The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has already turned out to be one of the most pivotal moments of 2016. The political rancor surrounding his successor will carry on indefinitely as the race for the presidency heats up. Articles have already been written about his legacy, offering keen insights on his impact as one of the most important jurists of the last half-century. He was a strong Catholic, a man who embraced his faith’s role in his public service. He was also a man who cultivated lasting relationships. While he was devoted to his family, one of the more unheralded aspects of his life was the way he shared friendships with those who were ideologically different than him. His long friendship with Justice Ginsberg is just one example.
But beyond Justice Scalia’s legacy, his death affords the opportunity to explore the power of endings and beginnings in leadership. It is fascinating to note that his death occurred on the first weekend of Lent, which is the long-standing Christian season of reflecting on the significance of Jesus’ death. Lent itself is a season where endings and beginnings coalesce, because Lent anticipates Easter, the ultimate Christian beginning.
All people live by seasons. Our weather patterns are cyclical, just as our lives are cyclical. There is much to be gained by reflecting on the different seasons of life, and an important aspect of leadership is understanding where you are personally in terms of seasons. Where is God leading you right now? Are you experiencing painful endings, difficult beginnings, or are you caught between seasons in a time of uncertainty? There are also seasons of joyful completion and exciting new possibilities. In locating where you are you can begin to better understand what God is doing in your life.
Taking it one step further, Christian leaders have the responsibility of helping frame endings and beginnings for followers. Max Depree famously wrote that a leader’s first responsibility is to “define reality,” and being able to help frame endings and beginnings is an important part of this critical task. What are the challenges facing your organization? What are stories of victory that need to be told? How can you help frame for others the reason your organization exists?
One of the best leadership attributes we can develop as we consider the seasons of endings and beginnings is adaptability. Ronald Heifetz’ extensive work on the adaptive challenge of leadership reminds us that we have to learn not only how to adapt to changing circumstances personally, but we must help our followers learn to adapt as well.
But where I would take adaptability further than Heifetz is in why we are motivated to become adaptable. Whereas you can learn to become adaptable merely to survive as a leader, in the Christian understanding we learn to become adaptable so that we can receive the lessons that God wants to teach us. As Charles Swindoll writes in Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, “Seasons are designed to deepen us, to instruct us in the wisdom and ways of our God.”
So the real question before us is this: what season God has placed us in? What are the specific challenges and opportunities of this season? As we seek to become trees “planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3), we can only lead as far as we’ve gone ourselves.
We can remain steadfast in our faith regardless of what endings and beginnings come our way by remembering the great story of God’s redemption found in the Bible. The more we remember all the ways God has been faithful in the past, the more we will be able to trust His continued faithfulness in the future. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “A story is precisely the sort of thing that cannot be understood till you have heard the whole of it.”
As we remember God’s great faithfulness and reflect on His promises, our little stories gain clarity in the light of his Big Story.