What is it about difficulties at times that they appear so ominous that we can almost get paralyzed?
I just recently started a leadership book by J. Oswald Sanders called Spiritual Leadership. It has been a helpful book so far in that it is forcing me to evaluate myself in light of the wisdom of the text.
J. Oswald made a quote in the text that I had to read over a few times before I began to feel its weightiness:
The person who sees the difficulties so clearly that he does not discern the possibilities cannot inspire a vision in others.
At first, I have to admit that I was not quite sure what he was trying to say, and then it hit me. When troubles hit, when difficulties pour into my day, I can begin to see those challenges to such depth of reality that it suppresses my desire to lead those around me.
Kind of the “Well, the Titanic is sinking, so…uh…let’s straighten up the deck chairs and get ourselves ready.”
In other words, I am not able to see past the difficulties and problems, only up to them.
I can tend to be a glass-half-empty person at times, and I know it and see it in myself. It is as if how I feel physically in the moment and how I then feel spiritually parallel themselves way too closely. And God has been showing me this is a problem – a problem not only for me but for those I am trying to lead as well, whether they be family or coworkers or friends.
The circle of influence with this does not contain itself to just one group or what is close at hand.
God does not want us viewing difficulties so that we can sit around scraping our sores with broken pottery lamenting the day we were born. Yes, we are to see them clearly enough, but only clearly enough to move forward.
And, as Sanders says, viewing my difficulties too closely may end up meaning that I create a wall for others in how effectively they are able to move forward. Yes, leadership is just plain hard at times and there are days where I wish I was not leading anyone or anything. It is then that God steps in with His not-so-subtle but gentle reminders of truth.
If the quote above is true for you or for me, then there are going to be consequences, and most noticeably, how we set the vision, or set the rudder, for others.
In thinking of my own experiences, here are three ways that “seeing the difficulties too clearly” can keep us from inspiring a vision in others.
They keep us from being able to answer the grace question
And by the grace question I mean being able to ask the following: “what would grace look like in this situation?”
I was counseling a couple last week and said those very words regarding some situations in their own lives. Because the truth is that grace my look very different from how I want to respond to a roadblock or pitfall.
Just a couple of days ago something happened to me, that upon initially finding out about the difficulty, at first really garnered a feeling of frustration inside of me. The other person felt horrible that it happened and I knew that. And as the Lord does, guess what was the very first question that came to mind?
Yep – you guessed it – “what would grace look like in this situation?”
And I am glad to say I listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit and chose to respond in a way that I thought would answer that question in an encouraging way. Admittedly, it was challenging, but it was the only way I was going to be able to press through what had happened and see the vision ahead.
I felt like responding in some smart aleck manner, but that was because I saw the difficultly too closely and that was all I could see. I could not see a solution or what needed to be done in the moment to move things to a better state. I am glad I chose otherwise, because there have been plenty of opportunities where the “hole” in front of me was all I could see.
They end up blurring our vision
And what do they blur? My ability to set a course of action for the person involved. He or she knows there is a difficulty, they are living in it, they are experiencing the discomfort. Sure, there will be a time for feedback and training or discipleship so that things do not go poorly again in the same way, but what does the person need right then?
They need hope. They need vision. They need a solution.
They see the deep hole. They do not need explaining just how big, in fact, the hole actually is. That is not leadership. That is called judgment.
You can only deal with the impossibilities and not the possibilities
I remember when I lived in Oregon and worked in downtown Portland. I worked for a division of an insurance company that set up and administered retirement plans for other companies. I was a team leader and one of my analysts was working on making a retroactive transaction so that a person’s account was made whole. A retroactive transaction could end up costing our company extra funds to make things right, though usually it was not a large amount.
In those days, it was a matter of setting flags in our computer system for what needed to be done. I recall coming in the next day to check my overnight reports to see what transactions had been set to a retroactive date. It was like an out-of-body experience as I still remember looking at the report and seeing that we somehow we had lost close to $180,000 in this one transaction.
And not theoretical monies. Real monies.
It was not to have been that amount, but some flags had been set erroneously and the details on the report were correct.
My first feeling was panic. My first thought was “I am soooo fired.”
I remember my boss calling me into his office and asking about this. Wow, what a morning that was.
Fortunately, I did not have the type of up-line who saw the difficulty so clearly that he was paralyzed in setting a vision for this circumstance.
I was to have a meeting the next day with my boss, John, and multiple layers of administration above him. I just recall a lot of people in one room who were all way more influential than me.
Because of my supervisor’s ability to see past the difficulty to possibilities, the conversation was just that – a conversation. God gave me boldness to talk about it as it was, in all it ugliness and drama. And it turned out that the problem, which cost our company around $180,000 real dollars, opened up some problem-solving type thinking to improve things for the future and truly learn from this experience.
That meeting was around 15 years ago and I still remember the details. What I remember most was how amazed I was with how the meeting turned out and that I still retained my job. Not only that, but I was commended for how I handled the situation and the detail with which I came to the table. I was prepared, transparent, and it was appreciated.
I get it, difficulties and challenges and pitfalls can be very labor intensive to wade through. But if we, as leaders, see the issue too clearly, we are sometimes tempted to see it so large and vast that we are hindered in setting a proper context for what is next.
To get to a solution. To get to the vision. To move from impossibility to possibility.
God desires that we see a problem clearly and honestly, but not at the expense of growth and transformation for what might lie ahead.
Sometimes seeing a problem too clearly ends up prohibiting us from having clarity for what lies ahead.