Motivational Speakers or Motivated Leaders

Following in the vein of yesterday’s post, those in leadership—to get their “data fix,” as Edwin Friedman would call it—often seek after the next best thing to catapult their leadership to the next level. One of the ways leaders seek to improve their leadership is through conferences decorated with a list of motivational speakers.

While thoughtful speakers can always teach us something, the one thing they cannot “teach” or “instill” in us is motivation. Of course, a speaker can inspire or guilt us into acting better (for a while) or give us a euphoric high as they describe the possibilities in front of us. But they cannot really “motivate” us and certainly not at that level of personal responsibility. That is a choice we must make and it will probably not be the result of having heard a great motivational speaker. Rather, it will be the brave act of confronting oneself about why we think and do (or don’t do) that things we do.

The subtle allusion here is that motivation is somehow externally activated. This is what gives power to quick fix mentality (go to this conference, read this book, listen to this speaker, ad infinitum) that promises that next year’s event will be bigger and better. Somehow we confuse attending conferences (and I do my good share of those) with actual training. We even give Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for just attending a lecture or a series of lectures without any proof that the experience changed anything.

Rather motivation is something the individual must own. Motivation is closely related to personal responsibility. For example, I do not get up every day to face the hard choices of leadership because I read a good book, went to a great conference, or heard a moving speaker, but because  I choose (everyday) to be a certain kind of leader. I bet the same is true of you.

What if leadership was actually less about motivation and more about who a person is? Less about doing and more about being?

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Is It Time to Pay the Rent? (Mark 12.1-12)

Jesus once asked his disciples a startling question: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18.8 NIV). Perhaps the very notion that God will require an account from each and every individual is considered either quaint or ludicrous today. On the other hand, most of us hold out that God will eventually make all the unfixable wrongs right—one day.

One of the most powerful images God uses to help us understand that a day of reckoning is coming is that of the vineyard. As early as the prophet Isaiah (as in Isaiah 5.1-8), God spoke of his loving care for his people in the “Song of the Vineyard.” In this song, God speaks of himself as one who had a vineyard, which he lovingly tended:

He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.

When the time for harvest came the loved one looks for grapes only to find rotten fruit. In exasperation, God asks

“What more could I have done?”

In his anger, God then shares his intent: he will destroy the vineyard so it becomes a wasteland (which it really is already).

Then Isaiah points out, the vineyard is really the house of Israel and the house of Judah (God’s people); so when God came looking for justice and righteousness, he found bloodshed and cries of distress.

When Jesus told the parable about the “tenants in the vineyard” (Mark 12.1-12), it did not take much imagination to see that he was doing an updated version of the “Song of the Vineyard.”

In the parable a man (God as we learn soon enough) planted a vineyard with a wall, a winepress and a watchtower (as in Isaiah 5.2).

When harvest time came the owner sent a servant to collect the rent from the tenants, but the tenants responded in hostility. They did this several times, even killing some of the servants.

Finally the owner decides to send his son, since surely they would treat the heir much better. Yet they reasoned with one another: “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” Not only did they kill him, they threw his body outside the wall of the vineyard.

After Jesus finished this story, he asked, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?”

To this question, Jesus also answers, “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

The Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus because they knew the parable was spoken about them. However, Jesus merely pointed to one of God’s greatest concerns: that his people be fruitful.

While this is not a pleasant story, and I like it much better when I see it applied to the religious leaders of the first century, it is probably spiritually insightful to ask,

“When the time to pay the rent comes due, what will we be able to show God as evidence that we tended his garden well?”

I Am Responsible

The following post comes from an article I wrote for my church’s weekly newsletter but because it was related to the series I have been writing on Ephesians, I thought those who have been following my thoughts might appreciate this piece.

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As a church family, we have been exploring Paul’s description of the mission of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul will set forth what God has done for us in Christ in the first three chapters, in chapters 4 through 6 Paul will list a patchwork of virtues, dispositions, habits, and actions, God seeks in us because of what he has done for us in Christ.

These virtues, dispositions, habits, and actions will cover everything from how we treat one another, including those closest to us, our families, but it will also deal with values as personal as our sexual ethics, how we choose to use our language, or how we express our anger.

One thing remains clear: while we cannot save ourselves–this is the work of God–we are responsible for what we do with the salvation God has given us.

Responsibility may well be the missing virtue of our time. We always seem to have an excuse, a rationalization, or someone to blame so that we don’t have to feel the full force of personal responsibility. We become so good at (accustomed to?) using such tactics that we sometimes are unaware that we are using them.

M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, attributed much of what we call mental illness today to people’s mishandling of responsibility. According to Peck, neurotics take too much responsibility (often over other people), while psychotics take too little (even over their own lives). I’m sure Dr. Peck would add that things are more complex than this, but he is on to something.

Still my mental health is related to the level of personal responsibility that I take over things that are truly mine. As the Serenity Prayer reminds us, there are some things you can’t change and some things you can. May God give us power to discern between the two.