Leadership is a tough concept to grasp, especially for those that are in or aspire to leadership positions. There are endless perspectives, books, commentaries, and motivational content on how to become a “better” leader. Much of the information is helpful yet it’s insufficient if your aim is to get beyond worldly wisdom. For Christians, Jesus promises much more—to be personally and practically lead by the Spirit as you lead in your homes and workplaces. Acts 1:5 says, “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts presents this beautiful pattern of conversions where the eventual result is being sealed with the Spirit. Look at Acts 2 where the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost. The power of the Spirit in that setting was astonishing, amazing, and bewildering (Acts 2: 6-7). To the onlooker, the role of the Spirit is incredible because the disciples are able to do things that they could never do relying on their own power. As a young Christian, I had to work this out and learn what it meant to have been baptized by the Spirit. Personally and practically, Spirit-led leadership is important. I’m a husband, my wife and I have 4 young children, and I’m the CEO of a fast-growing company with 50+ employees. The truth is, by my own strength, I’m insufficient and under qualified. Yet God has called me to these things, and it’s in these things that I submit to him on a daily basis. Spirit-led leadership is not a one-time concept you just grasp. It’s a daily fight that requires diligence, prayer, and seeking the Lord’s will for all of your life.
As a leader, there’s no shortage of issues to work through. I’d argue that leaders are making hundreds of influential decisions on an annual basis. Often times, if you’re leading, your decisions are affecting many. Whether you call it your conscience or not, you will often know what “feels” right in certain situations. In every tough decision that I have to make, there’s usually a very clear answer as to what’s right and good. It’s not often an easy decision, yet there is a right decision to be made. This requires the leader to be mindful and receptive to what the Spirit is doing in their hearts and minds. In Ed Welch's book, Addictions, A Banquet in the Grave, he speaks of this attentiveness. He gives the analogy that a soldier can hear a twig snap because they’re so alert and aware of what’s happening around them. That’s what Spirit-led leadership is like. It demands we stay alert.
In my study of the Old Testament, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. Leaders succeed because the Lord allows their success. Typically, failure results from disregarding godly wisdom and counsel because of pride and/or idol worship. Build in time to study 2 Chronicles and you’ll get a front row seat into leadership successes and failures. Brothers and sisters, this is not an obscure pattern that we should overlook. Whether in your homes or workplaces, allow others to speak into your life. Let your guard down and allow the Spirit to work through other godly influences in your life. What’s the worst thing that can happen? They’ll find out that you’re a sinner? For the sinner, there’s grace. There’s a Father that loves us so much, that he sent his Son to be the propitiation of our sins. We are washed by the blood of the Lamb and that’s good news to the aspiring leader!
In an effort to share how leadership failures have shaped my wife and I, I wanted to share nine stories and situations that we had to work through. I really struggled to get through these situations, so I’m calling you to learn from my mistakes and the pattern of repentance.
1. Pray through decisions and be attentive to what the Spirit is imprinting on your heart and mind during prayer.
Remember, prayer does not always move the hands of God. It often shapes us and changes our hearts so that our will aligns with his. I’ve also learned to commit huge decisions to prayer for a period of time then to make a decision at the end of that period. I’ve worked with so many ineffective leaders because they’re indecisive. Pray and fast for a period of time then make your decision. I found myself paralyzed by indecisiveness until our CFO started encouraging us to set deadlines for decision making. This came after periods of time where I was not making tough decisions that I had to make.
2. Invite godly leaders and mentors into your life.
The unexamined life is not worth living said Socrates. Godly leaders invite counsel and feedback. They’re also rooted enough in their identity in Christ that the feedback shapes them into more effective leaders rather than defeating and discouraging them. One of my most trusted advisors is our CFO. He’s an elder in the church and provides invaluable counsel and leadership to us. I also have a Gospel Coach. These are men that constantly carry the burden of leadership with my wife and I. I am incredibly thankful for them even when I hate what they have to say! My natural inclination as a sinner is to remove these influences so that I can have my way. I did that for a while yet it doesn’t works if you want to have an impact for the Kingdom.
