Thriving Plants and Thriving Leaders
In my office, I have a peace lily that we saved from my dad’s memorial service more than 14 years ago. This common house plant represents many memories because of the sentimental value it holds. However, this plant has had its share of “trials” over the years. It used to sit in a planter pot in my mom’s dining area by her back door. Many kids, grandkids, and great grandkids have tugged on it, walked past it, kicked it, and even knocked it over a time or two.
During vacations or semester breaks, the poor plant has gone for days without water and/or sunlight. Upon returning to the office, the leaves on the lily have drooped, turned yellow (from lack of light) or begun to turn black from lack of sufficient moisture. However, after a nice slow watering, the opening of the blinds, and a little tender loving care from pruning, the plant springs back to a vibrant green, the leaves straighten out and lift and the plant begins to bloom again.
Once the sufficient water and sunlight are provided, the plant moves from a state of simply surviving to thriving! It blooms. The leaves are vibrant green. New growth is evident, and it bears fruit.
Thinking of this plant reminds me of Psalm 1:3 where the righteous are compared to, “… a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”
So, how does this reflection on a thriving lily apply to us as leaders?
So, how does this reflection on a thriving lily apply to us as leaders? Well, what are the differences between a leader who is surviving and one who is thriving? Plenty! Christian leaders who are simply surviving may feel like my poor house plant… wilted, dried up, withering and fruitless. They feel that the trials of their lives as leaders are taking their toll. They’ve been taken advantage of, kicked around, tugged on and neglected. They are simply trying to survive and hope for better days before it’s too late.
Thriving leaders, however, are much different! While they may face similar trials, they are first and foremost dedicated to Jesus and do things to bring glory to him. They are, above all, righteous and mature in their leadership. Psalm 92:12-15 says,
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, 'The LORD is upright, he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.'”
Three Indicators of Thriving Leaders
- Thriving leaders view the trials of life differently than a surviving leader. Thriving leaders allow God to establish them with deep roots of faith that offer strength to endure the violent storms and trials of life. They look for opportunities to allow God to continue to be glorified and produce fruit in their ministry or organization. They aren’t like the Apostle Peter who took his eyes off Jesus while walking on the water. Peter quickly went from thriving as a water-walker to a survivor. Thriving leaders are mature and strong in their faith, regardless of the storms raging around them.
- Thriving leaders look for the good in others. Too often, leaders believe that they should be critics or managers of behavior, rather than leaders of what they hope to achieve or become. While constructive criticism, feedback, and management skills are necessary, leaders must lead the way in a positive direction. Looking for the positive aspects in others, things that are working, or behavior that is exemplary, should be evident in the everyday life of a thriving leader. Growing the leadership capacity in others, while also setting the tone and example in an organization, is essential so those who are following the leader know exactly what to do and where to focus their energies. Are people allowed to utilize their gifts in the workplace? Are they encouraged to grow and develop their gifts both spiritually and professionally? In others words, a thriving leader must set the appropriate climate for the organization so others can grow spiritually and professionally. How many times do people get stuck in a certain position because that was the position they were hired to do? Granted, organizations need folks to do their job, but are they also allowed to grow within the organization?
- Thriving leaders bear fruit (staying with the analogy of the plant.) If there exists a deep root system in the leader from being grounded in the Word of God, and if the climate and the organizational environment are optimal for personnel to grow and work according to their gifts, then organizations can not only survive, but thrive.
Psalm 119:1 says, “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to law of the LORD.”
Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
The psalmist in verses 36 to 37 of the same Psalm also cries out, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”
John 15:5 offers the words of Jesus who reminded us to bear fruit, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit...”
A Christian leader who is thriving is focused wholly on Jesus, striving to bring glory to God alone.
A Christian leader who is thriving is focused wholly on Jesus, striving to bring glory to God alone. The Word of God must be hidden deeply in our hearts so we can resist the temptations of distractions and worthless things. God will work in us, through his Word, to help us bear fruit. He does this by utilizing not only our gifts of leadership, but the spiritual gifts of those we work with.
Do you want your organization and ministry to be successful? The obvious answer is “Of course!” Do we take time daily to let the Word of God root us, nourish us, grow us into his leaders? Well... maybe... sometimes. The correct answer should be, “Every day!” Are you bothered by distractions and worthless things? Root yourself deeply in his Word.
The key to being a servant leader who is bearing fruit and serving God first and others second, is taking the time to hide God’s Word in our hearts. We must allow God to be our leader before we lead others.
Proverbs 16:3 reminds us of this truth, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish you plans.” How often we forget to do this and then wonder why a new program didn’t succeed or the plans we had to prosper failed to meet our expectations.
Like most houseplants, all servant leaders must go through times of watering, pruning, and trials that may take a small toll on us. However, firmly established roots will not only allow us to survive, but also to thrive! Bear fruit my friends. Thrive!
Dr. Kirk D. Mallette serves as Dean of Graduate Studies at York College in York, Nebraska. He also serves as an elder in his local congregation, and will move into the position of Outreach Minister in May of this year upon retirement from York College. He and his wife, Marcie, also serve on the worship team and he teaches various Bible Studies.