Ned and I were having breakfast on purpose… my purpose. How quickly things can change!
At the time I was leading a not-for-profit organization and we had what I thought were big plans to make a big difference in the world. Though Ned was not on our board of directors, he had been a significant contributor to our cause and now that I was rolling out some new initiatives wanted Ned’s counsel, his advocacy, and hopefully his investment.
I had sent Neb a copy of our strategic plan the night before, high on vision, yet grounded realistic logistics. In order to fulfill our mission to make a difference in our city we needed some infrastructure improvements in our property, some additional staff, and some upgraded technology… a hefty reach for our budget but necessary for our purpose. Still, I felt confident I could win Ned.
“So, what do you think?” I asked him between bites of his breakfast. Ned looked at me, half smiled and pulled out his copy of my document. “This is all fine,” he said. Pause… “But it doesn’t excite me.”
I swallowed my hash browns, hard. This wasn’t what I’d expected. “So, what excites you?” I added, feeling more defensive than I let show. Ned flipped to the backside of the paper where he scribbled notes. “I’ll tell you…”
Changing a Nation
And he did. For the next 30 minutes Ned lit up with the passion of a true zealot. He shared how he and a group of fellow engineers had recently visited Afghanistan and how doors were open to them to help rebuild the infrastructure of that nation. He told me how they were now planning to build a gas pipeline across the country with the purpose of being able to say “Christians did this!”
I sat dumb and dumber. “So sure, you need a new roof on your building; But you gotta understand, we’re going to change a nation! That’s what I get excited about.” I looked sheepishly at my little paper. Then I heard myself say, “So, how can I help you?”
Like many leaders I have spent much of my energy dreaming up a worthy vision and trying to get others to join me in the chase. I want to do something significant, and I want to help others do the same. But what I’m discovering – finally in my fifth decade – is that my primary role as a leader is not to muster support for my vision, but to Love, which we define as:
Fighting for the highest possible good in the life of another.
I had come to that breakfast intending to motivate Ned to fight for my cause; I left having committed to lend my influence to fight for the purpose that ignited his heart. And that encounter, simple as it was, changed my understanding of leadership.