3. Leaders shape and influence other leaders.
Model repentance to those that you’re entrusted to lead. We need godly influences and role models. While you’re doing this, remember that God does not need you. That’s right, you’re invited to participate by the King, but you’re a dime a dozen. Stay humble my friends.
4. Serve well.
Never settle for allowing others to serve you, especially if they're entrusted to you and you're responsible for leading them well. Practically, get off the sofa and love your wife by doing the dishes, starting the laundry, or making dinner. Make time for that employee that really needs you to affirm them in their work. Never believe the lie that you’re so busy that you’re unable to create space for depth in relationships, especially for those that you’ve been entrusted to serve. Three years ago my employees were constantly telling everyone how busy I was because I was not making time for them. I was lazy and undisciplined in my schedule, which made it appear like I was busier than I was. Be disciplined in your schedule and serve those that God has entrusted to your care. That’s what a good shepherd does. If you need help with your schedule, find tools that other godly leaders have used. There’s a gamut of good resources available.
5. As Jesus did, retreat and take time to meditate in silence.
Often God speaks mightily when you’re quiet and receptive to what he’s communicating. I used to believe the lie that I needed to “do” more and sitting around was not acceptable. What I failed to remember was God’s established rhythm for rest and solitude. Find sacred time and space to pray and meditate but keep yourself from becoming legalistic. Good leaders are flexible and can adapt well when unexpected things come your way because they will.
6. When there seems to be two choices or decisions and you’re not sure which one to make, consider this: God is a good Father that loves to give good gifts.
Maybe he’s giving you the choice. Maybe it’s like taking your kiddos to the toy store and saying “Which one do you want, you could have either?” My Gospel Coach and I worked through this exact scenario just this month. That’s what he said to us verbatim. There’s two really good choices and both honor the Lord. The question really is, what do we want? This goes back to making decisions and not allowing yourself to become indecisive.
7. Be ready to make tough decisions when the Spirit leads.
I remember three years ago when we had an attorney advise us against paying drive time to our staff (they drive to their clients). Legal counsel was “That’s not necessary, you’re protected under the law against having to pay them.” Godly counsel was different. Wisdom says, “Pay your employees for their time, even if you’re not legally obligated. The result will be fruitful because you’ll rightly communicate to your employees that you value them and their time.” That decision affected my wife and I personally because we knew those resources would come directly off what we were paid. Be ready to make tough decisions and know that the Lord honors those that walk upright in heart.
8. Allow yourself to fail.
Failure is feedback and serves as a learning experience. We’re shaped in part by the consequences in our lives. Certain actions and decisions are strengthened by the success that follows, while others are informative due to failure. Learn from failure and document what God is teaching you through those experiences.
9. Think sustainability and listen to the Spirit’s prompting to slow down and reevaluate your pace.
I felt the Spirit calling us to steward our time better, yet ignored it until it became really unhealthy in our lives. If you’re going to be effective, you need to maintain a sustainable pace. I’ve failed miserably at this and have learned so much as a result. Once more, it took godly counsel and wisdom to redeem our chaotic lives and schedules. I can accomplish more today than I did before, yet I maintain a healthier pace, one that allows for rest, leisure, and ample time for the most important, not just the urgent things. Lastly, sustainability involves having established boundaries. Dr. Henry Cloud has a book called The One Life Solution. This was the most influential read in my life as a husband, father, and CEO. I’d highly recommend it if you’re struggling with sustaining as a leader because of boundary issues.
Spirit-led leadership is attainable. It’s not perfect nor is it easy. It’s what we’re called to as leaders, whether you’re leading in your home or workplace or in any other context for that matter. We know the Lord works mightily in those who hunger and thirst for him, so let’s be leaders who wholeheartedly seek the Lord.
Rob Fattal serves as CEO and BCBA in high-touch boutique firms providing educational services to children. He started his career as a credentialed teacher and served in both the public school system and at the university level. He and his wife have 4 kiddos of their own and have led and coached MCs and MC leaders. Ultimately, they love the church and hope to serve it well.