Leaders – Jesus, Clinton, Wagoner


I think of Reading for Leading as a community – even a family – of readers. So, I usually steer by the adage of not talking at the dinner table about politics or religion. With the hope of staying non-sectarian and non-partisan, I want to trip that way just a little today.

In the Christian experience, this week lies between two polar experiences of leadership. Yesterday, called Palm Sunday, Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem like the cult hero he was, a growing number believing he was the long-awaited Messiah. Suddenly his “approval ratings” plummeted, so that at the end of this same week we commemorate his crucifixion.

Leadership is dangerous. Groups love heroes . . . and villains. Think: Madoff to Jewish charities. Think Enron to Houston’s civic world. Think Pete Rose or Barry Bonds to sports fans. I just finished the section on Bill Clinton in pollster Stan Greenberg’s excellent memoir Dispatches from the War Room. If you compress Clinton’s leadership on a timeline you see sharp peaks and valleys, the latest being the sad and ironic campaign experience, where the man referred to as “America’s first Black President” sharply attacked the man who became that first President.

In the annals of leaders’ deaths, and sometime resurrections, this past week brought us Rick Wagoner, the toppled CEO of General Motors. “Scapegoat,” he was called, in a blood-letting that reminds us of an ancient thirst for expiation. The hurt, anger, and fear of “the crowd” still raging, they want Wall Street “scapegoats,” too. I suspect that while you’re reading this, some readers have already clicked the “comments” button on the bottom and are going after Clinton, defending Jesus, or wondering why I don’t see how villainous those Wall Street CEOs are.

So, I only want to make one point: Leadership is dangerous work. Keeping constituents happy is hard work – triply so when you’re pushing them to change in uncertain times. School students, teenage children, government bureaucrats, well-rewarded executives don’t like to be stressed. Be careful. But lead anyway! Clinton and Wagoner may not have done enough, but they brought extraordinary change. And the impact of Jesus hardly needs to be stated. Stick to your convictions and

Lead with your best self,


Audio File:  Leaders – Jesus, Clinton, Wagoner

  • Dan,

    Tough to swallow Clinton compared to Jesus, but your grander point is well taken. It is often much easier to be a critic than a leader. We all take our shots at leaders, coaches and others who dare while we ourselves may not take the risk.

    As for Rick Wagoner, I do not know enough to know if he was good or great, but certainly there were years of factors that led GM into this mess. I wish the people in Washington would rememeber the “glass houses” addage.

  • You are right, I could have done without the Jesus theme today. That cluttered the message and crossed a line. However, you noted it and took responsiblity which is a good thing and an excellent leadership quality.

  • Another thoughtful message from you, Dan. Leadership is essential, and yet it is downright dangerous for those who undertake it. How right you are!

  • Great point, and one that I think plays at all levels. Whether you’re a highly publicized leader in government or small team leader in a factory, your constituents are waiting to judge your performance . . . based on the facts or the mere perception (or misperception) of the facts.

    So, a good extension of this topic is strategies on how to do this successfully (managing “feelings”). Especially in light of so many examples of those who have done it poorly.

    Thanks Dan!

    – Scott

  • Well done article. “Truer words where never spoken”. You need to stick to your guns and be yourself regardless.

  • I enjoy your Monday emails and they truly motivate me both professionally and personally.

    And, althought I see the big picture of your point, I do not see any comparison to Wagoner and Clinton. Clinton did bring change, prosperity, and cleared the deficit. What good happened under Wagoners leadership? I do not see anything positive and todays predicted end of GM supports that perhaps it was appropriate to see him leave his position. And, he left with a very nice severence package at that, where else can you paid outrageously when you fail. I would not worry about or support Wagoner.

    Also, using the crucifixtion of Jesus Christ was probably a cross over a line, after all it is the resurection of Christ that many will focus on and celebrate this week.

  • I heard Elliott Spitzer being interveiwed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show this morning apparently looking for forgiveness and resurrection. He is a former leader who is courageous and has great wisdom regarding Wall Street and financial institutions that could be helpful in the current economic crisis, but because of his transgressions he is sidelined. He certainly found out that “leadership is dangerous work.” I admire him for taking political risks; not for taking personal risks.

