The Myth of Our Own Importance

November 16, 2016 — 5 Comments
Getting loaded into the ambulance after my injury on the soccer field

Not a fun moment…

A collision on the soccer field didn’t just shatter my ankle—it shattered the myth of my own importance.

As paramedics hastily carried me off of the field on a stretcher last month, my frantic mind was racing. It seemed like my accident couldn’t have come at a worse time. In only 12 hours, I was scheduled to be on a plane to Dallas, then Houston, then Raleigh. A few days later, I was slated to deliver a talk in Santa Barbara, and then Orange County. With my ankle precariously bent at an angle that the human ankle was never designed to bend, it was instantaneously clear that I was going to miss our largest events of the year.

“Will we have to cancel the events?” I wondered.

Before I had even been discharged from the hospital, my colleagues and friends began responding with thoughtful action. Within a matter of hours, my flights had been canceled, and plans had been set in motion for team members to step in and take my place at each event. With grace and incredible speed, these friends deftly agreed to cover all of my responsibilities.

As the following weeks of events unfolded, while I kept my ankle elevated on the couch, the results exceeded previous years’. Both HOPE International and the rest of the world kept on spinning.

After one event, I received a text that read, “Of course you were missed by those of us who have a personal love for you and your family, but it was evident this morning that others can equally do the job.” In other words, We missed you. But everything went beautifully without you.

Listening to the response from those in attendance at each event, it’s clear that my colleagues didn’t simply do the job; they knocked it out of the park.

My injury turned into one of the most freeing moments of my time at HOPE. I know that our mission would undoubtedly carry on with excellence when the time comes for my transition.

I believe it’s a high compliment a leader could ever receive in the midst of a transition would be if everyone—employees, outgoing CEO, incoming CEO, management, and clients—all thought, This isn’t such a big deal.

Healthy organizations refuse to become dependent on any one person. They build teams with multiple people who are each ready to step up at any moment.

My guess is that, due to a perilous cocktail of pride and lack of planning, few organizations are well-prepared for a leader’s transition. In fact, a 2011 study by CompassPoint reports that “just 17% of organizations have a documented succession plan.” It takes courage and humility for leaders to prepare for the moment when they transition, to ensure that, in a way, their absence is not felt.

Perhaps part of the reason that we don’t plan for what comes next is that we like to be needed. The idea that we are somehow indispensable to the mission feels good. Yet it is critical that we grapple with the fact that placing our egos over the mission inevitably sabotages long-term organizational impact.

If we deeply care about the mission of our organization, we will care deeply about what will happen when we’re suddenly out of the game. Perhaps one of the healthiest things we could do as leaders would be to shatter the illusion of our own importance.

(And to my coworkers, I hope to continue serving with you for years to come . . . but when it’s time to transition, there is no question in my mind that HOPE’s mission will continue! What an honor it is to serve with you.)

5 responses to The Myth of Our Own Importance

  1. This could not have come at a better time as I contemplate a life changing transition. Philippians 4 tells us not to be anxious about anything. You have cast God’s vision and led admirably. Thanks for your heart and your leadership at Hope. Blessings to you and your family.

  2. This is incredibly timely and just the lesson God is teaching me as I lie here in my recliner with my right ankle pieced back together and healing. I was spiraling out of control with stressful/emotional work of our mission center when I took a much needed vacation with my girlfriends, only to break my ankle on a rocky step. In the last four weeks, the day-to-day operations and two major events have been run excellently without me. Another major substitution is coming up next week and I know that God’s purposes will succeed. This time of “forced Sabbath” has been a time of healing more than broken bones. When pride is broken, it’s pretty painful. But the healing of our minds and souls can set us back on track to being the humble servants that God can use. I have one opportunity to heal well. I intend to. Blessings and healing to you, too. Thank you for this piece!

  3. It takes great wisdom to see the hidden truths woven into the fabric of our daily lives. It requires that we see life not only as a series of circumstantial events, strung together by theme or common purpose; but rather as an opportunity to mine riches of truths. While I realize it wasn’t your primary theme, what’s resonated with me is the reminder to consider one’s story in light of a greater perspective. It’s your own Allegory of the Cave. Plato would be proud.

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