The Myth Behind "You Can't Lead Anyone Where You Haven't Been Yourself"

Saturday, June 6, 2015

There is a popular leadership mantra that is quoted often by many and I have seen it a lot on Twitter and Facebook lately. I have quoted it many times myself over the years. It says, "You can't lead anyone where you haven't been yourself." It sounds great and will usually get a large number of retweets and shares on social media.

Something about that quote has been bothering me lately. I have found myself asking, "Is that really true? Does scripture teach this concept? Does this prove true in real life?" The more I thought about this the more I began to realize that there are some serious problems with this concept. Before I go on, let me say that this does not give leadership the freedom to stop giving their best, growing, and striving for excellence. In fact, it should challenge us to go deeper in our quest to become the best leaders possible.

Though this concept looks and sounds good on the surface, it can actually sabotage your leadership and become a roadblock to success not only for you as a leader, but for those you are leading. Before I get to those, let me first give an example from scripture that refutes this concept.

The story of Gideon in Judges chapter six is a classic example. Gideon has been called to lead the Israelite army to defeat the Midianites. Gideon pleads and argues with the Lord that he is woefully under qualified to do such a monumental task. In verse fifteen he says, “Pardon me, my lord, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Gideon is being asked to do something that he has no training or experience in. He's never done anything like this before. In the end, Gideon leads Israel in victory. Gideon manages to lead an army to accomplish something he has clearly never accomplished himself. If it is true that you can't lead people where you haven't been yourself, then how could Gideon do it? More on that later.

Let me give you 4 dangers of this concept.

#1 - It prevents growth.
If you believe this concept to be true then you will believe that you are limited to what you already know and have experienced. You will forever be stuck behind the brick wall of your limited knowledge and experience.

#2 - It stifles your team.
This concept puts 100% responsibility for success on you and tells your team that they are useless. Your people will be stuck in the quagmire of your inability to move forward and achieve success. They will eventually leave rather than risk dying under your watch.

#3 - It leads to fear.
You will have no choice but to avoid the unknown and trying new challenges. This concept forces you to always assume that you are unqualified and unable to lead. You will end up looking in the rear view mirror of life guided by your past rather than looking straight ahead to a brighter and bigger future.

#4 - It takes God out of the equation.
This is the most dangerous of them all. This concept limits you to human resources and slams the door to God's unlimited, supernatural resources. You will forever be subject to what is only humanly possible rather than to what is only possible with God. This is what God reminded Gideon about when he was arguing that he wasn't qualified for the job. He tells Gideon in verse sixteen, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” Gideon had forgotten his most important qualification - God was with him. With God in the picture, he will always help us to lead his people where we never dreamed we could ever go ourselves.

Gideon is just one example we can use here. We see the same is true as we read the story of Moses who led Israel out of bondage in Egypt. How about Noah's first building project, or Josiah becoming king at the age of eight? These all point to the fact that it simply is not true that you can't lead people somewhere you haven't been yourself. If that were true then we would never experience breakthroughs in science and technology. There would never be new inventions like the computer or iPhone. Smallpox and Polio would still be claiming countless lives today.

The truth is that you can lead people to places you have never been yourself. That is the essence of leadership. Leaders challenge us to new heights and help us believe that we can accomplish things we never dreamed of. A real leader never lets his limited experience and knowledge prevent him from trying new things. A true leader never lets those he leads settle for anything less either.

Whether you are a leader of thousands or of just a few, I want to challenge you to break out of the limiting mindset that you can only lead those people as far as you have ever gone yourself. That simply is not true. If you will let God lead you then you will be able to lead them as far as you will let God lead you. You are only limited by how much you limit God.
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