Never Go Wrong Going Low

Try searching for a leadership book on Amazon some time. What you’ll find is a treasure-trove of some 100,000 book titles, all pushing their particular take on the mysterious keys to leadership.


There’s plenty of books on the subject, a direct result of a hungry reading public, seemingly starved for it. There’s nothing wrong with leaders. I consider myself one. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about being a leadership learner either. The world needs better leaders. In fact, one could argue the world faces a crisis in the category–a global dearth of skilled trailblazers. That being true, perhaps we need those 100,000 titles. Or, maybe we don’t.

Something’s broken in how we look at this leadership thing. Maybe our hunger to dig up bigger leaders has actually unearthed their darker angels. We’ve all seen the grizzly undercarriage of this locomotive. You may have been run over by it. Maybe you’ve done the driving. Either way, there’s no shortage of leadership horror stories for us to share with one another.

What’s at the center of most citizens in Leadership World is the clamor to influence wider, build bigger and climb higher. It’s a drive to lead more people, get more production out of the resources around you, and become the bigger dog. There’s a lot of competitiveness in most leaders I know. We tend to treat people as commodities to be used, rather than gifts to be stewarded. Leadership can devolve quickly into emperorship. And God forbid two emperors start eye-ballng the same territory. The dog-fight that always follows, and the fur that always flies, will prove the better man or woman. The last dog standing always wins, right?

Isn’t that the sub-plot of most leadership books you read? How do I win more? How do I accomplish more? How do I build my brand or my portfolio or my renown?

But it isn’t working—in the long run. Short term victories are ending up in losing seasons for many leaders and the circles that follow them. Maybe we need a different paradigm. Maybe what we’ve been doing is building leadership with the wrong blueprint, the wrong model. Maybe, we need a different Book.

Jesus is the most influential leader the world has ever known. His book is history’s best-seller, going away. But what He modeled in leadership left just about everyone in His circle scratching their heads. He said if you wanted to be great (in the real Kingdom), you had be a servant. He showed that real Lordship didn’t arrive on a white, kingly stallion, but on a lowly donkey. When people hurled insults at Him, He made no retaliation. When they made threats, He held His tongue. When given the choice of personal advantage or self-sacrifice, He always chose the humble path. He always subordinated His preferences to His Father’s plan.

There was (and is) something compelling about the meekness of Jesus. He had all power at His disposal, yet restrained Himself. He exchanged the wealth of Heaven for the poverty of earth, all so He could give to you and me. He experienced loss, so you and I could win. And because He allowed Himself to be brought low, you and I are lifted up.

Jesus drew up a different blueprint for real leadership. And it’s one that has stood the test of the centuries. Try it on for size. You can never go wrong by going low. When you and I put on the Christ-garment of humility and servitude and lead from that posture, what we will glean is the fruit that only His plan can produce. You’ll be set free to enjoy true generosity. You’ll encounter the freedom that comes from selflessness. Any other picture of leadership is just a warped facsimile of the Jesus-original.

When you experience the counter-intuitive truth that your life is made better when you help other people win, you’ll discover what tens of thousands of the world’s books have failed to calculate: that there is richness and fulfillment in leading from bottom. As you follow the model of Christ, and take your personal descent into greatness, let hope rise, knowing that what awaits you is a reward you could never build for yourself. It’s buried beneath your feet as a leader. Dig down deep and lift the ones you’re leading along the way. Your personal greatness will be defined by how fully and how consistently you gave yourself away. Because when it comes to leadership and influence that really matters, you can never go wrong going low.

Hope Rising

My family and I took a trip to Palm Springs not too long ago. We got a good deal on a timeshare and quickly learned why our vacation was considered “off-season.” The temperature was hot—really hot. It was north of 110 degrees hot. But we immersed ourselves in the pool, got a steady diet of air conditioning and had a great time.


One afternoon, we decided we really wanted to beat the heat. We had heard from some friends about a cool excursion called the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Everyone we talked to said that this daytrip was a must.

We gathered up the kids and headed to the Tram Base Station a few miles away. Elevation: 2000 feet. Temperature: 100 degrees.

As soon as we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, my wife began to renege. What had sounded like a great idea to her earlier in the day, now melted into a malaise of nausea upon seeing the nearly vertical grade we were about to climb. You see, this tram ride just so happens to be the world’s second steepest tramway.

My children were undeterred. Turns out, peer pressure’s got nothing on “Kid Pressure,” and my wife was feeling it. All four of our kids jumped and squealed with excitement as we neared the entrance. There would be no going back for Mom. She emboldened her faith by examining the cable display and counting the steel lines that would hold our lives in their hands.

As we lifted off from the base station, the excitement only grew. We seemed to soar above the valley floor, higher and higher. The views were incredible; the sheer rock face was incredibly intimidating. Up, up, up we climbed. As we did, you couldn’t help but notice the breathtaking views. And we began to notice something more subtle wafting through the open windows: cooler air. The higher we went, the cooler the air became–the more magnificent the vista grew.

When we arrived at the summit ten minutes later, it was as though the entire world had changed. What we had left at the bottom was sand and scrub brush and molten temperatures. The top greeted us with a forest of trees and trails and greenery from out of nowhere. Oh, and it was 35 degrees cooler too. Elevation: 8500 feet.  Temperature: 65 degrees.

We spent the entire afternoon exploring and investigating trails and rock formations, plants and animals. I’ll be honest, we spent a fair amount of time just throwing rocks too. But as we loaded up in the tram to make our descent to the base station, I considered my life.

kid-looking-upThis little, ten-minute ride had reminded me that even when I find myself in the place of difficulty, the place of desolation—the desert places, I need to believe something. When life brings the heat and I’m standing in the furnace of my pain, I need to hang on to something. I need to recognize that scrub brush and heat are naturally occurring elements of the valley, especially the lowest ones. But if I’ll look up, maybe I’ll see a place that looks very different.

The higher hope rises, the more beautiful the perspective. It took the second-steepest tram ride in the world to bring that into bold detail for me. My life is a lot like that tramway. It’s hot in the valley. But the higher hope rises in my life, the more beautiful my perspective becomes.

That’s why I need to live life looking up. There is a vista, sometimes right above my head, where I can see farther. There is an outcrop, often just above the horizon, where cooler winds have soothed the searing heat. There is a mountain that Hope built. I need only look up and see it. Christ, my Hope, stands on high places, calling me to lift my countenance. The higher I allow His great hope to rise in my life, the more refreshed, the more powerful, the more beautiful the perspective.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

(Psalm 121:1-2 NIV)