Shooting stars are so cool to watch.
They produce a bright streak of light in the sky, caused by the entry of a small meteoroid into the Earth’s atmosphere. Imagine laying on a beach during the summer at night, looking up at the sea of stars, and then all of a sudden, the zip of a shooting star flashes across the sky. Shooting stars in the night sky are mesmerizing. Shooting-star leaders . . . not so mesmerizing.
Church history (and world history) is full of stories about talented people who started well and had great upside only to eventually crash and burn. Their downfall often has revolved around an insane pace, or ignorance about how to keep their emotional tank full.
But today I’m wondering how many leaders flame out because they surround themselves with people who are afraid to tell them the truth.
“Are you the kind of leader who punishes people—overtly or subtly—for speaking up and telling you things you don’t want to hear?” Susan Tardanico asks this compelling question in a 2012 Forbes article. Another way of asking her question is: do you surround yourself with people who tell you only what you want to hear? Is your inner circle comprised of yes-men or yes-women? If so, you’re in danger of becoming a shooting-star leader.
Proverbs 9:7-8 tells us: “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” In other words, how we respond to correction is a true reflection of our character. If we get defensive or abusive when people point out our misbehavior, we put ourselves at risk.
Proverbs 12:1 says bluntly: “He who hates correction is stupid.” Yikes.
If you’re not allowing someone to tell you the truth about your behavior, you’re walking in dangerous territory. You’re setting yourself up to fail. We all have blind spots, and we need truth-tellers to help us identify them. The more gifted you are, the more accountability you need.
Here’s the challenge: The older and/or more accomplished we get, the harder it seems for us to listen. The easier it seems to be defensive. Somewhere on our journey we can begin to believe we’ve seen it all and know it all. We treat honest feedback as an annoyance, an interruption of our schedule, or as an affront. “How dare they say that?” we argue. “Don’t they know how busy I am? How much stress I’m under?” If that resembles your inner dialogue—beware. You’re heading toward shooting star status.
So . . . how can we avoid becoming a shooting-star leader? How can we lead for the long haul without flaming out? Let me give you a few thoughts:
Admit we have blind spots
I’ll never forget my driver training instructor grunting 40+ years ago: “Check your blind spot Opalewski! Use your side-view mirrors!” Blind spots are areas of life where our view is obstructed. The problem is we can’t see our own blind spots. We need others to help us. Admitting we have blind spots is a positive step, and serves as preventive medicine for shooting-star-itis.
Invite brave people into our circle
Whether you pastor a church of 50 or 5000, whether you lead a start-up or are the CEO of a large corporation—you desperately need people in your inner circle, who when they speak, you listen. Friends and work peers who care enough to tell you the truth about you. People who aren’t intimidated by you.
These brave people serve as mirrors—helping us become aware of attitudes, thought patterns, and unhealthy behaviors sneaking up alongside us that threaten our well-being. If the people in your circle always suck up to you . . . affirm you . . . stroke you positively . . . you need to invite some new people into your circle.
Work on teachability
The longer you lead, the harder you have to fight to stay teachable. If you want to reduce your risk of flaming out, ask God to help you remain open to learning. The degree of our teachability today is an accurate predictor of how much growth will occur in our character and skill-set tomorrow. Teach-ability is an antidote for shooting star leadership.
So the next time you gaze up to the night sky, and see a shooting star, enjoy the view. And remember God hasn’t called you to flash brightly only for a moment. He wants you to burn brightly for a long time without flaming out.
Rooting and praying for you,