How do you react when people in your family, organization, or church don’t do what they are supposed to be doing? How do you react when they just don’t seem to get it?
It’s easy for a leader to get frustrated when people don’t do what they are supposed to do. It’s easy to look out in dismay at those around us and say, “Man, these people just don’t get it. They’re going the wrong way.”
Whenever a leader feels that frustration, a good idea is to ask herself, have I made clear where I want people to do and how they are supposed to do it? Have I really taught people what to do?
When we start thinking about teaching something, we may also realize that we don’t even have clarity on what we’re supposed to teach. Teaching something forces us to get clarity. We may have to go back and ask ourselves, do we really have clarity on what we want people to do and where we want them to be? If we do not, then we won’t be able to communicate it. If we do not, then we should not expect those who follow us to have clarity on it.
John Kotter explored this common frustration in leaders in his book Leading Change. In the book, he describes why leaders have trouble leading change. One of the most important is under-communicating. He says leaders seeking change generally under-communicate by a factor of 10, 50, or 100. That’s one reason people don’t get it.
One reason leaders don’t communicate enough is because they have already thought it through and are tired of saying it. But Kotter warns, when you are getting tired of saying something, people are just beginning to get it.
When the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to his younger apprentice Timothy, he told him he would face many problems in the church. He would face opposition. He would face distractions. He would face disrespect. How was he going to deal with it? He had to focus on getting clarity on the way, teaching the way, and living the way. That’s what would help him and everybody else (see 1 Timothy 4).
Consider Jesus. He had a clear vision for His disciples and how to get them there. So, what did He do? He taught. His teachings were clear and memorable. No man can serve two masters. Ask, and you will receive. Let the little children come to me. Blessed are the poor. Judge not, or you will be judged. Love your neighbor as yourself. He taught with clarity over and over again, and the result is that his teachings have influenced millions and have even entered into our culture as common sayings and ideas.
If you want people to get it, you have to teach, over and over again.
However, it’s not enough for a leader to tell people what to do. They need to show people what to do. John Maxwell said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” You have to set an example.
What the Apostle Paul said to Timothy was that in the face of distractions, opposition, and disrespect, he needed to focus on walking the way. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). In other words, don’t worry too much about what people think about you. Just focus on going where you need to go. That will be good for you and good for them. That will save both yourself and your hearers, as he says in v. 16.
If we teach something but don’t do it, then people will question whether it is right. When we teach something and do it, then we have credibility.
Corrie ten Boom was a great communicator. I read some of her devotionals years ago, and the metaphors still stick with me. For example, she said, we are not a spring of love. We are not the source of love. We are not a pool simply to receive love. We are a channel. We receive love from somewhere else and let it flow to others. I have gone back to that metaphor again and again to explain how receiving the love of God can and should lead us to love others.
Corrie ten Boom was not only a teacher of God’s love. She showed the way of God’s love. She demonstrated it in one of the hardest places imaginable, a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Her experience there was terrible, worse than what she describes in her amazing book, The Hiding Place.
Corrie walked the way of love. First, she hid the Jews from the Nazis at great risk to herself. Eventually, she and her family were placed in a concentration camp. There, they experienced horrible things, but they also saw that the love of God was a continual source of love that could refresh the driest places. When you can enter into a concentration camp, receive the love of God, and let it flow to others, you have a credibility that gives you authority to speak into the lives of those who are most thirsty for it.
That doesn’t mean it was easy. She describes in The Hiding Place meeting one of the guards from the concentration camps after she had spoken about her faith and her story. He came up to her afterward and said that he had repented and received forgiveness from Christ. She found herself unable to shake his hand. Then, she felt a power come into her that enabled her to forgive and embrace that man. This reminded her that love was a divine power and not just a high ideal.
Corrie ten Boom taught the way, but the power of her teaching came from the fact that she had shown the way. That’s the teaching power of example.
Conclusion: Becoming a Leader Through Teaching
When people are not following, we need to ask some diagnostic questions.
1. Do I have clarity on where I want people to be and what I want them to do?
2. Have I sufficiently communicated that to them?
3. Am I showing them the way they should go by how I live?
Those are three key diagnostic questions that we should go back to again and again.
Do you have examples of helping people through teaching? I’d love to hear your examples. Comment below.
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