  • Dan, I am not sure what you mean by leadership anymore. The Wall Street Community demonstrated that they were extremely clever at manipulating accounts and taking extreme risk with the money of others to increase their personal accounts and you suggest that is leadership.
    General Motors was an American Company we could be proud and now it trades for $2.19 a share. Where do you see leadership in that. Mr. Wagoner will leave with $25 million dollars for his “leadership” which will not help the thousands of GM Employees who have lost their homes.
    I think we are angry because there has been a lack of leadership.
    Speaking of Maddox, Bonds and Rose and then following with Stan Greenberg’s analysis of Clinton’s Leadership does not make sense to me either although I will never understand why Bill Clinton effectively insured his wifes defeat.
    Kind Regards, Dan

    • Dan,

      You raise many good points. One, especialy deserves attention: Have I muddled completely the idea of what a “leader” is, with this bizarre selection of people + Jesus? The point is well taken. I should be more careful with my language and make a critical distinction. I should have said “authorized leader” or “recognized leader” when talking about Wagoner, et al. It’s hard to argue that any of these people – even Pete Rose – were not authorized (as captain) or recognized leaders.

      Your point then invites the always-critical inquiry: were they good leaders? Did they lead well? Rose led to victories, but by his behaviors he led people astray. Wagoner moved GM forward in many ways, but clearly his efforts are falling short of success.

      Your observation that we are “angry because there has been a lack of leadership” is the common understanding. What I am suggesting is that there may be another reason/set of reasons why we are angry. Chief among them: we are not being taken care of. But sometimes the fault is our own. How many mid-level managers undermined change at GM? How many government policies got in the way (trade, health care, CAFE – some would argue)? How much short-sightedness on the part of labor? How many workers didn’t upgrade skills, didn’t commit to quality, didn’t collaborate effectively, etc.? How many schools and families produced workers – blue and white collar – who thought – like Wagoner supposedly did – that GM would always be around? Indeed, sometimes, we don’t want to face our own faults, and so it is easier to “blame management” or “scapegoat the leader.” I would suggest that this behavior pattern is something that nearly every adolescent goes through (I sure know I did!) – blaming their folks, because it was easier than making the tough choices and facing the hard realities.

      And scapegoats serve some ancient purpose. That was my point. Were they all spotless? Certainly not. But those who push super-hard will certainly catch the ire of “the group.” Examples abound: Jesus, probably Gorbachev, certainly folks like Kucinich or Ron Paul – who bring unpleasant messages that cause us to look at ourselves in new and difficult ways. Conversely, some won’t take on the hard work because of their well-founded, instinctive fear that the group will topple them if they push the group.

      And thus the point: stick to conviction and tell the truth about reality, however threatening it may be!

      Thanks for the comment that helped me clarify, I hope, my message.

      p.s. I agree with you that there was an added irony that President Clinton’s campaign behavior ended up hurting his wife.

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  • Dan,

    As a leader I certainly feel the frustration at times of being tossed to the wolves as a “scapegoat” but nothing in comparison to what Jesus went through for me.

    Thank you for the comparison. Your message has served to remind me that I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and keep leading with my “best self”.

  • Leadership is dangerous….indeed, especially when that term is nothing more than a ruse to hide behind the gist of the position……I reference our Congressmen and women…..not all mind you, but a vast majority……claiming themselves as leaders, having the trumpets play before they charade about in chastisement of easier targeted ‘scapegoats’ from the corporate world…..whom in actuality were complicit with these greed mongers through lobbyist exchange of cash, travel perks, influence peddling, etc.
    The high up clergy of the Jews, who were fearful of Jesus’ “star” power, were the folks who led the masses into a frenzy of hate that culminated with Jesus’ crucifiction. Our current politician base is akin to those Pharisees and Sadducees of biblical times. They have the theatrics at the podium, the finger pointing, yet, they fail to see the log jam in their own eyes. It is best summed up with Matthew 16:6, with Jesus saying, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”……yesteryear….and today!

