When Leaders Fail

I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m still processing my trip to India.  Jet lag has been a beast this time.  I crash every day around 5pm and fight to keep myself awake until bedtime only to be wide awake again at 4am.  The physical effects of the trip on my body serve to keep this experience top of mind.  In conversations with the rest of the team, everyone is trying to figure out what to do with our experience and how to allow it to change us.  It just doesn’t seem right to come back and meld right into our normal extravagant American lifestyle.

We’re not all going to take a vow of poverty or quit our day jobs or utterly change our lives, but I do think these experiences must be a catalyst for a perspective shift.  I think we have to take our new knowledge and apply it through the filters of our own lives and experience.

For me, that’s leadership.  So here’s my lesson and the perspective shift I’m processing:

One of the most common reactions to a missions trip experience is anger. It’s difficult to see extreme poverty and not get angry about the injustice.

I can’t help but get angry at the lack of leadership.

When did leaders fail?

Somewhere along the way leaders failed to provide hope, possibility and opportunity.  It’s the only thing that explains why some parts of our world – in fact the majority of our world – lives in poverty.  Somewhere a leader failed to take responsibility and lead people to a better future.  Somewhere a leader neglected their responsibility.  Somewhere a leader turned a blind eye.  Somewhere a leader gave into corruption.  Somewhere a leader became more obsessed with themselves, their power and their prestige over truly being a servant.

And I’m not just talking about political leaders.  Government doesn’t fix everything.

Great leaders who led movements that changed the face of history emerged without political position.  Consider Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa.

My fear for us as leaders is that we give up too easily if we don’t see immediately great impact.  Our need for immediate gratification distracts us from seeing a vision for the long haul.  If poverty and injustice look the same or worse in another 100 years that’s on our heads.  And I don’t think any of us want to be responsible for that.

So what are you doing?  How are you leading for the long term? 

Don’t be a leader who fails future generations because you gave into the need for immediate gratification.


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  • Melissa Shields Brown February 21, 2012  

    GREAT post Jenni!  I felt this exact same way when I was in Haiti.  Fortunately, I was working with some missionaries who see the long-term vision for the future of Haiti – via educating the children.   I pray that I will start focusing more on long-term impact than the immediate – so hard to do in our culture today.  

  • Frank G. February 21, 2012  

    Absolutely wonderful blog on leadership….thank you!

  • Brad Catron February 22, 2012  

    Good words on helping everyone understand that leadership starts from the bottom up, and we all have accountability to the whole. Sometimes it becomes easy in today’s world to look for someone to blame while forgetting our role in the process. Great leaders inspire others to build up others, while holding those in their current positions to what should be expected.  It can be frustrating when “they” don’t do what they should… but we should look upon it as an opportunity to fill a need with the subservient Love of God, today walking around in our shoes. 

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  • Sean Buchanan March 12, 2012  

    Hi Jenni,
     Good post. I felt a similar anger when returning from Swaziland in 2007. Since then I’ve actually struggled with whether or not my trip was more for me or for the people we helped. Did I make a lasting impact? Reading “When Helping Hurts” helped me form my philosophy of the strategies for partnership, and I’m considering what that means to me and my young family- what’s our mission? Where can we make a difference? Granted, I may not be able to change the course of nations bent on genocide (Sudan) but I must not let that deter me from making the impact that I (we) can make.