What great work does God have for you to do? You know the desires of your heart and the stirrings in your soul. You also know the tensions and anxieties of living into who you know God created you to be and the pressures of the work and world around you.
So, how do you respond or react to the tension?
As you reflect upon that question, let me ask you to be honest with yourself. Read the following statements. Which statement describes you?
- You live alone. Even though you have a family and you are surrounded with friends and colleagues, you live separated from the benefit of others speaking into your life.
- You feel more comfortable with isolation than you do with letting people get close to you. Keeping your personal distance protects you.
- You know what to do with your isolation and you are intentional in developing the relationships that feed your soul.
Which of the three statements best describes your mode of operation? Be honest. No one knows but you. Which one?
Lonely leaders are everywhere. Although you are surrounded by people, you can’t seem to connect in meaningful ways. So, you have entered a self-imposed separation. It is easier to disconnect from people than it is to risk being vulnerable.
Bruce Thrall, one of the authors of The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, did research around “deception” as a leadership dysfunction. The title of his project was “Everybody Lies, But Leaders Do It Better.”
He interviewed leaders who had deceived and been publicly caught, from the fields of medicine, journalism, law and law enforcement, the church, etc. The interviews exposed isolation as the primary reason the leaders gave themselves permission to lie.¹ Although these leaders were constantly around people such as family, friends, and colleagues, they were isolated, fearful, and alone.
Isolation robs you from becoming who God has created you to be. So, how do you and I overcome the isolation that threatens to keep us from the authentic community and courageous leadership?
An Example of Leading with Vulnerability
Let’s look at the life of a vulnerable leader. His name, William Wilberforce. As a popular member of Parliament in Great Britain, Wilberforce liked the power and prestige of his office. Even though his personal life was not of the highest character, his political career looked promising.
Through the encouragement of a college friend, Wilberforce began to take a serious look at his life, which lead him to an encounter with Jesus. After some personal struggle, he trusted God with his life. As he considered the implications of his decision, through personal study and reflection, Wilberforce wrestled with the idea of leaving politics and becoming a minister. Here is one place he became vulnerable. Instead of moving forward with a decision, he first went to several trusted friends, asking for their counsel.
Allies and Friends
He approached William Pitt, the soon-to-be prime minister of Great Britain. Pitt wanted Wilberforce as a political ally, especially with his improving reputation. So, he asked Wilberforce to stay in politics. Wilberforce was not convinced. He knew what he wanted while he listened to his trusted friends. As he continued to wrestle with his conscience, he sought out John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” himself a convert to Christ. Surely Newton would understand his desire to pursue the ministry. Instead, Newton encouraged him to use his political position and knowledge as his ministry.
I can imagine that no one knew how much Wilberforce struggled to open his life to his colleagues and friends. But knowing myself, it could not have been easy. He knew what he wanted, but he chose to become vulnerable, listening to those who knew him and loved him.
What are the Desires of Your Heart?
Let me ask you, how many people have you shared the desires of your heart, asking them to help you make sense of those desires? How many people have asked you for direction regarding their lives? How many people do you know who have gone as far as Wilberforce, following the advice of others even while disagreeing with their advice?
Sometimes our resistance to vulnerability comes after a profound experience of God’s love. Once we come to the point of trusting God, we jump to conclusions about our calling in life, choosing to do things inconsistent with our capacities and character. I know some people who have been encouraged to leave their careers and enter into a more “spiritual” work when it might have been the opposite of God’s purpose.
Choosing vulnerability is tough work. You might not like what people say. You might even disagree. But recognizing God as you focus upon your purpose, allows you the courage to listen, discern, and enter into dialogue with the people around you.
Here are some things to remember:
- Know who you are and whose you are. Whether you agree or disagree with others’ advice, choosing to be vulnerable cannot happen without trusting who God has created you to be.
- Find colleagues and friends who can be trusted. As hard as it might seem, becoming who God has created you to be is not a casual practice done in isolation.
- Vulnerability does not mean transparency. It is more than disclosing yourself at times and in ways that are convenient for you. Vulnerability is deliberately submitting yourself to the strengths and influences of trusted friends and colleagues at times that might be inconvenient.
- Vulnerability means you choose to let others have access to your life, teach you, and influence you. To the degree that you become vulnerable with others is the degree to which you will experience the love of others.
- Vulnerability invites trust. The trust others have in you depends upon your level of integrity. Your vulnerability expresses and sustains such integrity.
What Great Work Does God Have for You?
For Wilberforce vulnerability was not a passing fad. He chose vulnerability over and over again. After a time of doubt and reflection, he decided to stay in politics. He chose vulnerability when he asked is friends and colleagues to help him choose which issues to focus upon.
Slavery was the issue at the top of the list. He decided to recruit others to assist in his fight against slavery. He met with groups of people regularly to listen, to develop mutual vulnerability, and support. Vulnerability became a pattern of his life as he consistently opened his heart to the influence of others. As a result of choosing to be vulnerable, Wilberforce is remembered as a great reformer whose work led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.²
So, I’m wondering, what great work does God have for you? To become who God has created you to be, you need to start with vulnerability. What one step will you take to get started. Consider the following:
- What one thing will you do to address your isolation?
- In what relationship(s) are you willing to become vulnerable?
- What relationship(s) will you develop that will feed your soul?
Our families, our communities, our jobs, our churches, need vulnerable leaders, leaders who are willing to take the risk of opening their lives to the influence of others. Who knows what God has in store for you as you open yourself to the care, compassion, and influence of trusted friends and colleagues?
Choose vulnerability and become the leader God has created you to be.
- Thrall, Bruce, The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, page 76.
- The story of William Wilberforce was adapted from The Ascent of a Leader