    • My sentiments exactly. It is amazing how our elected officials, whom the taxpayers fund, can be so critical of GM’s leadership when they have enacted regulations, and trade polices, that have contributed to domestic automakers difficulty in being competititve. I have less to fear from Rick Wagoner and more to fear from unrestrained politicians who act on their own needs rather than the taxpayer.

  • In my little world of union leadership of a small Washtenaw County School district, I learned that leadership is dangerous. Not that I was in danger of personal harm, but I was often in the crosshairs of frustrated teachers who were unhappy with fiscal change dictated by the reality of school funding. Navigating through the difficult conversations about budget cuts, no raises, and changes in fringe benefits often left people frustrated and angry. Mostly they were angry at the situation and not at me, but sometimes angry words were directed at me…”sleeping with the enemy…siding with the administration…not listening to our concerns…” Now that I have stepped away from my leadership role and some of the more outspoken teachers have taken over, it is interesting how they are the ones that have to navigate those waters and now understand that leadership is hard and dangerous. It is amazing that people still step up and try to “lead with their best selves” even when they become the targets of the frustrations of those they are trying to move forward.


    • Jan,

      Thanks for a candid, real world example. I hope you stay in the ring, leading with your best self – whether serving “in leadership” again, or leading from the side!


  • Over time, public figures have a popularity profile that resembles a sine wave (which everyone remembers from high school trig, right?). That is, a person is, for a while, a genius…..but not forever….because eventually the sine curve goes down….and the person becomes a dope. Take today’s hero du jour….Warren Buffet. Right now he is a genius. In the late 80’s, he bought stock in Salomon Brothers and US Air. Both were messes, what a dope. Then in the 90’s he was a genius again. Then came the dotcom boom and Buffet’s old-fashioned style of investing became antiquated….what a dope. Only….now he is a hero again.

    Part of this, I suspect, is the herd mentality of the media….which eventually shifts when some iconclast reporter decides that more attention will be generated by generating a contrarian approach to the leader’s then prevailing public image.

    And part of this reflects the vagaries and vicissitudes of life. Which is where Jesus comes in…….

    • “friend of dan,”

      I think you’re right that the media has a way of accelerating what you note as “sin” curve. They offer us these dramatic stories when we know in real life it’s a lot of work and occasional drama.

      I was watching a ballerina last week, and I was so thankful of what I could only imagine were 10s of thousands of hours she put in rehearsing, conditioning, practicing with a partner. Likewise the shooting time that a Kobe or Lebron puts in is sheer boredom. But without that “everyday leadership” there would be no drama – no 50-point nights, or occasional “chokes.”

      So, we’re right to suspect stories that are just too dramatic. They throw us off the trail!

      friend of friend of dan

      • Why would the practice time spent by Kobe and LeBron be considered boring? Is it not as important as the game, and if you approach life with a ‘zen’ like zeal, you’d find pleasure and satisfaction in the practice, not just the ‘game’.
        I know, as I spent lots of time perfecting some aspects of my game, shooting a plethora of shots in order to fine tune technique and accuracy. It was not boring, it was pleasure, as I saw results from this practice, not to mention the gratification of self determination, desire, et al.

  • Dan,
    Very thought provoking message today!

    While you managed to touch on all sectors – political, religious, private – in your message, one has to wonder where the current political leadership is today. Not to judge Rick Wagoner’s performance, but to compare and contrast the treatment he has received by the people who are supposed to be our top public “leaders” to the treatment that CEO’s of the financial “industry” have received by those very same “leaders”, one has to truly wonder if we are just passengers on a rudderless ship wandering aimlessly through very rough seas. At the same time the captain(s) of the ship are castigating the cabin steward for miss making a stateroom bed while the cooks are giving food poisoning to the passengers.

    • Yes, but one element is missing on that rudderless boat……the captain has his own variation to Air Force One waiting for his distress call, to wisk him away to his high rise tower of Babylon in Dubai, and his ill-gotten goods stashed in a tax haven such as BVI……leaving the ship to float into the invariable iceburg. A true leader would pull out his veto pen, not bring on board a group of tax cheats to be his cabinet members, and do EXACTLY what he stated his platform for change would be….ending earmarks, lobbyist integration into olicy making and graft expenditures, blah blah. Case in point, Larry Summers, and the recent revelations of his income opportunities.

