no one else is coming
or, how you know you're THE leader
There’s a difference between being THE leader and A leader.
On January 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia - an Italian cruise ship - struck an underwater rock and sank off the coast of Tuscany. At the time of the accident, 4,252 crew and passengers were on the ship. 64 people were injured and 34 people lost their lives. Francesco Schettino, captain of the Concordia abandoned the ship while 300 passengers were still on board. He also refused to go back even after being ordered to do so.
This act of cowardice earned Schettino a manslaughter charge and 16 years in prison. He was widely reviled for his actions, and received 15 years for manslaughter and 1 year for abandoning his passengers.
In modern maritime law, the captain is always responsible for the ship, regardless of the condition that it is in. If the ship is sinking, the captain is required to coordinate all rescue operations from the ship. They are not required to put themselves in harm’s way, but they must be the last person to leave the ship. Many countries, including the United States consider it a crime for the captain to not be the last to leave the ship.
THE leader cares about their crew
A captain is not required to “go down” with the ship, but they must be the last to leave. The idea of the captain going down with the ship comes from Medieval Europe. As we know, ships were frequently filled with treasure and expensive goods from all over the world. When a captain sailed, these goods were entrusted to his care. Shipping crews faced all kinds of hazards that were perilous to the ship, its crew and cargo. The captain was given supreme authority to determine what would happen with everything, and everyone on board. Especially in the event of a crisis.
The captain decided where to go and what to do with the ship. The captain decided to steer into a storm or avoid a storm.The captain decided when it was time to throw cargo overboard to prevent the ship from sinking in the midst of a disaster. The captain decided when hope was lost and the ship needed to be abandoned. The captain wasn’t supposed to die. In fact, after the ship was abandoned, the captain often needed to account for all cargo remaining on the ship and report back to insurers and the cargo owners. The captain also had to account for the entire crew and watch where they went as they abandoned the ship.
A captain’s main obligation was to his passengers and crew. The only way to successfully coordinate an evacuation was from the ship itself. He needed to see as many people as possible get off the ship safely.
On the night of February 6, 1943, the submarine, USS Growler approached a Japanese convoy stealthily for a surface attack. A ship spotted the Growler and made a beeline to ram them. They were struck by the ship at 17 knots (20 mph) and their forward torpedo tubes were disabled.
The Japanese boat crew aimed a barrage of machine gun fire at the bridge and killed a junior officer and a lookout. The ship’s commander, Howard W. Gilmore was wounded as well. He commanded his men to clear the bridge and drop down the hatch into the submarine. Commander Gilmore’s last words were “take her down!” and he closed the hatch, never to be seen again. The crew of the Growler were saved by their captain’s last order and Commander Gilmore was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
A leader cares about themselves
The difference between leaders like Francesco Schettino and Howard Gilmore is one simple thing.
Schettino thought about what was best for him. Gilmore thought about what was best for his crew.
THE leader is different from A leader.
A leader often needs backup. They have good reasons to get off the ship. They’re tired, they have a different vision, they’re burnt out, they have a better opportunity. Pick your excuse, they have one. Its not that these things aren’t valid reasons. But these are the people who live life as if someone else is coming.
Someone else will come to parent their children. Someone else will come to pastor their church. Someone else will come to do their job. They “feel led” to get off the ship. Are their reasons valid? Sure. After all, they’re just A leader. They know the show will go on without them. Maybe they don’t know that. They really don’t seem to care that much either way.
Someone will come save them. Their parents, friends, boss, spouse, the government, Superman, the Holy Ghost, the internet. Someone else has the responsibility to save them. People go into student loan debt that no one required them to get. And they expect someone to come rescue them from their decision to get debt. In many ways, people dig their own holes and think they need someone to come with a ladder to get them out. If you dug the hole, you can figure a way out. I promise. Sometimes ignorance causes us to make wrong choices that we didn’t know were wrong.
Being ignorant doesn’t make you innocent.
They “can’t do it anymore” because they “didn’t sign up for this.” They have “done all they can do” and its really not their fault.
THE leader knows no one else is coming
There are some people who don’t leave. Some people who know that they have no backup. They cannot wait for reinforcements, they are the reinforcements. Regardless of how they feel, what their therapist says, or how hard it gets, they stay on the ship. They have a lot of good reasons to leave. But without them, the ship goes down.
