Leaders often gravitate to the flashy first impression, low-hanging fruit or the approval and support garnered from successful fast action. But when a godly long view is our aim, we develop a whole different class of skills, relationships and priorities that can carry us throughout a lifetime of meaningful leadership, rather than allowing our focus to fix solely on the next hurdle ahead.
Which is why I've imagined a reality show for leaders ever since they took over the television airwaves.
The show pits three leadership teams in a boat race. Of course it is filmed on a beautiful white sandy beach with crystal clear blue water, located in a tropical string of islands in some remote part of the world that makes television producers happy.
Teams compete for the right to select one of three boats available to them: a speed boat, very fast but vulnerable to rough seas; a cabin cruiser, strong and stable but only half as fast as the first boat; and a simple, slow, single-mast sail boat with no mechanical engine.
During each week’s episode the contestants are involved in competitions designed to make them look foolish and to drive up ratings. The winners select the boat of their choice to race each week from one small island to the next, building points toward choosing the vessel they prefer for the climactic race for the $1 million prize. The adversaries scheme and plot and humiliate one another, trying to “earn” the right to choose the best boat for the final high dollar journey.
In the dramatic season finale, with each team set for the race in the boat they have won, the most successful team, betting on good weather, has chosen the high speed of the powerboat over the strength of the cabin cruiser. Meanwhile the losers of the game (those least effective at sabotaging their competitors) prepare to do their best in the sailboat rejected by the other mariners.
Then, in one of those stunning reality show moments when everything is turned upside down, the tanned and handsome host unveils the finish line for the race -- and as they cut to a commercial break, looks of horror and outrage flash across the faces of the presumed dominant crew.
Unlike the previous weeks’ races, the finish line is not within the string of islands, but can be reached only by circling the islands multiple times. This is not a distance either motor vessel can travel -- their fuel supply will surely run out long before the finish line. Only the sailboat, with its ability to catch the wind, has the opportunity to finish the race and win the prize.
Like our imaginary contestants, today’s ministry leaders need to learn the value of sailboats over powerboats in completing the race. We are not leaders whose aim should be professional island-hopping; we must equip ourselves for godly circumnavigation. We must return to a proper understanding of the finish line to which God has called us, and internalize the longview way to lead, live, work and relate to each other.
The fastest, flashiest motors we might develop can never outdistance the boat sails filled with God’s wind.
Dr. Roger Parrott is President of Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the author of The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders (David C. Cook).