Heroes, Villains and Guides

Leadership, consciously or unconsciously, is often thought in terms of the leader as a kind of hero! The leader must win the day. When he or she does, they are recognized as the hero.  

This heroic view of leadership adds huge pressure to the already challenging task of leadership. Heroes must win! It also leads to the temptation for a pastor to be seen as a celebrity or superhero. Celebrity status comes along with being a hero. Heroes love to hear people say; “We couldn’t have done it without you.” There’s so much pressure on the hero – just watch any superhero movie!

I was recently listening to a podcast by Donald Miller and Andy Stanley (Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – 1/2/19). You might know Donald Miller as an author (Blue Like Jazz, Building a Story Brand, etc.) and the founder of Story Brand. Miller has created his ministry and writings around the idea of stories. In the podcast, Miller talked about the basics of all stories and the key main characters in a story. Let me share some of his insights and thoughts on the story motif:

In any great story there is a hero, villain and guide. Think of the original Star Wars movies – Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Yoda. Test it out on the newer superhero movies or just about any story. The villain is the worst in the story. The hero is the second “worst!” Why would we even think that? He’s the hero and that means he’s should be thought of as, well…. the hero! But the hero creates the story because it’s a story of the hero’s failings, doubts, struggles, and temptations. The hero almost always hurts good people on their journey to a rebound and final victory.

But there’s no rebound or victory without the guide who helps the hero overcome his shortcomings and “win.” Think Yoda! There’s no mistaking that Yoda is a kind of spiritual master guide who understands the light and dark sides of the Force.

I’ve discovered in myself at times and in many leaders the mistaken idea that we are to be the hero in the story that God is writing through us. It’s one of the greatest temptations of being a leader. If we do well, we are tempted to see ourselves as a hero. Others will see us as the hero. That offers the temptation to be the celebrity. It all feels good!

Some leaders, right from the start, seek to be the hero and will manipulate life to fit that. For others, the hero role sneaks up on them. The hero role shows up in various forms of pride. The hero-leader is often the first and last to speak. The hero-leader thinks they have to have all the answers and solutions to all the problems. Hero-leaders tends to be focused on how they are performing and struggles to read the room well. Heroes always are looking for validation, attention and position. Heroes are often over-extended, worn out, tired, and empty because the hero has to save the day for everyone and in the end, they think it all falls on their shoulders. Pride is always the greatest temptation and downfall of the hero-leader.

True leaders are more of a guide than a hero (but don’t call yourself Yoda!). The very nature of leadership according to Jesus and the whole New Testament is that of being a servant leaders. A servant leader is about one thing – the success and well being of those they are serving! A leader who is servant first is looking at how he or she can help everyone else be successful. Servants are more in the background than always being in the foreground. Behind the scenes, they want to make others the heroes who, in fact, win the day!

There were people in Jesus’ day that wanted him to be the hero. They wanted to make him king (John 6:15). They wanted a human Messiah-king to heroically overthrow the Romans (The Triumphal Entry). Except he does everything to keep from being the traditional human hero. Yes, he is God. He was present at the creation of the universe. He knows all, is not hindered by time, space, or anything. He has all the abilities of being the super superhero! Yet, he humbles himself to become a servant (Philippians 2:6-8). He goes from sitting as king of the universe to take on the position of a lowly human being. He is a leader, he’s just not looking to be made king or hero. He was never about status or honor.

Jesus practiced his leadership by preparing twelve apostles to change the world. Jesus was more a guide than being one trying to be the hero. He gave his life to launch a movement to save and change the world. He even told his disciples that they would do greater things than himself (John 14:12-14 – this idea always blows me away). He promised to send back the Holy Spirit to do what?…guide us! At the end he gave us the great commission because it was others who would do that work with and through him.

Be honest with yourself. What are you seeking? What’s your view of being a leader? Who are you really in your leadership role? Are you seeking to be the hero or intentionally choosing to be the servant who guides others to success? Who, right now, are you investing in to be better, successful and effective? Who are you guiding and mentoring? These are foundational and sobering questions. Hero or guide?

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