Articles of Faith: On Leadership and Obedience

Risky Business

This post is part of our Sunday Series titled “Articles of Faith.”
We investigate leadership lessons from the Bible.
See the whole series here. Published only on Sundays.

By nature, I have a rebellious personality. I tend to make my own rules and go through life marching to my own personal drum beat.

Perhaps this is because I was brought up as the middle child of nine kids and had the need to stand out. Or maybe my rebellious nature is just because I was the black sheep in my family. I was into rock & roll and sports. The rest were mostly into chorus and drama class.

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

My natural disposition to rebel in my family environment was one thing that set my independent streak in motion. Another strong bit of influence came from my educational upbringing. I grew up as a tall guy and was often seated in the back of the classroom. This positioning in elementary classroom settings and beyond usually placed me amongst the other ne’er-do-wells in the class in the back of the classroom.

I learned much in the back row…

My internal tempo had me cracking jokes and doing subtle pranks during the school days. But rather than being an overtly obnoxious guy, I was the classic sly-version of the class clown. If you can think of the class clown from your school days, I was the 007 secret-agent version of that guy. My rebellion was stealth and measured. Or so I thought…

“I put the ‘class’ in class clown”

The goal of my shenanigans was for personal development. Sure, I was entertained in entertaining others, but what I was really doing was testing the limits of my rebellion to see what would result. I was interested in how the authorities would handle me. I really was a constant student of “pushing-the-behavioral-envelope” to see what would happen and see how authorities would react. I still do this (to my wife’s annoyance).

But of course, I eventually would get caught. As I search back in my memory, I think that I was “that-guy” who inevitably had his school desk moved from a position among the students to that special place seated right next to the teacher’s desk up front. This happened in almost every year of school due to my behavioral inclinations.

As stealthy as I thought I was, I was really just stupid.

To Obey or Not

Although entertaining, having a rebellious nature is not good at times. This is when simple nonconformity goes into disobedience.

The English word “obey” means: to comply with or follow the commands, restrictions, wishes, or instructions of: to obey one’s parents. It comes from a Latin word oboedīre meaning “to hear.”

So to be disobedient means to not listen to what you are told to do. To not being dutiful or submissive or compliant. Disobedience is a rejection of authority and a discounting of truth. It is a selfish act based on self-rule. It has a tone of arrogance and vibe of ignorance. It usually wreaks of passive indiscretion and eventual mishap.

Disobedience is most often times just a stupid way to live.

And how do I know this? I know this because I lived the results of a disobedient life personally. And I confirmed these suspicions of how stupid the outcomes can be many times over as I have observed 5 children who just went through their teen years in life. I have seen when they wouldn’t hear me and be disobedient to the truth. And their results were predictable.

This is how I know what living a disobedient life can turn into.

Truth and Consequences

My five children are now between the ages of 18-24 and are all in college. If you have (or have had) kids in their teens, you can imagine what the last decade has been like for me and my wife. When your kids have the know-it-all attitude and stumble, you just wonder why they didn’t listen to the rules or the suggestions put it place.

You wonder why they simply didn’t obey. They suffer predictable consequences that could have been avoided.

The same goes when an employee doesn’t follow the rules or listen to sage advice. When the guide rails are disregarded, people tend to fall off cliffs. Some people don’t listen because they are stubborn. Some because they are risky. And others because they simply lack good judgement.

For me, I am the risky type. I can tend to flirt with disaster because it seems fun. But in doing this too much, I tend to fall off of cliffs or slide into ditches in life. Just like a fine employee or a smart child, I should just trust and obey in authority.

I should be a better follower. It would make me a better leader.

See, I Told You So

Recently, my wife and I were utterly amazed at a decision made by one of our kids. We wondered out loud

“Why don’t they just LISTEN to our sound advice? Why don’t they just trust that we know best for them and follow our good guidance for them”?

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that God was telling us to be obedient to Him and His best interest for us. That he was giving us the feelings that He has when we don’t obey. I told my wife that we are just as guilty of being disobedient and we are the ones to blame when we act selfishly and outside of the guide rails set up for us by a loving and trustworthy Father. She agreed and we both felt very humbled and a bit embarrassed at how stupid we often get in our disobedience.

Look at what the Psalmist writes:

Psalm 119: 1-15 (The Message)

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You’re blessed when you follow his directions,
doing your best to find him.

That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;
you walk straight along the road he set.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;
now you expect us to live it.

Oh, that my steps might be steady,
keeping to the course you set;
Then I’d never have any regrets
in comparing my life with your counsel.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.
I’m going to do what you tell me to do;
don’t ever walk off and leave me.

The leadership lesson to me is clear. Learn to be a good and obedient follower. You may not have the best leader at the moment, but good leadership first requires followers who obey. It makes their jobs easier and provides them clarity. And when you lead others, communicate as clearly as you can and repeat a simple message often. Sometimes your people might just be like stubborn teens and busy being a clown.

So, how are you at listening to sound rules and judgment? Do you tend to be a risk-taker when it comes to obedience? If so, how has this served you and how has it harmed you? Has your disobedience caused you more trouble than it is worth? I would love to hear your stories!

Tom Schulte is Executive Director of Linked 2 Leadership
He provides leadership training fit for the Blackberry-Attention-Span
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