What It Means to Lead Well: Part II

by Mary

Here’s the truth …

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).

As my husband drives me out of Washington, D.C., I reflect on my adventures of the past week.  I was attending a leadership institute throughout the year that culminated in a grandiose way in our nation’s capital, where meetings at the White House Executive Offices, a private tour of the U.S. Capitol building given to us by my Senator, and speeches conducted in the Library of Congress by Congressmen from my state shaped my days.  But it was in the Washington Library at Mount Vernon where I reflected most on what it means to be a leader as we listened to a professor explain to us the characteristics of our Founding Father who set the standard for how leaders should act today.  Two themes emerged for me.  The first one I spoke about in an earlier post regarding your preparedness and willingness to be thrust into leadership when God calls you, as George Washington was (see What It Means to Lead Well: Part I).

Secondly, to be a good leader, you need to be a lifelong learner.  Washington’s personal library consisted of 1,200 books, purchased mainly as an adult, at a time when books were very expensive.  His search for the expert opinion of others is surely a quality that made him so successful.  He did not think so highly of himself (especially after his military blunders) as to believe that he had all of the answers to his own questions. 

Some Congressmen who spoke to my group seemed to echo the words spoken of Washington’s character by the guides at Mount Vernon:  the best leader is one who not only humbly serves but who also has a repertoire of knowledge from which to draw for making wise decisions.  In other words, don’t attempt to run for office until you have had a job that could give you a moral compass or a paradigm from which you could frame your decision making as a public servant.  I know of far too many politicians who go to Washington straight from college with no real-life experiences to guide them or to represent us well.  If you never held a job or have no moral compass, you could easily be swayed to make decisions that stem from very little to back up the decision as well as no authority to which you can point for why you would have made such a decision.  In other words, does the Bible guide your decisions?  Do you have any experience as an accountant or plumber or teacher or business owner or parent to frame the choices that you make today?  Or can others easily make you view subjects like abortion or welfare or healthcare in a way that runs contrary to your constituents’ experiences in the workforce as well as their Christian beliefs?

This is a tower of 15,000 books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Have you read one? The tower, standing 34 feet tall and 8 feet around, can be seen at the Ford's Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington, D.C.

This is a tower of 15,000 books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Have you read one? The tower, standing 34 feet tall and 8 feet around, can be seen at the Ford's Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington, D.C.

That is why it is so important to be a lifelong learner.  George Washington was able to say at the end of his life that he was a plantation owner, grain producer, distillery creator, military officer, and, yes, President of the United States.  He was always reading to learn something—how to be a better soldier, what made crop rotation a successful new phenomenon, and why learning about John Locke would help him at dinner parties for the 600 overnight guests he would have in the course of a year at his plantation. 

So, are you reading about subjects that can grow your mind?  Do you essentially know only what you studied in school, or have you made an effort to learn about things that weren’t formally presented to you by a teacher or a college professor? What do you know about how to make a budget, how to fix a faucet, how to replace a zipper in your pants, how to build a website, how to install flooring, how to cook a turkey? Do you also try to stay abreast of the news each day so that you are aware of what is happening around you? 

My husband was recently made a supervisor in his office.  I began to see books on how to be an effective leader piled on his nightstand.  You see, he didn’t wait until he already knew how to be a good leader before accepting his new job; he accepted the assignment and made it his mission to learn and grow while serving in that role!  We must never wait until we are ready to accept the challenges that land on our desks; we must, instead, embrace what’s before us, ask questions, work hard, learn, grow, and be willing to make mistakes along the way.

My friend’s husband asked of her recently whether or not she had set any new goals for herself to learn about something that she doesn’t already know.  She thought about it and wondered aloud if she ought to take her love of art to new heights by learning different ways of creating that she wasn’t already doing.  I applauded that idea and offered her another to consider as well.  What about taking your knowledge of God’s Word to the next level?  Are you able to offer a solid answer to someone who asks you why you believe what you believe about your faith in Jesus?  Have you read any books on Apologetics—arguments that justify your religious doctrine?

The Bible, after all, says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).

Can you answer a scientist who purports that we descended from monkeys? 

Can you explain how the world got here and credit God as the Creator?

Can you tell a small child why his grandmother who was here yesterday is gone today and where she went?  Do you have answers for how that child can go to heaven one day to see again many who will go before him? 

Do you read the Bible merely because you were told by your parents and your pastors to read it?  Or do you have a burning desire to build a relationship with Jesus that cannot be built without getting to know who He was through His Word and through other texts that highlight the qualities of the God we serve?

A Captain at the U.S. Naval Academy told me over lunch that the instructors of the freshmen would bring those midshipmen to the Holocaust Museum in an effort to get them to realize that you cannot blindly follow a leader.  Loyalty without independent thought can be very dangerous.  So, even if you follow leaders more than you lead others, you still need to have enough knowledge to lead yourself when your own leaders fail you.  You need your own knowledge.  You cannot borrow someone else’s knowledge when making fast, crucial decisions about your life and about the lives of those you lead.  If you read what other people think ahead of time, though, you can take their decisions and forge them with your own thoughts to create your way of doing things when a difficult decision becomes expected of you.

George Washington and many other Presidents after him have collections of what they read and what they wrote about archived in the Library of Congress today.  President Taft’s collection, in fact, contains 185,000 pieces!  Start building your own collection of things that interest you.  God gave you those interests for a reason.  You just never know when you will be called to use that knowledge for Him one day.  It’s no small coincidence that “read” is in the word “ready.”  Get reading!  Get ready to lead!

… and that’s the truth as I know it!


Special thanks to Brian Williams, Congressional Relations Specialist at the Library of Congress, as well as 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.