      Remember, Jesus showed anger on several occasions….TWICE overturning the tables of money changers in the temple….once at the tender but infinitely wise age of 12, and then again, just before he entered the garden of Gethsemane for the final time.

  • Comparing Jesus to Wagoner and Clinton is strange, especially during Holy Week. There is a great line of reasoning that describes Christ as Lord. If he is not the Savior then he is either a lunatic or a liar. A lunitic because he ushered in his own death that he could have prevented and a liar because he claimed to be the Messiah and the only way to heaven. Christ does not let you think he was a “good guy”. The point is you have to make a decision. If you do not beleive he is Lord then you are forced into beleiving he is a lunatic and or a liar.

    Any other human “good guy” comparison would have sufficed. I am interested in why you chose Christ in this comparison.

    • Terry,

      Thanks for writing on this. A couple thoughts in response:

      First, in my understanding Jesus was a human – and God. I don’t ever want to let that concept that the great Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard call “absurd” escape me. He was God. Yes, and he was human. At the same time. His power for us comes out of that contradiction, paradox, mystery, call it what you will. We are invited to know his as human – feeling all the pain, triumph, joy, boredom, frustration, and love that we feel. So, without denying his divinity (and as you note, self-proclaimed divinity), I hold on to his humanity. In that way he is the most genuine guide I could ever have. As Paul wrote in Phillipians, “he did not cling to his divinity but became a man…” a servant, even unto death, death on a cross. So to me he is THE consummate human leader – loving people but also challenging the powers that were, the religious as well as civic leaders, and believing in the divinity of every one of his fellow humans. That’s what “everyday leader” means to me – to fundamentally fulfill your highest calling. And in leading, you may especially suffer.

      I also wrote because the week past is the week of the suffering servant. It remains to me the most powerful and poignant time of the year. It always humbles me that God would choose to endure such a crappy path. So, I feel less inclined to judge (Wagoner, parents, angry Republicans, double-talking congresspeople, or the other whipping boys in my mind). And I remember that he is forgiving – even through this horrific ideal.

      And then this all leads us to a deeper faith – founded on the resurrection. God can redeem us – as individuals and as peoples – instantaneously. All we see is not all there is to see.

      Curious about your thoughts?


  • Clinton and Wagoner were sheepherders. Jesus is a shepherd. You make a good point about leadership being dangerous work; however, the sheepherder is typically a hired hand that is more likely to flee in the site of danger; the shepherd will figtht for the lives he protects. It’s a very different leadership style.

  • “Like the cult hero he was” ???

    Please tell me you didn’t mean this the way it was worded. I really want to believe that you know who Jesus is and that you would never deliberately refer to him as a “cult hero” – even to get responses from your audience.

    If you are unsure about who Jesus is, you need to spend a lot more time reading the Bible for some leadership guidelines.

    • Anonymous,

      Please see my comment above to Terry.

      In his time he was very much a hero of the culture. I meant it in a literal sense.


  • Dan,

    When I read your posting today, I was reminded of a line from the first Harry Potter movie. Hagrid tells Harry, “Not all wizards are good.” Later, the old wand salesman goes on to explain that Lord Voldemort did great things, “terrible, yes…but great!” And here lies the internal danger to leadership — not all great leaders are good. They may do great things, but for all the wrong reasons, and perhaps, for the wrong people. Just as history is shot full of terrible human beings with great leadership skills, I am certain it is filled with men and women who had great ideas, superb hearts, and terrible leadership skills.

    Good or bad, history seems to reward those with leadership skills, because they made things happen. Whether they succeeded in blaze of glory, or failed in darkest despair, we take note because of their leadership signature across the events of their times. Leadership is dangerous, not only because you might fail and be forgotten, but also because you might succeed and be remembered as the great leader who [fill in the blank with the best or worst of human history].

