It doesn’t take long in leadership to realize that most of our work takes place in the wreckage of life. We take on new ventures and exciting opportunities only to be confronted immediately with challenges, obstacles, and difficult choices. The sheen wears off quickly as the reality of the task sets in.
Samsung is dealing with the wreckage of a disastrous product flaw in its most advanced smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7. After riding a recent wave of success that saw it gaining traction against Apple’s popular iPhone line, Samsung launched the Note 7, dubbing it the most advanced smartphone on the market. When faulty batteries in the units began to explode while charging, however, all hopes Samsung had for the Note 7 disappeared.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the wreckage of illicit drug use in the American work force. Quest Diagnostics, one of the nation’s largest medical laboratories, released data that show “Detection of illicit drugs—from marijuana to heroin to methamphetamine—increased slightly both for the general workforce and the “safety-sensitive” workforce, which includes millions of truck drivers, pilots, ship captains, subway engineers, and other transportation workers.”
Meanwhile, we’ve even seen examples of the wreckage of life in pastoral leadership, as Pete Wilson of Cross Point Church in Nashville announced his resignation as pastor of one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He cited fatigue, noting that he’s been “leading on empty.”
The wreckage of life is all around us, and the more we try to run away from it as leaders the more we do disservice to our God-given call. Even leadership theorists who do not approach leadership from a Christian perspective know that one of the central responsibilities of all types of leaders is to confront the difficulties and challenges in our organizations and systems. One of the strongest such advocates is Ron Heifetz, author of Leadership without Easy Answers. In this book, he makes the case for leaders to be primarily concerned with helping their organizations address their toughest challenges. Jim Collins, author of the popular book Good to Great, would concur, arguing that leaders must always “confront the brutal facts.”
Leading in the wreckage of life does not mean, however, that we have to wallow in the wreckage. Christian hope gives us the proper perspective to be able to wade into the deepest parts of the wreckage and work towards fixing the problem.
Whether your sphere of leadership is in the boardroom or the home, the academy or Main Street, we all face the wreckage of life, so we all need a hope and vision that will guide us beyond what we presently see. It all starts with how we experience God as he deals with the wreckage in our own lives. T. F. Torrance, in his treatise on the incarnation of Christ, describes how God comes into the wreckage of our lives and gives us new hope:
“What according to the gospel is the decision required of me? I am certainly challenged to make a decision, but the gospel announces to me that in Jesus Christ God has already taken a decision about me; it announces that my existence has already been invaded and brought under the sovereign rule of God’s grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; it announces that the kingdom of God has overtaken me in Christ, and that my destiny has been laid hold of by Christ and determined by his crucifixion.”
When we experience God’s work in our own messy lives, we slowly gain an understanding for how to model our leadership after him. Several key points emerge. First, leading in the wreckage requires courage, because we have to go into situations that we wouldn’t otherwise want to go into. Second, it requires patience, because, as we know from our own experience of God’s patience with us, many of the solutions to the problems that plague our organizations and society take slow, patient, steady work to reverse. Third, leading in the wreckage takes enthusiasm and joy. We need to pray for the joy of the Lord to infuse our hearts so that as we face the challenges of leadership we won’t be overcome by despair.
The wreckage of life, whether shattered dreams, broken relationships, or failed plans, is a constant reality in our journey this side of Heaven. How we choose to deal with the wreckage tells the world that we have hope far beyond what we can presently see.