The Cost Of True Leadership


Of all the leaders in world history, Winston Churchill has been identified as the best of the best. His unwavering decisions during the difficult years of World War II changed the course of the war and the course of human history. One such decision he had to make was very painful, but absolutely necessary. In making it his leadership, motives and sterling character all came into question by those who knew him best. However, by making it he qualified himself as a leader among world leaders and secured his place in world history.

The British secret service had broken the Nazi’s secret transmission code and informed Churchill that the Germans were going to bomb Coventry. The Prime Minister knew he had only two alternatives. He could evacuate the citizens and save hundreds of British lives. This however, would be at the expense of letting the Germans know that their secret code had been broken. Secondly, he could take no action at all and that would mean hundreds were going to die. This course of action would also keep the German’s secret information flowing to the allied forces. It was no easy decision but he alone was the one who had to make it…. and he did!

Churchill chose the latter and by making that difficult decision many of those in his own administration bitterly criticized him. He was painted as a heartless warmonger who did not care for his own countrymen. They whispered behind his back and some of his own staff showed clear anger for what appeared to be a thoughtless and callous decision. It is reported that many nights Churchill could be heard weeping and crying out to God in his private chamber as he agonized over that decision, and all the lives that had been lost because of it.

He stubbornly refused to change his mind and the outcome indeed did prove to be fatal.  Hundreds died in Coventry when the Nazi bombs began to fall. Yet, because the knowledge of the broken code was never revealed it turned the tide of the war. In the end it allowed many battles to be won and it let the Allied forces feed false information to the German army on a regular basis, thus confusing their efforts to outmaneuver the advancing armies. It is estimated that this one decision, which was so bitterly opposed, saved tens of thousands of lives and actually helped to end the war much sooner. Because of this decision, Churchill went down in history as one of the most loved and faithfully followed leaders the world has ever known.

When it comes to leadership, there is no substitute for doing what must be done in a difficult season. It’s true that not all decisions look like they are right in the short term. However, a real leader has insight and can look beyond the moment of emotional crisis to see what the final outcome needs to be. It is clear vision for the future, rather than yielding to the tyranny of an immediate problem, that causes genuine leaders to stand their ground and rise above the rest.

True leaders learn how to graciously take the angry criticism of a few cynics in order to do what ultimately is best for all. They are not swayed by popular opinion and don’t second-guess themselves because others don’t agree. Yes, they do tap into the wisdom of those they trust, before a decision is made. However, in the end, they must be willing to stand, even if it means they are standing alone, in order to achieve the vision that has been cast.

What about you? Do you believe you have leadership material within you that is trying to get out? If so, let me suggest a few things you can do to move in the right direction. If you will apply these things you will be amazed at how quickly your position will change. Leadership begins with the simple things and it also ends there as well.

First of all connect to and support the vision of your current leaders. No doubt they have made some difficult decisions and they need to know you are one of the few who will faithfully stand with them. Secondly, get the wisdom of those around you before you make any decision. People need to know you are a team player if they are going to follow where you are going. Last but not least, honestly communicate with and encourage everyone you meet. If people know you have their best interest at heart they will trust that you are going to value their ideas and honor their input.

When it comes to leadership, there are not substitutes. Honor, integrity, communication and trust will unlock your full potential, and the full potential of those who follow you. If you lack any of the above, it will hang you on the gallows of self-interest. Manipulation of others for the purpose of self-advancement may be practiced in some circles, but nothing of lasting value is ever built when we stand on the backs and dreams of others in order to reach our own goals. The point being, true vision is always focused through the lens of humility and honor. If these have been missing in your life it has impacted you more than you realize.

If your leadership has been held up, gone unrecognized or simply been ignored, it could be related to those key issues just mentioned. You may have to go back and apologize to those you stepped on, or wounded. You may have to rebuild a few burned bridges so that important roads of destiny are reconnected. If you are serious about fulfilling your call to leadership than let nothing stand in your way. I believe this could be a turning point for many. All it takes is a decision to begin moving in the right direction and the rest will follow.

Now lead on…. and have a truly great day!

The Need For Change

Whether I am hunting or fishing, there are two family-run diners I love to stop at. One is about 30 miles north of me and the other is just down the hill from my house. I have been getting my cup of tea or an early morning breakfast at these two places for the past 28 years. The one just down the street is called “Pete’s Sandwich Shop”, the other is the “Hope Diner”.

Pete’s has been run by the Agnestopolos family for over 100 years. I never met those who started it but their daughter, Jean, (age 87), and their son, John (age 78) were running it from the time I first went there in 1986. In fact Jean never married and has lived above the diner her whole life. I guess you could say it is her life, and she loves it. She and John still help out, but the place has been turned over to John’s son, Mike who made a few minor upgrades. However, things are still pretty much as they have been since I first walked through the doors and that’s what I love about it.

Change has not come easy or fast at Pete’s and this is part of its charm. When you pass through the door you enter into another world. You see old friends, hear familiar voices and you feel like you have just stepped into the past. In fact, it was “just” remodeled”, according to Jean, “when the boys came home”. In case you missed it, that is a wonderful reference to the boys coming home after World War 2. The posters, post cards and pictures in the hand-made glass-topped booth tables are vintage. The hand-made pine paneling on the walls is vintage and most of those who eat there are vintage as well.

