When in a position of leadership, how much does a leader’s lack of faith in a subordinate actually create their downfall? Is there some kind of derivative of a self-fulfilling prophecy that happens here?

To put it another way, will I, as a leader, only ever get as much as I expect out of the folks I try to lead? Is there some kind of projected glass ceiling of progress or productivity that I fabricate over their heads?

Or can a leader’s unwavering belief in a person actually help propel them towards success?

I believe this to be true. I have personally been in a number of situations where it appears as though a protege simply needs someone else to believe in them… and, perhaps most, to believe in them even when they can’t believe in themselves.

I am hopefully always learning more about myself. It is one of my constant projects: to figure out why I act the way I do. One thing I have learned is that I’m so confined within my own skin that it’s often a Sisyphean battle to even understand WHAT I’m doing half the time, as most of my movements have become completely rote programming. But every once in awhile something breaks through, and a light bulb turns on.

I imagine I’m like one of those Lite-Brite machines from the 80’s… eventually — just maybe, someday — I can light up enough LED’s to actually get a complete picture of me.

At the nonprofit I work with, we’re currently looking for a person to take over our one of our departments. I’ve learned that I have an overwhelming tendency to be extremely optimistic when it comes to people. I always think they can accomplish great things, often more than they may even think. But at the same time, I’ve learned that a myopic view of only seeing “potential” and not necessarily “reality” can also have a dangerous edge. I know how crucial it is to have the “right people on the bus” and that making a hasty decision on the front end is a very costly error, in more ways than just financially.

But as we look to add people to our staff, or to grow the participants we already have for that matter, isn’t it more dangerous to set expectations too low, instead of too high?

In any kind of relational setting, be it an organization or a friendship or a marriage, isn’t there just something about the complete audacity of hope (to quote that other guy); hope that each person involved can change and grow and become more than they currently are?

Isn’t there just something grand about always looking for the best in people instead of expecting the worst?

The greater danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and miss it. Rather, it is that we aim too low and reach it.” — Michelangelo


6 Replies to “Lite-Brites, Sisyphus, & Expecting The Best”

  1. m says:

    looking for the best in people is an incomplete act, and therefore, pointless.

    as one who has been re-made by Jesus you must always hold hope that anyone is able to change, this is fundamental to the message of the cross. but this is not quite the same as “looking for the best in people.”

    also, as a recreation of Jesus you know that the world, and namely the people in it, are broken. not just emotionally broken, but broken like a window gets broken when a baseball flies through it.

    the complete perspective is something like looking for the honest, genuine, someone that you are working with. what is Jesus forming them into? what does Jesus want to form in you through your relationship to this person? what does Jesus want to use in you to form something in this person?

    in any case, the scentral point is, as always: what is Jesus doing?

    the window has to get fixed: the broken glass gets swept up, and new glass is put in its place. our task as leaders is not the installing of the glass, but rather to come through with the windex and clean the window on occasion. more than this though, you get the opportunity to look THROUGH the window…

    working with people and hoping for the miracles and results that only God can give can be frustrating work, IF we try to pick up broken glass. God works mysteriously and more often than not, more slowly than we think He should. but He is wise, and His timing is ideal.

    should you hold out hope that someone will be the perfect fit for the task at hand? you could. or you could stand back, and look through the window that God is making and realize that the window is not the end, just the means.

    but enough metaphors and lofty speech for one day. happy hunting and remember: it is Christ’s unurelenting desire to see everyone of us perfected that keeps Him at work. perhaps it is this same desire that He is forming in you.


  2. Amy Moccardini says:

    Sometimes others see in me things I either can’t see or am afraid to see. Hopefully some kind of strength will be recognized by one of my great leaders and they will help me grow that strength. I might be following them because I see greatness and strength which may be one of my weaknesses.

  3. josh Allan says:

    Dr. D. (Matt, I’m gonna call you that now as I’ve just realized your initials are MD) — thanks for the thoughts.

    Also, I’m going to highly recommend that you get a Ph.D. now, so you will actually be Dr. D.

    I think that perhaps I must not have explained what I mean well enough. I love what you have to say about God often working more slowly than we think God should (my goodness, ain’t that the truth), but I couldn’t disagree more that looking for the best in people is pointless. If we’re looking for “perfection,” then yes, I would agree, but that’s not what I’m talking about at all (which is likely where my communication failure came in). I am talking about a focus on potential light instead of potential darkness. Looking for hope instead of expecting failure from people.

    My question is that if, as leaders, we are somehow mysteriously able to create a reality for the folks that “follow” us by how we treat them or what we expect from them. This is not to discount or even question the work of God in that person, but an exploration of how God might use us.

    I personally suspect that we have a lot more power to impact the lives of others than we often think.

    Amy — welcome to the blog! I’m so excited you decided to join the dialogue. I would love for you to expound on what you’re saying… sounds like you’re definitely processing something, but I can’t exactly tell what you mean!

    P.S. I wanted you all to enjoy the art of Dr. D.; he took me up on my LITE-BRITE challenge… I present to you “Deer By Lake”:

  4. m says:

    ah, i see. and yes, looking at it again, i didn’t say that correctly: looking for the best in people is not pointless, it is the looking for perfection (or projecting our own perfectionism onto someone else) that is, in a sense, pointless.

    and so yes, there is a boundless potential in everyone of us for both light (good) and darkness (evil). i think that the responsibility of leadership falls into the guidance category. we obviously can’t force growth to occur in a person, but we can help guide people. this guidance can come in many forms, but eventually it all boils down to relationships. effectively, we can build programs, enivronments, circumstances, and whatever other category of catalyst there may be in this discussion, but eventually the guidance of leadership can only come as the result of a relationship.

    so, in my mind, the responsibility of a leader is to build genuine, open relationships with people, and in so doing, the leader will actually grow to love (to whatever degree) the person they are leading. and if you can love someone, then you can find in them the infinite ability for good. i think that’s why God bothered with us in the first place: “the love of God is shown in this: that Christ died while we were yet sinners…”

    and this comes back to what you were saying about the depth of our ability to influence people: you’re right, we hold a stronger ability for this than we may think, and i am certain that this level of influence grows in connection to the depth of our relationships.

    anyhow, i have actually been very seriously considering a PHD pathway lately (yes, i have gone insane). oh, and that picture is the result of a very slow afternoon at work… i guess that’s where i was wanting to be at the moment =]


  5. well, all i can say is it is definitely a fragile balance. love indeed hopes the best but the other side is that anyone in a position of leadership will have a profound impact on others. the difficult thing is that in questions of a staff/ministry team, the “potential” of the given person to grow has to be more than mere potential. the fact is that if the person becomes a leader, its assumed he’ll be able to lead other somewhere he himself has been. at this point, “potential” is not enough. as for developing leaders within a church, yes, opportunities need to be given (though in wise increments, like not giving a guy who just got of crack 2 weeks ago the associate pastor position in hopes of “developing his potential” :). but i suppose that’s the hard part: figuring out what those increments are so that on the one hand you are allowing development of the potential leader, not stifling him/her, while on the other hand not “developing potential leaders” at the cost of the rest of the church because while the potential leaders are developing, the rest of the people’s needs are not being met or they’re even being hurt or the actual vision of the ministry is compromised. yeah, not easy. may the Lord give us wisdom!

  6. josh Allan says:

    Matt — loved what you had to say about the relational aspect of this issue. VERY important. And yes, you should get a Ph.D.

    Ben — certainly is tricky, ain’t it? There is definitely some mysterious balance between seeing and cultivating potential and navigating the “big picture” for the direction of the community at large. And yes, more wisdom sounds good to me!

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