“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” —Leo Tolstoy
Shortly after I was promoted to a management position in 2005, I had two direct reports quit within six months of each other. I’ll never forget their similar reasons for leaving, which they made sure to tell me: “I just don’t like the way you treat me, Preston. And, well, you’re condescending.”
Me? Condescending? As if they know the pressure I have to deal with. Like they have the experience to do what I do.
Before their departures, I was on the fast-track to success. I figured that if I continued driving change, performing well, and delivering results during my new assignment, I’d be promoted again. My leadership skills were blooming, and I was confident in my ability to make a positive difference.
But all too soon, our results nosedived. I struggled to gain traction with my new manager, team, and business partners. I constantly bickered with my manager and always felt like I had to prove myself. I felt maltreated and disrespected.
I saw my team as a means to an end and never made any true connections. Then those two direct reports left. Covering for my lost employees, I constantly traveled and consequently exhausted myself.
Career-wise, I’d hit rock bottom. At that point, I journaled:
My heart is heavy today. I feel crushed. The past few weeks were extremely difficult. Another employee quit, I received feedback on my condescending tone again, role shift, and an overall feeling of devaluation. My manager continues to dissect every comment I make and criticize my actions. This year’s been a valley of despair. I feel torn apart and weak.
Inevitably, my challenges at work spilled over to my home life, where I was always irritable. To top it off, my beloved grandfather, Papa, passed away.
Something had to change.
Thankfully, my manager directed me to engage an executive coach and help me fix things. And so, I did. I also began to pray and read the Bible more intentionally. I sought God’s help in the depths of my despair. As I prayed and worked with my coach, I realized the common thread in all my issues was me.
I wasn’t acting like a leader—at my job, at my home, or of myself. My spiritual life and work life were incongruent. I went to church on Sunday but acted like an atheist during the workweek. At work, I thought I had all of the leadership and management stuff figured out and didn’t need God’s wisdom, help, or direction.
In other words, I was condescending even toward God.
Still, through these trials and tribulations, God answered my prayer and broke me. In my breaking, I realized I needed to change before I could create positive change in the workplace. I discovered that the surest way to realize my leadership potential was to become a follower of Jesus—not just on Sunday or at home, but twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I needed to take what I learned in the church pew and live it out in the workplace.
I needed to become a discipled leader.
I’ve worked at Fortune 500 companies for decades. I know what it’s like to be responsible for multi-million-dollar budgets, to lead employees of all kinds, and to work for highly driven executives. I’ve been blessed to be recognized within my industry many times over for the work that my team and I have accomplished. I believe I’m a hard worker who asks the best of myself and my employees. My professional path has not always been smooth—whose is? But I remain grateful for every job I’ve ever had. My career has given me much.
But I never want to lose sight of my first calling as a disciple of Christ.
Yet, when you spend forty or eighty hours a week at your job, it’s easy to lose perspective. You slide into the false belief that what you do defines you rather than allowing who you are define what you do. And, if you’re a Christian, who you are is a disciple of Christ.
So why does it seem like there’s a dearth of disciples in today’s secular marketplace? Why does it sometimes feel as if you’re the only Christian at your job? How are you supposed to bring the world-opposing tenets of the Christian faith to bear on your everyday professional decisions?
Surprisingly—and it took me a long time to figure this out—it’s not about changing your leadership style. While learning how to be a better leader is necessary, and many excellent books have been written to that end, changing your style won’t change who you are.
Who you are needs to change before what you do changes.
In my book, The Discipled Leader, I share ten stories that delve into the seldom-discussed connection between personal discipleship and corporate leadership. Each story is accompanied by two imperatives: one for your spiritual life and one for your leadership. I hope you’ll see how these imperatives are connected to each other within each chapter. I pray that you’ll begin to see and experience how what you hear from God in the quiet of your morning prayers translates to effective leadership, even in the noise of a busy workday.
If you’re a struggling Christian leader in the secular marketplace, I pray you’ll be challenged to engage in the hard work of daily discipleship. If you’re an experienced leader, I pray you’ll be reminded of the fundamentals of the faith and the desperate need to disciple other Christian leaders.
Becoming who you’re meant to be as a Christian leader doesn’t begin with focusing on leadership. Your calling toward better leadership is a calling toward deeper discipleship.
That’s how you become a discipled leader.
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