Over time you become part of the family at Pete’s and you hear every bit of news about our town that is really important. You know who died, who married, who had kids or who finally moved away. You hear the world’s problems being talk about and the experts there even know how to solve most of them.  Here, everyone is known by their first name and a few of us have nick names. I happened to be one who picked up a nick name and was soon known to everyone as Rev. (short for Reverend Emmons). Not that I have even called myself that, but it happened all because John and Jean are Greek and they respected my call to ministry. Thus one day as I arrived for breakfast before hitting a favorite trout stream, John said “good morning Rev., you want the usual?” and the name stuck. From that moment on I was forever “Rev.”

However, this 100 year old stream of continuity was nearly upset when I first began to go there. Out of ignorance I asked for a cup of green tea, to which Jean explained, “oh, we have never had that here, just black tea or coffee”. After being told that a dozen or more time I finally got the picture. Green tea is not on the menu so get over it and move on. However, after building a friendship over several years I began to ask if they might ever consider selling a cup of green tea. Once again Jean explained they had never sold it and that was that.

For me this presented a challenge. I knew there had to be a way for the green tea change to happen and I was on a mission to discover it. Thus, one day I ventured into uncharted waters. Just to nudge things in the right direction, I bought a box of expensive green tea, took it with me to Pete’s and before I ordered I handed it to Jean. She laughed, thanked me and graciously put it behind the counter.

To everyone’s surprise, I proceeded to order a cup of green tea, two eggs and two pieces of rye toast, to which she said, “Today it so happens we do have green tea Rev. I would be happy to get it”. When I got up to pay, sure enough, their it was on the hand-written bill, “one cup of green tea, two eggs and two pieces of rye toast”. History had been made!  Buying back my own tea one cup at a time was a small price to pay for the change that had come. From that day to this, you can get a hot cup of green tea at Pete’s, and for me each cup is the sweet taste of victory.

The point being made here is simple. When God wants to make a change in your life, He knows exactly how to make that happen. Let me assure you that He will not give up until it comes to pass. Every wall of resistance you may put in place, every excuse you may have, simply delays the inevitable outcome. God will continue to deal with you until He has His way and you become the new and improved model. You may not be selling green tea at the moment God asks for it, but He knows there is a good reason why you need to. Trust me when I say He will not give up until green tea is on your menu!

Don’t be surprised if God shows up in your life, like I did at Pete’s, and hands you the very thing you have needed all along, but were unwilling do for yourself. In the end He knows what’s best and you will be a much better person for it! When God hands you your box of “green tea” , my prayer is that you will have the good sense to accept it and enjoy the change. After all, He does what He does because He loves you. Why not relax, accept that fact and enjoy the blessing and benefit it brings. You might be shocked at how much you will begin to enjoy a life of change and the cup of green tea it brings.

The Life You Have

Over the years I have watched some of the best people make some of the worst mistakes you could imagine. In a moment of desperation, fear or thoughtlessness things have been done or said that change the course of life for all those who were present. I know of children who have been called degrading names by tired, frustrated parents. I have heard from young women who drank too much at a party and found their date more than willing to take full advantage of them in that situation. I have counseled wives who were shattered by the selfish, thoughtless actions and words of clueless husbands. However, even when tragic things like the above happen, when all is said and done, one fact still remains, the life you have is the one you made.

In this world of endless excuses, victimized helplessness and personal drama, it’s time to face the fact that your life, the one you are living right now, is the one you made for yourself. It may have been created by deliberate planning or the consequences of your own foolish actions. It may have come by the hand of an abuser or by default from your own negligence. However it came, the bottom line in everyone’s life is always the same. We all end up with the life we have allowed to be there. My father, whom I loved dearly, was a prime example.

Dad was never one for planning and he did not have a knack for making money. Don’t misunderstand me, he worked very hard and with honor his whole life, and he refused to ever take a government handout. He was proud of the fact that he always provided for his family, even if at times things were very tight. This struggle to financially survive stemmed from a choice he had made at the ripe old age of twenty. That one decision haunted him on a regular basis for the rest of his life.

Dad was a stubborn Scotsman, but he was also very intelligent and highly gifted with his hands. As a result, in 1925 he was given a full scholarship by his Uncle Martin to go to medical school. Martin also agreed to give dad free room and board as an added bonus in the deal. However, when my father arrived to begin his studies, he discovered his Uncle Martin was a devout Methodist, and he had made three rules dad must agree to live by if he was to provide for his education. There was to be no drinking, no smoking and no women. Dad told me he promptly packed his bags, walked out of medical school and moved back to the family farm.

In that moment, my father’s independent Scottish heritage, and his youthful rebellion to authority, had fatefully overruled his better judgment. That one action changed the course of his personal life and our family financial history. Instead of vacations at nice resorts, dad spent all his free time hunting and fishing to put food on the table. Instead of building a comfortable retirement for himself and my mother, he worked every day until he had a heart attack at age 69 and died quietly at home a few years later, from cancer. I was there when he passed away and I know he was concerned for my mother. After a lifetime of financial struggle he suddenly realized that all he could leave her was a simple country home and a small social security check.

What kind of life are you living at this present moment? Are you happy with the outcome of the decisions you have already made? Dad was not, and if you are not, the solution is very simple; start making better decisions today. If you do, you will like the life you end up with tomorrow. The alternative is to do nothing and embrace what comes from living life by default. The choice is yours, and so is the life you end up with. Now stop making excuses, learn from your mistakes, and use the gifts and talents you have  to make your life a good one! I know from experience you’ll be glad you did.