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Why It’s Good Not To Be In Charge (5 Things You Can Learn While You Wait For The Keys)

This is a guest post by Nathan Veley, he is a husband, father of two daughters, and is currently serving as a campus pastor at Sanctus Church in Bowmanville, Ontario.

By Nathan Veley

Few things are more frustrating for young leaders than being limited in their role.

I dislike being told I can’t do something or that I’m incapable of doing something. I don’t like feeling restricted.

The other day I was purchasing supplies for an event. The employee told me I could only fit a maximum of 9 to 12 cases on a flat cart they gave me. He said, “You’ll need to make multiple trips”.

I stacked 27 cases on the cart. I nearly made it to my vehicle before I lost a couple of them. It was worth it.

If you tell me I can’t do something, I will try to do it in half the time it would ordinarily take.

But it’s not always an overconfident mentality that creates this drive in me; rather it’s the desire to solve problems and attempt to challenge myself.

What happens when you’re a young leader in an environment where you feel like you’re not thriving to your full potential? What if your boss doesn’t let you move forward in the way that you think is best?

What if you’re told your idea doesn’t fit with the priority for that current season or you want to grow in an area of leadership that the organization doesn’t believe is a priority?

Leaders have all had seasons where we feel like our growth is being stunted. If you’re a young leader, you probably feel this more often and more intensely.

I fully agree with something Carey recently wrote, that the next generation may have a better strategy for reaching the next generation. If you’re an older leader and you haven’t read his article yet, then stop reading this article and read it first. You can read it here.

He says we need to listen to younger leaders’ ideas on how to reach the next generation and we need to stop the leadership cycle of disempowerment.

Disempowering leadership not only facilitates self-centered leadership and but it also develops leaders who practice disempowering leadership.

Empowering leadership promotes empowering leadership.

Empowering leadership promotes empowering leadership. Click To Tweet

Carey once said that “leaders who refuse to listen, will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” I would add to this that young leaders who are never heard will begin to believe they have nothing worth saying.

From a younger leader who believed this to be true at one time, don’t use your position of power to silence the next generation.

With that being said, there is another side to all of this. A message that younger leaders need to hear.

As a younger leader when you’re tempted to jump ship because you feel your current role is limiting you, there are critical lessons to be learned.

Leaders need seasons where things don’t always go their way, even if it’s not easy.

Leaders need seasons where things don’t always go their way, even if it’s not easy. Click To Tweet

In one of my previous jobs, I served in an environment and in a position that I felt I was outgrowing. But there was a very clear call that I felt from God to stay. While it was difficult at times, there were lessons I learned that I never could have learned otherwise.

I have an amazing relationship with my supervisor from this season and consider him to be one of the strongest and most resilient leaders I have ever met.

I am thankful I stayed and learned some valuable lessons while there. I think there is a message my generation needs to be reminded of:

Younger leaders need older leaders.

And you actually need them to be in charge… maybe a little longer than you think.

Here’s the key: I believe seasons where you feel like you are being held back provide unique opportunities to learn lessons that you might otherwise miss.

Younger leaders need to be encouraged to embrace these lessons even if they are painful.

I know in my own life, the times I’ve felt least empowered were times where my leadership was tested and strengthened in ways it wouldn’t have been without otherwise.

What if younger leaders looked at seasons of waiting as opportunities to grow in ways unique to that stage of their development?

Let me clarify something; I am not talking about staying in a situation with an unhealthy leader who creates a toxic, damaging environment. If you are in this situation, seek wise, godly counsel as to whether you should remain or move on.

Nor should you squash your drive and desire to excel. Eventually, you will need to find an environment where you can thrive.

But I think if we move on too soon or give up too quickly when we don’t feel empowered, we are potentially missing out on a valuable season of growth.

Here are 5 lessons you can lean into while you’re waiting for the keys to be flipped.

1. Lean into Character Growth

Often when leaders (particularly young leaders) feel restricted in an organization, it’s because of what they are permitted to do or not do.

It might be because they don’t get to preach as much as they would like. Or manage the team they want to manage. Or set the budget.

The problem with this is that the focus is on what you’re doing rather than on who you are becoming.

Carey says it all the time: Character, not competency, determines capacity. It’s even more important for younger leaders to lean into character over competency in those early years.

I remember an older, wiser person telling me once that it was a good thing I wasn’t preaching as much as maybe I would like to.

