Most people who have risen through the leadership ranks have been through skills assessments, 360 reviews, and personality profiles enroute to developing as more capable leaders. I recall going through one such assessment which was designed to generate a profile of my strengths. The idea of this particular approach was that we should play to our strengths, because understanding them would help us leverage them more powerfully.
I was encouraged when I received my report. My strengths were firmly rooted in the type-A power zone and included achievement, strategy, commitment to beliefs, self-confidence and accountability. People who have led large, multifaceted organizations, driven complex transformations, and put big results in front of their boards have similar profiles. But the results of my review came with a troubling caveat — ‘strengths’ that were out of balance had a downside to them.
Being an outsized ‘achiever’ can lead to a lack of balance, over commitment and burn out. Being overly self-confident can lead to arrogance and an inability to listen to others. We often hear people lament the separation of their faith world and their work world. This is the prime example of that separation. When the dark side of our ‘strengths’ show up, it is an indication that these gifts from God have not been brought into the realm of our faith. We are managing them, rather than submitting them to God.
One of the most powerful examples of God’s ability to use our gifts is in I Samuel. The two books of Samuel are packed with intrigue, power struggles, historical relevance, and God’s remarkable intervention, with the prophet Samuel as the lynchpin in dispatching God’s purposes. In the course of his lifetime, Samuel would speak God’s words to Israel, establishing and then rebuking its first king, Saul, and then anointing David, whose kingdom and lineage would prefigure the Messiah. It’s easy to forget that all of this excitement started with the simple story of a barren woman giving a gift back to God.
For years, Hannah had longed deeply for a child, and had suffered ridicule and shame because of her infertility. Children were a mark of God’s blessing, a guarantor of social acceptance, and a safety net for the future, and without a son, Hannah had none of these. Over time and through her pain, both Hannah’s view of God and her view of a child changed. She realized that God was the provider of the gift, i.e. the child. She no longer saw the child as something to build her life around. Rather, she needed to build her life around God’s purposes, and the child she so desperately longed for needed to be part of those purposes. She promised God that if he gave her a child, she would “give him back to the Lord for all the days of his life.” (I Samuel 1: 11b)
Outside of God’s hands, the child’s future was limited. However, having surrendered her desires to God, Hannah knew that her child ultimately belonged to God and he could do immeasurably more with the child than she could. That child was Samuel.
Hannah’s committing God’s gift back to him is a metaphor for our need to give the leadership gifts he gives us back to him. In God’s hands, our creativity, our strategic skills, our ability to inspire, and our leadership tenacity will bless people within and outside of our businesses in ways that are honoring to him and further his kingdom. In God’s hands, they serve his eternal purpose, which is greater than anything we can understand or imagine. A stuttering Moses leads a nation, an imprisoned Joseph saves his people, a fearful Peter establishes God’s church.
Steve Preston served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, after nearly 25 years in corporate leadership. He currently resides in Connecticut and is active with causes that address the needs of inner city children, including serving on the Connecticut Commission for Educational Achievement. He also serves on the boards for Habitat for Humanity, Wheaton College, the Partnership for Public Service and the Board of Visitors at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. You can hear more from Steve at our CEO Executive Roundtable, happening October 5, 7:30-9:00am at Moody Bible Institute. To learn more and RSVP, please email Donna Dai.