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A leader’s courage

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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The Stoning of Saint Stephen (Credit: Rembrandt)

The heavy onslaught of America’s social and moral crisis continued to unfold this week with the release of the Planned Parenthood video. Add it to other issues that have plagued our society recently: racism, terrorism and greed. The advance of society, especially with regards to technology, will only continue to bring social and moral issues to the fore of our public conversations. These issues are not going away.

In this milieu, leaders cannot hide. In an increasingly connected world, leadership decisions are more public and therefore more closely scrutinized than ever before. Here is how we have shifted the most in recent years. First, there has been a dramatic shift in time. Leaders are expected to respond swiftly and forcefully to crises. Social media has brought events to our immediate attention that would before have taken time to digest and settle before public debate ensued. Second, the moral vocabulary of the nation has changed. Leaders can no longer rely on a loosely accepted ethical framework that has parameters beyond the self. Our culture now only agrees that personal freedom is the most important good and that any violation of it is worthy of condemnation.

Leadership training needs to undergo a shift as we pivot to a new social reality. We can no longer assume that technical knowledge of a particular field is all that is necessary to coronate an individual as ready to take the mantle of leadership. We have focused almost exclusively on technical knowledge as our society has shifted to the demands of the internet age. Students receiving MBA training focus on macro and micro economics, on production scales and productivity optimization, but spend little time engaged in ethical training. The same goes for the fields of education, medicine, and politics. Our pragmatic society has decided that our leadership training should help leaders become technical experts in their field, but in the process we have produced a generation of leaders that are inadequately prepared to dialogue about the social and moral issues that dominate our national dialogue.

There is an obvious need to better train leaders of the future to be able to better engage with the moral and social issues of our time, but what are current leaders to do? I want to offer three suggestions for how a leader can respond with courage to our contemporary social and moral crises.

Serve those entrusted to your care

Leadership is always specific, and you as a leader have a specific group of people you are responsible for. These could be the business that you run, the class you teach, or the nurses under your care. Take time to think about how these issues are impacting those whom you have been entrusted. What kinds of fears and challenges are they being faced with that you could alleviate or mitigate?

Use your influence to help others rather than enlarge your platform

One of the unwritten rules of contemporary society is that I must do whatever is best for me. This horrible thread of logic runs through every sphere of life, and largely goes unchallenged by Christians. Why should we expect individuals to be any different when they take on roles of leadership when all that was previously encouraged of them was to “follow their heart”? True leadership requires that we must shift from looking at what’s best for me to what is best for our organizations and for our people.  

Follow Christ wherever He leads

Your personal relationship with Jesus is the most important component of your leadership. Yet you will be discouraged every day from training and equipping yourself in discipleship to Jesus because an enemy exists that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) We need to learn the daily habit of asking God what he wants us to do if we are to lead courageously. One of the commons themes of the way God works throughout the Bible is that it is always surprising.

Seek Christ before you face the challenges of the day and he will guide you through the unexpected shifts. He will also call you to tasks and assignments you never thought you were ready or equipped for. God’s work is full of surprises. In these difficult days, Christ calls all leaders to lead with courage.