He said if I wanted to learn to be a better preacher, I needed to learn to care and understand people. That too often, the pulpit is disconnected from the parish. I think he was on to something.

If I want to be a better preacher I need to care and listen better. That’s not skill. That’s character.

Here’s the thing: your organization can only restrict what you do, not who you are. Only you can stop yourself from growing in character.

Your organization can only restrict what you do, not who you are. Only you can stop yourself from growing in character. Click To Tweet

The very fact that you can’t do what you want forces true character to the surface.

Will I be supportive when decisions are made I disagree with?
Will I be faithful when everything feels mundane?
Will I honor when it feels unfair?
Will I pray for my leader even when I am frustrated?

These feelings are real and painful. But it’s in these feelings that we are presented with a unique opportunity to grow in character.

Character is developed more in seasons of difficulty, not when things are easy; character doesn’t grow in the absence of these feelings but in the very center of them. What you do and how you respond is key.

And you’re in control of your character growth, not your employer.

You’re in control of your character growth, not your employer. Click To Tweet

2. Develop Habits as if you were in charge

Recently I have been reading a couple of books on habits. I was shocked at how clearly habits shape an organization.

One author states, “There are no organizations without institutional habits. There are only places where they are deliberately designed, and places where they are created without forethought, so they often grow from rivalries or fear.” (160, The Power of Habit)

Similarly, there is no leader without habits. Habits shape your character and leadership. If you want to grow in leadership, change your habits.

I remember early in my career questioning some of my mentors on their habits: When do you wake up? What’s your morning routine like? I wanted to know how that leader developed into who they were and how they sustained themselves while managing responsibility.

But recently, I have realized that in my own life, I have had habits form without “forethought” that are not producing the character or leadership I desire.

Here’s an example: scanning my phone as soon as I wake up and robbing my peaceful mornings with the day’s stress.

As a result of this examination, I have been in a season of habit reforming.

Here’s the question we need to ask ourselves: What type of habits do I want in my life that will not only help me thrive in this season but better prepare me for the next position of leadership God has called me to?

What about habits around my family and my marriage? Is my family a priority? If I can’t set boundaries up now, then it will be even harder when I have more responsibility.

What about habits around my personal growth? Do I meet with mentors or a counselor on a regular basis?

What about habits around rest, physical health and sleep?

When you’re waiting for the keys to be flipped, develop habits as if the transition has already occurred.

When you’re waiting for the keys to be flipped, develop habits as if the transition has already occurred. Click To Tweet

3. Grow in humility as much as you grow in passion

One of the things I will always love and admire about young leaders is their passion. I believe it’s one of the most important character traits of a leader.

I remember at the Canadian Church Leaders Conference in 2018, Jeff Brodie, talking about leadership said, “Your leadership lid might not be a head problem, it might be a heart problem.”

Then he said something that moved me to tears and I will never forget it: “There is no lid on passion, and there is no bottom to humility.” Passion and humility.

I knew at that moment that as a leader, I had often valued passion above humility. But what if the two were meant to work together? I had been missing something.

One of the struggles of leadership is pride. More authority and a larger platform could amplify this.

It’s possible that as your positional leadership and influence grow, so too could the temptation of pride.

Seasons, where you’re not in charge, can provide a unique opportunity to pray for and grow in humility.

Practically what does this look like? Two things:

First of all, pray. Just pray. Ask God to make you humble. It takes a measure of humility to ask for more humility.

Secondly, celebrate the success of others.

I am competitive by nature. There isn’t one “just for fun” bone in my body. Winning is fun.

Sometimes workplaces can be very competitive environments. The thing about competitiveness is that it’s not conducive to celebrating the success of others . . . especially if you believe their success is your loss.

Humble people celebrate others’ successes.

When someone else gets the promotion or bonus you wanted, celebrate with them.
When another co-worker gets publicly praised for their work, celebrate them.
Look for opportunities to celebrate others. Even if you believe they don’t deserve it.

CS Lewis said that if you ever meet a humble man (person), “He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

The best way to not think about yourself, is to celebrate others.

Grow in humility to guard against pride before you take over the keys.

The best way to not think about yourself, is to celebrate others. Click To Tweet

4. Kill the idol of platform and career

Why do you want to be in charge? What is the source of your drive and determination? This can be a difficult question to answer, but I am increasingly suspicious of any desire within my own heart for a platform.

