As a kid, I walked several blocks to and from school. This was every day, sleet, sunshine, rain, or snow. It was the Wild West of the late seventies when children were feral and there were no drop off/pick-up lines at schools. You either walked or rode the bus. I always walked home a little quicker on Wednesday afternoons because at 3:30 a local TV channel would air reruns of “The Adventures of Superman” from the 1950s. There was something about this show that made me a happy eight-year-old. I remember planking on a footstool, pretending to fly.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman.
This is clearly how I will change the world. The independent nature of mild-mannered Clark Kent turned “faster than a speeding bullet” seemed like a great way to lead people—even as I stepped into adult leadership roles comprising of more meetings and less planking.
And I was so wrong.
Superhero Leaders Abound (… or do they?)
The superhero leadership model is epidemic in the world today. Particularly in the West, we believe there is something noble about a leader who fights evil and stands for truth, justice, and the American way—all by herself. In the workplace and in ministry, we’re expected to solve problems, prevent harm, and right wrongs with personal strength and wisdom. This sounds noble until seeking help feels like an admission of weakness. We know it’s probably not true. But we believe it. Needing advice and help feels weak. So we just don’t do it. Like a child pretending to be a version of their favorite superhero—“I can do this myself.”
- Leadership does not live in a vacuum.
- Leadership does not live with just one individual.
- Seeking help is not weakness. It’s strength.
When I have coffee with someone for the first time, one question I almost always ask is:
Who are your teachers?
And now I’m asking you the same. Stop reading and make a list of your mentors. They can be living or dead; people you know personally or someone you read about. But who are the people you learn from? This is the model of Christian discipleship. We don’t walk alone. Leaders should not do this either. Who are your teachers? Who do you learn from? Make your list, set it aside, and continue reading.
Go ahead. I’ll wait for you.
We Need Mentors!
Rather than trying to be the lone leaders of an initiative, team, or department, be intentional about getting help. There are people who have already walked the road you’re traveling. Find those people. As a Growability® coach, I teach there are five kinds of people who speak into the lives of leaders. This is a biblical matter. Scripture tells us this is a path to wisdom!
Without good direction, people lose their way;
the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.
Proverbs 11:14 (The Message)
Here are the five kinds of advisors we should have in our lives:
1. A Coach
My high School track and cross-country coach won multiple state championships because he had the uncanny ability of bringing out the very best in his athletes. He was an unassuming, mildly pudgy, mustached man who smoked and taught civics by day. But he had an uncanny ability to make his athletes grow and expand their understanding of themselves and their own abilities. A great coach has an apostolic voice that helps us expand, grow, and live to our fullest potential. Coaches have the uncanny ability to use failure to make you better. Every leader needs a coach.
2. A Critic
The scariest thing about blind spots in our lives is us not seeing them. Leaders need the courage to have a critic! Critics don’t have to be mean-spirited or self-righteous. A critic is someone we trust (like all mentors!) who is unafraid to help reveal and remove blind spots in our lives. The critic is the prophet we all need—but are occasionally afraid to listen to. Critics help leaders define and decide next actions and are a necessary mentor. Embrace and befriend the critic in your life! This could be one of your most valuable mentors.
3. A Cheerleader
Celebration is underrated. We need mentors and advisors whose first reaction is to cheer. These are the folks who not only bring an incredible amount of courage into our lives, but they are some of the best recruiters and promoters of our cause. Having a cheerleader on the team helps with group dynamic, motivation, and community building. Your team cheerleader is your best team evangelist.
4. A Comrade
Sometimes the best mentor is someone simply present. They don’t have to be extroverted teachers who impart mounds of knowledge and wisdom with their words. Someone who simply walks with you on the journey can be one of the most valuable mentors you have. The comrade is the someone who is there. It’s who you confide in and who will nurture and protect your confidence. A comrade is the pastoral presence that is often most effective when unspoken.
5. A Consultant
The consultant is the teacher who stands next to the comrade. Consultants help you to see the big picture and to understand how disparate points might connect in the universal whole. A good consultant will both enlighten and equip you as a leader and help you gain both insight and outsight on your organization. A great consultant is a skilled teacher.
No more planking on footstools, as much fun as that was. No more “fake it till you make it.” We need mentors. We need all five kinds. Solo superhero leaders are not sustainable. Begin seeking at least one of each of these five kinds of mentors today. You and your organization will be much better off. And it’s on the path to wisdom.
Look back at the list of teachers and mentors you wrote earlier.
Do you have at least one of each of these kinds of people speaking into your life? If not, who can fill these roles for you?
Which of the five advisors best describes the way you speak into the lives of others?
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