by Eddie Pipkin
I was at my young friend, Chance’s, amazing wedding in Colorado last weekend. It was visually outstanding, held on a farm in a valley surrounded by mountains, but that’s not the only thing that set it apart. Chance is himself a force of nature, the manifestation of the adventure-obsessed Millennial lifestyle. He moved to the Front Range, found the perfect life partner, and secured a job that allows him to indulge his epic exploits. One of the reasons that all of this is possible – and one of the things that stood out most at his wedding – is the supportive team with which he has surrounded himself. The people closest to him believe in him and his vision for what his life will be. And they believe in him because he believes in them and invests himself wholeheartedly in their dreams, too.
For those of us in leadership positions or really in any position in which we are partnered with others (marriage comes to mind as an excellent example), this characteristic of supporting others and their aspirations is a key to a growing, deepening, productive relationship. In ministry, it is one of the things that makes the difference between what thrives and what sputters.
It’s the secret sauce that delivers results, and examples of this truth abound: case in point, the improbable rise of the Colorado Buffaloes as they provide an electrifying start to the 2023 football season. With their new leader, Deion Sanders (aka Coach Prime), although many predicted they would faceplant, the team is currently the hot topic of the college football world. A terrible team last year, with a long history of being bad, they have engineered a one-year turnaround through an unorthodox approach, a prodigious collection of talent unleashed, and a fearless willingness to win. According to sportswriters like The Orlando Sentinel’s Chris Hayes, it’s Sanders’ unique relationship to his players that has ultimately paved the pathway for success:
[Coach Prime] gives to these young men. He loves them and basks in their success. Coach Prime has the faith, the focus, and fortitude, and it is all absorbed by the minds of those who surround him and believe in him.
It’s a “mutual admiration society,” where belief feeds off belief and purpose amplifies purpose.
Football teams, of course, are resourced with tens of millions of dollars annually, massive fan bases, and elaborate marketing machines.
As it goes with football teams, though, so it goes with friend groups. A core cluster of close confidantes, supporting and encouraging one another is a deep reservoir of resources that will fuel continual growth and worthwhile ambition. As I looked out at Chance’s collection of friends and family, gathered to launch him and his bride on their lifelong adventure together, I was confident they will achieve all they hope for. They are surrounded by faithful people who will walk with them in good times and times of struggle. They’ll hold each other accountable and explore new challenges together, leaning into each other’s strengths along the way.
That’s, of course, the way ministry should work, too. Teams should follow this model. It’s biblical. The theology which undergirds our work centers on a loving God who wants the best for us at all times and in all situations. One of the inspiring truths that stands out when reading the Gospels is the way Jesus loves, supports, and nurtures his “team,” the disciples. He doesn’t just want to succeed in his mission, he wants them to grow and flourish, each to their own strengths, as they live and work to support his vision of bringing hope to the world.
Don’t be these leaders:
- The Jealous Leader: Always resentful and bitter when anyone but you is standing in the spotlight and getting the accolades.
- The Stingy Leader: Wanting all the resources to go to you all the time, or at least the bulk of the resources. Always insisting that the schedule and the priorities revolve around your preferences.
- The Angry Leader: Demanding. Rude. Even when this leader has a worthy vision, its pursuit must be “enforced” with harsh directives and demanding, nit-picky oversight. Easily offended.
- The Narcissistic Leader: Combines the attributes of the jealous leader and the stingy leader, but really is just a classic take on “everything must always be about me.” “I must always be the center of the universe.” One key clue to this type of leadership is when every conversation must always turn back to you.
- The Perfectionist Leader: Relentless in insisting that everything must be done without mistakes at all times. No matter how good something is, your first comment is always how it could be a little bit better. This leader’s post-event comments always begin and end with a critique.
- The Duplicitous Leader: Can’t be trusted. Won’t keep confidences. Agrees with whomever they last speak. Doesn’t keep their word.
- The Apathetic Leader: Everything is meh. Can’t be bothered to care one way or the other.
- The Clueless Leader: A variation of the apathetic leader. Not interested in learning the details of the lives of other team members. Not interested in knowing the details of those team members’ passions or projects. Just wants to know how it’s going to affect them.
Don’t be any of those things, because you know you hate it when other people you partner with are those things to you! In fact, make your own list of the kind of leader not to be, based on your own frustrating experiences.
Instead, do be the leader – do be the partner – who sees the success of those around you as a defining characteristic of your own success.
Picture the opposites of all those negative leadership characteristics we listed above, and live out their positive possibilities: Be the grateful leader/partner, the generous leader/partner, the joyful leader/partner, the forgiving leader/partner, the other-focused leader/partner, the guileless leader/partner, the engaged and curious leader/partner.
I’m only repackaging what has long been a set of principles for success. Remember 1st Corinthians 13. It’s been a popular reading at weddings for centuries for a reason.
How do you do at being a team leader/partner who selflessly cheers for and empowers the success of others? What descriptions of non-supportive leaders stung when you read them? What practical, specific actions can we take to promote this level of mutual team support? Share your ideas in the comments section below!