    For these reasons, I see the greatest value in your admonition to lead with your “best self.” It is the only way I can see taking a leadership role. Even on the path to Hell, someone is the leader, and I don’t want it to be me. This is scary stuff. This is why it takes courage to lead.

    Incidentally, I am a Christian and believe that Jesus is God as well as human. That He had difficulties leading His own on Earth, gives me a clue as to just how fickle, how thick, and how violent humans can be when their world view is threatened by new ideas.

    Yup, leadership is dangerous.


  • Your inital analogy with being a leader and Jesus was very thoughtful. Unfortunately continuing with Bill Clinton, even though he was a leader, was unpalatable.
    Esther Sikorski

  • Why can’t you refer to Jesus just as Jesus. Last year’s RFL during Holy Week dismissed him as at least being a good teacher. This year you relegated him to a cult hero. Just let Jesus be Jesus. People know who he is. You wouldn’t write an RFL during Ramadan that refers to Muhammad as “the cult hero that he was.” Why do it with Jesus?

  • It is somwhat undaunting to group these leaders together, especially in light of the significance of the time\timing. I have been in leadership roles since junior high school. Often by default, I found myself carried on a wave of support and enthusiam because I represented the goal of a “cause constituency.” I coin that phrase to reflect the temerity of leadership that is issue based. I have found over the years that the best leaders often don’t experience their greatest victories, because their mission is so much bigger than themselves, that it outlives them. Such is the case with Jesus, in sharp contrast to the others mentioned. I do commend your encouragement to leaders to wear the accolades loosely, because they are short term attire.

    • Mike and Edith,

      Thanks for your comments. I think about writing “Everyday Leadership for Christians,” and the comments from this week make me want to do that more than ever. But this “everyday leadership” is written for my Jewish and Muslim and non-believing friends in a country that is primarily Christian.

      I fundamentally believe in inclusion, and I think that when “my people” (in quotes because I hate teh separation implied) are the leaders there is an affirmative duty to include others. (I write about this at some length in a chapter of my book dedicated to inclusion.) So, I write about Jesus because he is a powerful example of a leader, and I hope he is accessible to all in that respect. They don’t need to believe in His Divinity to see him as a good leader worth study. I offer a shard, as it were, a slice into him.

      Mike, you and I have had this conversation before, I think. In my view, I AM letting Jesus be Jesus. I don’t feel compelled to lay emphasis on his divinity. For in his time, he was encountered as a man, and I feel like I am being honest about that. Yes, as I wrote last week people speculated that he was the Messiah. At times, he whispered or even announced it, himself (in John’s gospel, written much later, he poetically says “I am the way, the truth and the life, etc.” I believe that and respect others who do. But, I guess I’d rather have people meet him, as “just Jesus,” then have me proclaim him or sell him as the Christ. Maybe I undersell myself as an everyday leader or I am too timid. But when I read what you and Edith have written I feel like there is almost a fear that Jesus needs us always to proclaim he is the Christ. I respect your fervency, I admire your devotion, but it just doesn’t feel like the way I am called to talk about Him.

      In my response to Terry, above, I give a more complete Christian picture of everyday leadership.

      • Dan,

        Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment. That’s some intense blogging–and leadership by example. You inspire me to write more.

        I just want to clarify that I was not asking you to sell the divinity of Jesus; I was asking just the opposite: Just let the name stand for itself, as in the following edit:

        Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem (delete “like the cult hero he was” and add “by”) a growing number believing he was the long-awaited Messiah.

    • Hurley,

      I think you make a great point about the transiency of the garments. It’s like the fashions in your closet.

      Real leadership is about living your permanent values, staying in touch with your eternal conscience. THAT – values and conscience – will always be with you. Long after the cheering or booing have faded to silence.

      Happy Easter, Rev. Take Monday off 🙂


  • I appreciate this column today (disclosure: I’m Dan’s brother) and I VERY MUCH appreciate the depth, quality and variety of today’s comments. An exception might be those comments that look as if they exist to link to their businesses — but I digress.

