Lately, I have found my inner monologue answering the question “What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?” with “Don’t lead! It is painful.” This inclination has caused serious introspection for someone who truly loves to train, coach, and develop leaders—especially women.
As this school year ends, I wonder what your experience has been and what your reflections will be. The last two years have challenged my leadership beyond anything I could imagine. Dreams were deferred as we focused on the mundane issue of just “staying in school.” Problems felt complex and often unsolvable; expectations and standards seemed beyond what anyone could meet. When Sheryl Sandberg said, “If you aren’t making anyone upset, you aren’t really leading,” I don’t think she anticipated the type of disunity many have experienced these last two years: any decision invariably makes one group mad today and the other group mad tomorrow.
Amid all this, I have been confronted with my definition of a good leader and what it means when doing your best isn’t good enough. In Scripture, rarely do the leaders whom God highlights as ones who led in obedience to Him fit the world’s definition for success. I found encouragement from Moses whose journey in leadership is a picture of a dependent, obedient, surrendered, flawed man following the call of God.
The Cliff Notes’ version of Moses’ leadership moments is revealing. First, Moses hears the call of God and says please send someone else; then, okay, I will go (Exodus 3-4). As he obeys by courageously confronting Pharaoh, Moses seems humbled and amazed as he witnesses God’s mighty hand from the front row. His relationship with the Lord deepens, and he talks with God authentically, like a true friend. He experiences the exhaustion of trying to do it all alone until Jethro reminds him to raise up other leaders (Exodus 18). Moses finds encouragement and support, depending on Aaron, Miriam, and others. Then those same people cause him trouble; in fact, they are part of the reason he says to God, “I am finished; why did you give me these people to lead?” (Numbers 11). Yet at times Moses stands in the gap for those same disobedient followers and pleads for God to be merciful.
I can relate to every one of those feelings in Moses’ journey. At the beginning of the pandemic while people said, “You are in your position for such a time as this,” I was saying to God, “Why me? I have no idea what to do.” Other times, I forgot to co-lead with the team God has given me and had to repent of my pride that caused me to try to do it all myself. At certain times when the criticism, anger, and “helpful feedback” was too much, I counted it a victory that I didn’t quit. And more times than I can count, I saw answers to prayers that amazed me—so many miracles, times of God’s provision, protection, love, and grace. Truthfully, I must admit that I don’t think I would have experienced God in these ways apart from such incredible, unsolvable challenges.
As the story of Moses continues, God tells him—after an act of disobedience—that Moses wouldn’t enter the Promised Land. What I have wrestled with is that Moses wouldn’t be the one credited with the success even after all he did. I have asked myself if I would have led so obediently and faithfully if I knew I wouldn’t be the one who experienced the success. As Moses prepared to die, he reminded Israel they will experience God’s rest and provision in the Promised Land. Ironically, Moses faces this moment without being resentful or beating himself up for failing or being inadequate as a leader. When Moses died (Deuteronomy 34), his leading in obedience and trust didn’t produce accolades or worldly rewards; instead, as Ruth Haley Barton says, “for Moses, the Promised Land was God Himself.”
Reflecting on this year, I realize that challenges are being used by God to strip me of my self-reliance and self-sufficiency, eroding my people-pleasing tendencies and my perfectionism. God is clearly showing me that my desire for control does not bring life. I am learning to obediently surrender, trusting in a good God whose plans for my school are beyond what I could imagine. Instead, I can live out the experience of abundance that comes from a sweet relationship with God Himself. I have a lot more to learn.
However, now my answer to the question, “What advice do have for aspiring leaders?” is found in Micah 6:8 (The Message): “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.” And if we do that, we will get the sweetest reward ever—God Himself.