A part of my morning devotional time includes the prayer book A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie (many thanks to my friend Rev. Walt Waiser for giving me this book over 4 years ago). One of the prayers I used earlier this week included “It is thou who hast put power in my hand to do one work and hast withheld the skill to do another.” This line struck me as the ultimate leadership prayer with an acknowledgement of what one can accomplish...and another acknowledgement that one cannot accomplish everything. This acknowledgment is actually a reliance on a higher power and a deep understanding of oneself, a dual role that leaders should think about and engage with on a regular basis. Knowing what one CAN accomplish (because of what they know and what they can do) and what one CANNOT accomplish (because of what they do not know and cannot do) brings great freedom to the one who leads, whether in a formal or informal role. This freedom serves both the leader and the organization she leads, as it can clarify roles and give responsibility to others whom God has put power in their hands to do one work (power that might be withheld from the leader) and skills to do others (skills that have been withheld from the leader)...all of which develops and builds other leaders throughout the organization.
So why might this be an issue for leaders and, when not properly understood or practiced, can hurt them and their organizations? Here are a few thoughts:
- followers often expect their leaders to possess all power and all skills to accomplish all things. Leaders who buy into this false assumption begin to believe that a) either they must and will accomplish all things; or b) once they realize they cannot live up to this belief, they question their own leadership abilities and abdicate all use of power
- when one knows what they can and cannot do, time on task can be spent on what can actually get accomplished. Attempting to do the impossible gets no one anywhere (unless you are Superman, and when mere mortal leaders attempt to leap tall buildings in a single bound, someone is going to get hurt)
- leaders HAVE been given power to do something and gets things accomplished...so by all means, they should get those things done. This is a gift given by God, so the proper stewardship of that power is to use it for the good of the organization and those who are being served
- knowing that a certain skill has been withheld does not release the leader from ensuring that that particular item is accomplished. As the steward of an organization, the leader learns what he can about that skill, finds someone who has been gifted with that skill, and then provides the resources to ensure that skill gets done well. Note that the prayer does not say God has withheld the responsibility, only the skill
- as leaders do accomplish goals and move their organizations forward, it can become easy to believe that they actually do possess all power and skill, and quickly forget the essence of this prayer, that power given and/or skills are put there (or not) by God. An ongoing reliance on a higher power and an understanding of ones own finite self serves the leader well, both in times of abundance and in times of leanness.
One final thought: KNOWING what power has been put in ones hand and what skill has been withheld is, in and of itself, an act of leadership. It may take others to help one know and understand the particular powers and skills that have been given or withheld. The sooner a leader knows and put this into practice, the more quickly they are able to lead authentically and from a place of freedom.