    I think it is appropriate and fair to reference Jesus as Dan has done to exemplify points on leadership, selflessness, piety, whatever. Many people of agnosticism, atheism, and other faiths read this column. If one is comparatively looking at leaders of all stripes and times, including Jesus (as today’s did), I think the reference was merely illustrative of his position at the time. I didn’t read it as in any way denigrating.

    Column writing is dangerous too — evidently!

    • Jim:

      That is fine but a person that is an athiest would think that Christ was a liar or crazy since they don’t believe he is God. That would not be fair to either Wagoner or Clinton by the athiest point of view.

      • True. I think most can see the Wagoner and Clinton examples separately, though. And I think atheists could view and examine the thoughts in this column without thinking about Jesus at all :>).

        • Of course anyone can veiw them separately but I just find it odd that with all the examples of leaders out there that Dan would choose Jesus who many people believe to be God. I just don’t think that if I were making the same analogy that Christ would not come to mind. He isn’t comparable to humans.

          • Terry,

            I’m going to have to agree with my uncle here (disclosure: I’m Dan’s daughter). As an atheist myself, I don’t believe that Jesus was God, but there is absolutely no question in my mind about the kind of leader he was. How could he gather such a “cult-like” following if he weren’t a leader the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr or Barack Obama? I have great respect for Jesus, being the leader he was, having promoted the ideals that he did, and having died, as many believe, to save the lives of countless others. I’m sure that these leadership qualities are those my dad was thinking of when he was writing this week’s RFL. Because before Jesus was anything else, he was a great MAN. As an atheist, I don’t think he was a liar or that he was crazy. Disbelief in the superhuman doesn’t translate into disrespect for those whom many consider to be so.

            Atheistically leading with my best self,
            Kate Mulhern

          • Kate,
            I want to point out to you your misconception.

            Jesus was not a leader the likes of…..MLK, Jr., or Barrack Hussein Obama.
            He was the Almighty (still is), that these two men you cited as examples of ‘like kind’ hope(d) to live up to as a role model…..as in a perfect role model, something no human being can say about themselves. The reality of it is that neither you, nor I, or MLK or BHO are worthy to be in His presence, yet He died for our sins so that we can live in everlasting bliss with Him, and his Father, my Father…….praise the Lord for grace, because without grace, there is no inner peace. AMEN

          • Kate:

            To be true to your deeply held atheistic beliefs, you would have to be consistant and think that Jesus was a liar and or a lunatic. You can’t have it both ways. If Barrack Obama proclaimed himself to be God I would think he was crazy and I would not respect him.

            Christ doe not let you have it both ways. I believe that was by design.

          • Ok Terry,
            For her to be true to her beliefs, she might believe Jesus was a creation of fiction! But to your point, she could very easily see the man as simply a man who taught and led by example and his faith – as she does, and neither a lunatic or liar. She could see him as a man of peace who gave up his life for a cause.
            I respect your faith, and I respect Kate’s disbelief.

            As for Paul,
            I think “innocence” is a curious term for such a thoughtful response. I hope my kids display such intellect and reason in later life — I’ll feel like I haven’t gotten in their way :>).

  • Dan,
    Why would you ever think it’s a good idea to bring up religious matters in forum like this?. You ought to know better. Stay away from the religious references. It distracts from what you are saying. It offends the faithful. It effects your credibility.

    If you don’t walk the walk, then don’t talk the talk. You are going to get spanked by your readers, or your listeners, every time.

    By the way, here is a tip for your edification. Christians refer to Jesus in the present tense. It’s not who Jesus “was”, it’s who Jesus “is” that makes all the difference.

    • David,

      I hope you will read my comments to Terry and to Mike and Edith above.

      I found your admonition funny about “walking the walk.” I don’t mean this in an offensive way, and hope you will see it that way. What I did was said that when one challenges people – even, in the comfort of their political ideals or their ideology or their faith – it will bring you criticism. Indeed, I’m not tooting my horn, but I knew people would begin the criticisms even before they finished the column. So, in a wacky way, I am walking the walk, and don’t mind being “spanked” as you say along the way 🙂

      I hope you’ll take a look at my comments to Terry above.

