Leading amidst chaos

Peter Chao // April 26, 2019, 5:55 pm


Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash.

When things go wrong, our instinctive reaction is fear.

The late Princeton psychologist, Albert Hadley Cantril Jr, pointed out that social panic occurs when large groups of people cannot discern reliable sources of advice from unreliable ones.

In an economic meltdown, fear grips the world. As the pundits give contradictory opinions, our technological sophistication intensifies our fears by enabling people to check on their investments every few minutes.

A beacon in the chaos

And when the anticipatory meets the retrospective, fear turns into panic.

We become anticipatory when we think something terrible is going to happen. We sink into the retrospective when we regret that we did not act earlier. That is how swimmers who are pulled to sea by a rip current instinctively swim to shore against the current and end up exhausting themselves and drowning.

In bad times, only a clear voice of authority and assurance can calm nerves so we can respond appropriately and constructively.

Compulsion is a sign we are enslaved by the form but oblivious to the substance.

The apostle Peter was writing to Christians scattered across Asia Minor who were living in perilous times. Their lives were threatened because of their faith.

Christians were living in a society ignorant of God, which misunderstood believers and despised Christian practices. The apostle warned that the devil “prowls like a roaring lion”. (1 Peter 5:8)

In such a season of fear and confusion there was a need for leadership that was reliable.

Peter wrote: “I have a special concern for you church leaders … that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd.” (1 Peter 5:1-2)

Leaders with authority can be discerned by their behaviour and motivation.

1. A willingness to serve

Peter indicates that trusted leaders are willing to serve; they are not compelled by others or circumstances: “Not because you have to, but because you want to please God.” (1 Peter 5:2)

Compulsion is a sign we are enslaved by the form but oblivious to the substance.

The only way to serve willingly is out of gratitude and a witness of Christ’s suffering.

Some leaders are compelled by a sense of duty. They perform their tasks grudgingly, and their sulky demeanor does not inspire participation from others. Their faithfulness is held hostage by perfunctory obligation blind to purpose and meaning.

Frequently, they do the least to comply with the minimum of requirements. They would never go the extra mile or give their extended attention and care.

The only way to serve willingly is out of gratitude. Peter’s stance is from being a witness of Christ’s suffering. He must have recalled when the Lord’s eyes met his after he had betrayed Christ the third time before a slave girl. (Luke 22:61)

Despite the betrayal, Christ gave Peter a personal interview after His resurrection. Three times the Lord inquired, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-19)

With his heart laid bare before Christ, Peter’s motivation to serve was in response to the restoring love and grace of the risen Lord. The grateful heart serves willingly, compelled only by love for Christ and His people.

2. Self-giving, not self-serving

Leaders earn their authority when they are not self-serving but self- giving, “not calculating what you can get out of it but eager to serve”. (1 Peter 5:2)

Self-serving leaders hoard the tangibles while paying lip service to the noble.

There are too many leaders who plunder their countries’ resources and manipulate people and situations for personal benefit. They ask: “What’s in it for me?” while pondering how to discharge their leadership responsibilities.

There are pastors who look after only the wealthy in hope of fiscal reward and leaders who promote agendas for personal returns. They have a streak of meanness that overestimates their personal value and contribution on the balance sheet of human interaction.

The refrain “I deserve more or better” is replayed continuously in the calculative mind of the self-serving leader. The same calculator undervalues and discounts the worth of others and their contributions.

Peter’s exhortation describes the person who helps himself to a double portion of food before his guests have a chance to a first helping. It also points to a person who goes to the theatre only when he can get a free ticket or to one who gets his family to pay for his vacation when he can afford it. It is the host who waters the wine so the party would not cost him too much.

Self-giving matures into self-sacrifice, the ultimate example of which is modelled by Christ.

Self-serving leaders hoard the tangibles while paying lip service to the noble.

In contrast, the self-giving leader is so desirous to meet the needs of her people that she is willing to make available all resources, including material ones, to do so.

He is motivated by a deep desire to bless others, and sees his personal resources as a trust from God rather than a stockpile for personal gratification or a hedge against rainy days.

Self-giving matures into self-sacrifice, the ultimate example of which is modelled by Christ. When a leader is sacrificial, the motivation to follow him or her is exponentially higher.

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3. Showing the way forward

Peter says the leader with authority does “not bossily tell others what to do, but tenderly shows them the way”. (1 Peter 5:3)

For some, prestige and power are more desirable than money. Milton’s Satan thought it better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven!

The leader with authority leads from the front and blazes the trail so others may follow.

The desire to be master and commander turns an insecure person into a tyrant and despot. Such a leader’s agenda is paramount, and no consideration is given to others’ needs and welfare. He exploits people and manipulates situations to fulfill his purposes.

She can even provide spiritual justification for her self-aggrandisement. He directs people to do what he himself is unable or unwilling to do.

On the contrary, if a leader is exemplary and competent, he will have the authority to take risks in difficult times and others will make sacrifices to stand with him. The leader with authority leads from the front, shows the way forward and blazes the trail so others may follow.

Alexander the Great of Macedonia led his army to overcome numerically stronger forces, conquering the then-known world in 11 years after he ascended the Greek throne, after his father, Philip II, was assassinated. He felt he could not require his men to risk their lives unless he was willing to put his life on the line too.

The sight of Alexander leading the charge so inspired his soldiers that no military force could withstand them.

See-through effect

Leading by example necessitates transparency.

A leader honest about his struggles can be tender because of his experience with God’s grace.

Leaders who preserve a façade of strength and imperviousness only encourage hypocrisy. They hide and excuse their own weaknesses while demanding perfection from their followers in brutal and punishing ways.

Instead, a leader honest about his struggles can be tender because of his experience with God’s grace. He can demonstrate what it means to drink from the fountain of grace and give hope to followers facing challenges in their own lives.

Ironically, people respect leaders who are honest about their struggles and follow those whose intentions are transparent.

When things go wrong, there is confusion with the clamour of conflicting voices.

Only those who can speak with clarity, who step out to pave the way and risk their own resources and lives, will have the authority to lead.

Only leaders with authority will inspire confidence to overcome the challenges that threaten our well-being and all that is important to us.

This article is an excerpt from the book, Ponderings En Route (Singapore, Eagles Communications, 2018), and is republished with permission. The book is available for purchase at www.eagles.org.sg.

About the author

Peter Chao

The founder of Eagles Communications, Peter is a persuasive and captivating public speaker, and is equally personable, incisive and nurturing in his role as mentor and coach to leaders of corporations. He received his graduate training at Peter F Drucker and Masatoshi Ito School of Management, Claremont Graduate University, California.