself in such a way as to garner respect.  His lack of desire to remain President beyond two terms is probably what made him such a great leader.  He could have made himself the King of our new land until the day of his death, but he chose, instead, to relinquish that kind of power for the good of everyone who would follow.  Of course, Jesus set that example.  He was actually known as the King of the Jews, but it was his actions of humility that made him more of a leader than any royal act ever would.  So, to lead best, you need not crave the job, but you do need to rise to the occasion when you find yourself leading.

And don’t read this thinking, well, I follow more than I lead, so I don’t need to know this.  Think again, my friend.  Moses spent 40 years tending sheep in Midian before he was thrust into the role of leading a flock of people out of Egypt.  God might be equipping you for something greater as you learn right now how to lead your aging parent, lead a dinner party for 30 guests, or lead a meeting of a small committee at your job, for your church, or in your family.  And if you are a teacher of any kind, you must realize that you are leading students, many who will later credit you for seeing something in them that causes them to lead others one day themselves.  You just never know who is looking up to you and whose humble beginnings could become profoundly different in the future.

Did you know, for example, that Washington’s staff consisted of a Quaker farmer, a bookstore owner, and a college dropout?  Nathanael Greene, who began his adult life as a Quaker farmer in Rhode Island, was tapped to be Washington’s Quartermaster General, buying supplies for the Continental Army.  He spent much time reorganizing his department, which consisted of 3,000 people strategically placed across the country with supplies!  Henry Knox owned a bookstore in Boston, but God used his street-fighting experience to propel him forward.  He became Washington’s Secretary of War.  And Alexander Hamilton was an orphan who was unable to finish his studies at King’s College in New York when the British occupied the city and closed the college’s doors.  His self-study knowledge of military tactics led him to become one of Washington’s most trusted aides as well as one day to sign the U.S. Constitution as the only representative from New York. 

You just never know how God will use you.  What seems today to be a mere job in some office cubicle, among many others who look and act and know the same things you do, could actually transform into a role where you find yourself in the corner office with a beautiful window view, overseeing the very people who were once your equals.  Jo Ann Davidson, the first female Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, was able to say that about her journey, having climbed the ladder from her earlier days of being a typist at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.  God might give you an idea that makes you stand out.  Or God might drop something onto your desk on purpose so that your answers for it make you shine in a way that propels you to new heights. 

Regardless, you need to carry yourself with good character right where you are, showing yourself to be loyal, trustworthy, and dedicated to your menial tasks.  The Bible tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23 NIV). He sees everything and can turn the bland water of your dead-end job into the luscious wine of a fascinating career for you.  It’s all about your character. 

Esther in the Bible found herself in a beauty pageant of sorts, auditioning for Queen because God tapped her to save her people later from the hands of a wicked leader named Haman, the King’s untrustworthy advisor.  She was able to get King Xerxes to see Haman’s true colors, and was only able to do that because she allowed herself to be used by God in her new role as Queen.  Her cousin Mordecai is often quoted.  He tells her, “if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NIV).  Esther becoming Queen was really the cubicle desk job.  Esther’s courageous decision to confront the King with her knowledge about Haman is the point at which she found herself leading.  She got the corner office with a window view after that!

George Washington answered the call resoundingly when he agreed to start this new country.  Thank God that he rose to the occasion!  Will you also say, “Here I am. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8 NLT) the next time God calls for a leader?

… and that’s the truth as I know it!


Special thanks to Dr. Joseph Stoltz, Co-Director of the George Washington Leadership Institute at The Washington Library at Mount Vernon, for providing some of the information for this post.