      Lastly, and here, the old sophomore New Testament teacher in me is popping out, the “tense” issue is tough with Jesus. We can say Jesus is alive, but we probably wouldn’t say Jesus is dying on the cross or Jesus is talking to Lazarus’. We’d probably use the past tense.

      Love your further thoughts.


  • Mentoring is a form of leadership and can be dangerous. Alice Palmer was a political mentor to Barak Obama not long after he arrived in Chicago. Alice Palmer was then an Illinois state senator. She had been planning on running for Congress, but changed her mind to run for re-election to the state senate. Obama, who was preparing to run for that same senate seat made many technical challenges to Alice Palmer’s nominating petitions, and enough so that she was removed from the race. The result was a considerable division among Chicago democrats for years after, and Barak Obama was elected. This story can raise several questions about leadership; but we can see that leadership and the teaching of leadership can be dangerous. Did Barak Obama do the right thing? Mark John Hunter, Alpena.

  • Your column brought another leader to mind: Winston Churchill. His career was a series of heights and depths. At its lowest, he was banished by the electorate to the countryside to ponder and paint. He was largely unappreciated and underestimated until England was on its knees in WWII and turned to him, once again, as its savior.

  • A problem with one model of leadership is that there’s one person out in front and a bunch of sheep following him / her, giving him / her all their power, hoping for a messiah who’ll save them from the mess. Jesus continued to resist this model of leadership, assuring us that we are all gods (quoting a psalm), insisting on the image Son of MAN for himself, and that he was not a directing kind of shepherd, but a servant leader, guiding and supporting and protecting the weak ones, even ignoring the strong ones for a time, recognizing their power to get along okay without him while he went off to save the lost. It’s the reason why he came, if you remember the first time he read a passage at synagogue that was fulfilled that day as people heard him speak it… to save the lost, to mend the broken, to heal the sick and those who are lame.

    To the extent that we emulate Jesus’ behavior (and other servant leaders like Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Theresa, etc.), we will avoid the pitfalls of being the messiah kind of leader.

    I don’t deny that Jesus was anointed (Christ / the chrism) to do what he did, to show us the way. I just think we miss the point of how he LIVED when we focus too much on how he died. One reason that he died is that the people were disappointed that he wasn’t going to save them from the human mess, like David the King did for a while. It’s why God wanted judges, not a king, because bad things happen when people give all their power to one leader.

    When people try to put that messiah / savior image on us as leaders, we’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’, because it’s so evident that there’s so much that’s out of our control in a dynamic, rapidly-changing environment with many players. No wonder Jesus avoided that, hiding himself from the crowds who wanted to crown him most of the time. Sure, he accepted their accolades on Palm Sunday, that one time. Just look where it got him!

    When people expect a leader to save them from rotten stuff and when the leader allows them to believe s/he has that power, disaster is likely. People have way more power than they realize or want to accept. It’s when they imagine they can give their power away to a so-called leader (think power grabber) that disastrous things occur.

    …or so I believe… for now… until I come up with a better theory.

    Maybe leading with one’s best self means acknowledging that we have our own personal, God-given, magnetic / attractive power, and asserting it appropriately, instead of imagining that we can give it away, or that others should give their power to us.

    • Antiadvocate,
      I’ve never understood your name, but I sure love the way you write. Wished I said it as well.

      • Interesting misinterpretation. I am an ACTIVE advocate. I am not anti-advocacy. I don’t just wish for change; I work for it. If you read _Somebodies and Nobodies_, you’ll see the advantages of activism and advocacy–the dignitarian movement.

        • Active Advocate,
          That IS an interesting misread. And explains why I’ve always had a sense of wonder about someone with such a message of agency and independence and responsibile would be an “anti” person.
          Will have to check out Somebodies and Nobodies! Thanks.
          Keep commenting!

  • Hi Dan,

    I was just writing in my journal and feeling a bit down as I have made several people angry recently. I began to write ways in which I could avoid more of this in the future. The thought crossed my mind that maybe it’s just part of the job when you are in charge. I opened my email and there was your letter, again telling me I’m on the right track; that you can’t lead without taking risks and you will get some people angry. It is part of the job and it is worth the risk.