I do know that there is no platform big enough to satisfy the need to be known.
I am also convinced there is no perfect career that will satisfy the longing for meaning.

Timothy Keller says that “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” (XX, Counterfeit Gods)

Do you want a platform because you believe your life will have value?
Do you believe that your life will have meaning if you just find the right job?

My experience is that not being in a position of power exposes my hunger for power. I believe this is the Lord’s gentle rebuke, exposing a significant character flaw.

This season is a gift to explore and ask these tough questions.

  • Could there be an idol of platform taking root in my heart and mind?
  • Am I looking to a time when a perfect career will satisfy the longing in my life?
  • Do whatever it takes to kill these idols.
Not being in a position of power exposes my hunger for power. Click To Tweet

5. Embrace Commitment

I have this terrible habit . . . If I am watching a movie alone and the plot gets a little dry, I skip the boring sections or speed it up. Even if I haven’t seen it before.

It’s a problem I’m working on.

We live in a society of instant gratification. Maybe you have seen the articles about the declining human attention span. We live in an endless state of instant gratification constantly jumping to the next best thing.

Our culture, maybe now more than ever, celebrates autonomy over loyalty. It’s easy to move on if it doesn’t feel good or isn’t satisfying.

This temptation spills over into our career. When things are not going the way you’d hoped and your job is no longer satisfying, the temptation is to jump to the next best thing.

But these are unique seasons to learn commitment. And I think we desperately need to reclaim the character trait of commitment.

Commitment is built in the mundane, not the stimulating. It’s when things are not going how you’d like that commitment is learned.

I admire people who are committed to the local church through the ups and downs. I admire committed relationships. I admire people who stick out their employment commitments when the going gets tough.

What if learning and practicing the character trait of commitment is of greater value than the thrill of finding something new?

Maybe we young leaders need to reclaim this attribute.

From what I’ve heard, when you end up in the position of leadership you’re longing for, you will understand what a gift a committed employee is and look back with gratitude on your own season of loyalty.

What if learning and practicing the character trait of commitment is of greater value than the thrill of finding something new? Click To Tweet

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And you?

What are some other lessons you can learn while you’re waiting for the keys?

7 Comments

  1. Albert Villaruz on February 18, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Wonderful article Nathan and I’m thankful to God for you. And if I read between the lines correctly regarding your previous supervisor then yes I agree with you — S.Rough is one of the best, resilient leaders around at our former workplace 🙂

    May the Lord continue blessing you and your family, and Nikki and Sanctus church!

  2. Brian Black on February 8, 2020 at 8:51 am

    I truly get inspired by what you said as the first point. It was worth reading.

  3. Matt Murray on February 6, 2020 at 10:26 am

    I’ve known Nathan a long time and have seen the Lord form him over many years in this area. This insight has been earned in the trenches of character formation and faithful pursuit of Jesus. I admire his passion and humility – especially since it’s his bench press at the gym that garners so much growth in the area of humility.

  4. DC on February 6, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Passing this on to my staff right now. Thank you!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 6, 2020 at 1:25 pm

      Love it!

  5. Matt on February 6, 2020 at 5:13 am

    Thank you so much for writing this! This contains a lot of wisdom that i will be thinking about for a while!

    • Sylvia on February 6, 2020 at 11:15 am

      Great post, thank you!
      Couple additional things I’ve learned over the years;
      – You know you’re leading when others are following
      – you’re not given leadership; you take it

      I have been an entrepreneur and run my own businesses most of my adult life. I owned “the keys” to my business and recognize the value of the the 5 points mentioned – character growth, good habits, humility and passion, dangers of idols, and value of commitment.

      As a lay church leader over the years, I have run into many walls (or locked doors)! Not the least of which is being a woman leader in a patriarchal church model. I have chosen not to make an issue of this. Instead I have “taken the lead” but learned to do so with love and grace. I have learned that if I waited for church leaders to “hand me the keys” … I’d still be waiting. Instead, I’ve had to take the initiative to call meetings, initiate dialogue, suggest strategic plans, etc.

      The last 5 years I’ve been leading a major (for our small church) outreach and church discipleship and growth plan that, in spite of our inadequacies, God has chosen to honour and grow. And with the full support of our still patriarchal leadership.

      I believe we need to demonstrate leadership qualities and character as we use the few keys in our possession and keep collecting more keys until being “given all the keys” becomes a moot point.

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