Thursday, July 01, 2010

Foundation, foundation, foundation

When you're talking real-estate, the mantra is, "location, location, location." When it comes to studying the Bible, "context, context, context" is the rule. But with leadership, another word comes to mind: foundation.

I'm a consummate dreamer and I'll never apologized for that. As much as anybody, I love to imagine a better world or a grand vision. I dream big. But over the years, I've realized more and more that in order to actually make those dreams come to fruition, there are a lot of challenging, concrete tasks which must be accomplished. For some, this transition from dream to reality can be a vision-killer. I've seen it time and again: a friend wants to plant a church or start a business, but after a few years of frustration, exhaustion, or both, the dream fades and those good intentions become just that, good intentions. Some people may even get their plans off the ground, only to sputter out a few miles down the road. I know this well because a few of my dreams have been sacrificed on the altar of hard-cold reality. I'm sure we've all had those experiences.
But I'm beginning to learn. Two key factors to actually creating a dream and carrying out a vision have hit home with me lately: foundation and relationships. The two are actually intertwined. When I say "foundation," I think stability, consistency, faithfulness, strength. Builders of buildings know this well. Without a strong foundation, what is built will come crashing down in the face of adverse weather (just read Matthew 7:24-27).

(A budding friendship: Andy and Abby Walker are going to Sierra Leone with Lisa and I in December.)

Foundation has a lot to do with relationships. The stronger my relationships with those around me, the stronger my foundation for leadership. Organizations do not change the world, people do. The ability of an organization to be effective is directly related to the quality of relationships among the people in that organization. As you think of where you work, live, or serve, ask yourself, "Do I honestly trust those around me to come through for me and can they trust me to come through for them?" If not, why not?

The best indicator of the level of a relationship is "the honesty test." I once heard a pastor tell his friend, "If you're not willing to be honest with me about my faults, then I don't want to be your friend." Whoa! That pastor has a serious thirst for honesty. Do you have people around you who can--no, will--speak truth into your life in order to benefit you? Do you have people who are willing to tell you the tough things about ... you? I have a few friends like that and I cherish them. Proverbs 27:6 says, "Trustworthy are the wounds of a friend, but many are the kisses of an enemy." Max de Pree, CEO of the Hermann Miller and one time chair of the board of Fuller Seminary, says, "trust multiplies with truth." Even bad news shared between friends can strengthen relational bonds. Good relationships also help us weather the difficult storms every leader inevitably faces. Of course, gentleness is required to speak truth effectively into another person's life, but let's not sacrifice truth so we can remain comfortable.

It's easy to become impatient when working towards a dream. I know I've felt this way in building Leaders 4 Life. But if we want our dream to actually become reality, and even to be better than we could imagine (Ephesians 3:20), we must be patient. We must be patient in building those key relationships and the rest will more easily follow. I remember what former President of Princeton Theological Seminary Tom Gillespie once told me. He told me he had raised more money in the last 5 years of his presidency than the previous 15 years combined. Why? Relationships. He had built strong relationships of trust with his donors over all those years.

So when I feel I want my board formed yesterday, more trips to be made to Sierra Leone more quickly, or I'm frustrated that we're not "up and running" already, I have to be patient and remember: foundation, foundation, foundation!