    Thanks again,


    • Sherry,

      Thanks for such a lovely comment. I’m glad that this week’s RFL helped you find meaning – and, I assume, confirm your convictions – in a hard time.


  • SE Michigan has much to be proud about: From blog of Frans Timmermans is Cabinet Minister and member of the Social Democrat Party (PvdA) in the Netherlands. Written 4/8/09

    “I visited Dearborn today, the centre of the Muslim Community in the US. Very impressive. I came to listen and learn, and to share some of my concerns about the lack of real dialogue in Dutch society.

    My country has always had minorities. We are good at allowing people to make their own choices but not at dialogue. And that is what the world at this time needs; dialogue. But today fear has become the driving force in politics……….

    Dearborn leads the way in this respect. The interfaith dialogue, the mutual respect and interest to really listen to each other. I really hope I can take that spirit home.

    picture and entire blog at: http://www.ny400.org/blog/?p=128

    • Love this, Barbara. We are fortunate that there were a handful of everyday leaders who have helped to pull out the best in their communities. Very cool.

  • Dan,

    Sorry this comment is so late but your last sentence was masterful: “Stick to your convictions and lead with your best self” Are there no convictions or leadership to deal with the Wall Street Mongols who plundered the ecoonomy of this nation and destroyed the financial health of so many people? The plundering continues. I have a very close friend who called me last week extremely upset and angry that her Credit Card Company which is Bank of Anerica that issues her a Visa card notified her that her interest rate on unpaid ballances would increase by about 3-4% to 9.99%. This is a person who has a solid credit history. This move by a bank that received TARP money and is badly mismanaged gave their Execs the bonuses that has become a point of intense disgust for so many Americans. Moreover, this is a daily occurance.Recognizing that the President had to demonstrate leadership in dealing with the prolems of the auto industry, thousands of people in this great state have elevated blood pressure becasue it clearly appears that the ethical and moral leadership the President said he was going to demonstrate has not surfaced in dealing with the outrageous abuses that have surfaced in the financial world and the banking industry.

    • Jim,
      It’s brutal to watch the burdens of evil and risky behavior being spread so unevenly and unfairly.
      And so hard to figure out how you regulate in a way that doesn’t make things worse.

      • Dan,

        Thanks for the reply.

        Your second sentence brings the discussion back to Jesus and the example he set through his teacings and ministry and what I find so troublesome in the behaviour of our present leaders whether in the business world or in the universe of political affairs. Through his divinity Jesus clearly established so simplistically the ethical obligations that come with leadership. I cannot feel that way about many of our leaders today. While he performed many miracles as reported in the biblical acccounts of his life, I do not believe our present day leaders need such divine assistance to make decisions that impact the welfare of others or regulate matters in a way that will have a positive outcome for the common good for the members of our society. It’s possible I may be too idealistic but If one reflects on the life of Jesus, why is it so hard to expect that most of the time our daily affairs will be administered in an evenhanded and moralistic manner?

        • Jim, I quite agree!! Many believe that moral and ethical values such as Jesus exampled before the world are quite different at home and in the workplace! Example: an individual in high office serving ours or any other nation, having more than one extra-marital affair while in office, to some, can be a non-issue…a “simple indiscretion”! To others it is not only morally offensive, but then becomes a matter trust! If I do not trust a person who is unfaithful to his/her wife/husband, how can I trust that he or she can be or will be faithful to the task of running the affairs of a Nation?? Shouldn’t our leaders be held to a higher standard…ones we would want to emulate and look up to?? Or should we assume the “do as I say, not as I do stance?” I don’t believe that there is a perfect one among us…I myself, being the least, but, how can I change if I have no good role model from whom I could set a standard by?

  • Dan,
    This is also a late response, but I felt strongly enough about the message to reply. I also won’t argue about President Clinton, Jesus or anyone else. Your message told me to continue to stand up for what I believe in. As an educator I am an advocate for students, those who rarely have a voice about their own education. I also lead my colleagues and stand up for them when I can. Even though I might stand alone sometimes, I’ll continue to stand.

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