It has to be them. Its sink or swim. Do or die. No one else is coming. They are the first and last line of defense. There is no plan b for THE leader. They are everyone else’s plan b. They’re either making it happen, or its not happening. And it has to happen. Someone has to do it, whatever “it” is. THE leader knows that it is them.
are you THE leader or A leader?
Many of us aspire to be the captain. We don’t want to be A leader, we want to be THE leader. We want to be the boss, or our own boss. It’s like when you’re in high school and you can’t wait to live on your own, have your own job and “be free.” At least, I felt that way. I thought being THE leader would include rights, privileges and all sorts of entitlements. The captain’s quarters look nice.
I didn’t realize that wanting to be THE leader meant that I became everyone else’s backup plan. Now I do. Dr. Robi Sonderegger, one of my great friends says it this way: “As your responsibilities increase, your rights decrease. As your rights increase, your responsibilities decrease.”
Here’s some simple questions to know whether you’re THE leader or not. Are you entitled to things? Do you have a “right” to time off, a raise, support from your boss/team, a vacation, work/life balance, mental health days or something else? Congratulations, you are not THE leader.
I wish this wasn’t true. Because I don’t revel in it. I definitely don’t enjoy it.
I’ve heard people mention leadership as “lonely.” Good leaders aren’t lonely in the sense that they don’t have friends or relationships. Good leaders are alone in that they are willing to do what no one else does, go where no one else goes, and stay where no one else stays. That’s what ultimately makes them THE leader. That’s what builds credibility. But it’s also what requires them to stay on the ship when everyone else gets off.
A leader does what they want to do.
A leader will do what they want to do, when they want to do it and expect you to pay them well for it. They spend a lot of time talking about and focusing on their “passions” or “best and highest use.” They are really busy and don’t often have time to help you. And it’s hardly ever their fault when something doesn’t happen. A leader will carry their weight when they want to. They don’t have the strength to help with the weight of others. They’ll work hard when they are passionate or feel like their job is important enough. As long as it’s “worth it” you can count on A leader to do it.
THE leader does what must be done.
THE leader is the chief ditch digger. They do the things that must be done, when they must be done. They don’t have the luxury of being concerned about their “passions” or “best and highest use.” They don’t get to say they “don’t have the bandwidth” for something. They know that if they don’t do it, it won’t happen. So they make it happen. They stop the buck, they don’t pass it. THE leader doesn’t just carry their weight, they help carry the weight of others.
In 2 Samuel 23:11-12, the Bible describes this scene //
“Next in rank was Shammah son of Agee from Harar. One time the Philistines gathered at Lehi and attacked the Israelites in a field full of lentils. The Israelite army fled, but Shammah held his ground in the middle of the field and beat back the Philistines. So the LORD brought about a great victory.”
Shammah was THE leader. He beat an army by himself because it had to be done.
A leader goes where they want to go.
A leader is looking for an opportunity. A leader is faithful as long as it makes sense and the carrot gets dangled. A leader will talk about “not quitting” as long as it is about not quitting on “their dreams.” It’s really not that special to not quit on things that are all about you. Anyone can do that. Unfortunately, many people I know have quit as soon as they realized they weren’t going to get the opportunity they wanted or felt they deserved. You know you’re A leader when you give in to opposition. Leave when others leave. And go elsewhere when a situation doesn’t meet your expectations.
THE leader goes where no one else goes.
THE leader is looking for a mission more than an opportunity. THE leader is the kind of person who will go to the places other people other people are unwilling to go. That doesn’t always mean a physical location. Many times that means that they will go to a place within themselves that no one else is willing to go. Sometimes it means that they keep showing up, even when other people don’t. One of my life scriptures is Proverbs 3:3-6 //
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
The Hebrew word for faithfulness is אֱמֶת (emet). It means faithfulness, certainty, dependability and realness. To be faithful means that you don’t quit. It means you are dependable. It means you are authentic and can be counted on. What should we be faithful to? Whatever we decide to be a part of. THE leader is faithful. THE leader will talk about “not quitting” because they are a ride or die. It takes a real one to not quit on the mission that isn’t about them. Emet means there’s nothing that can stop you from showing up tomorrow. That’s what THE leader does.
I love the way Hebrews 12 describes endurance. ὑπομένω // hypomeno - to stay when others have left, to stand your ground, to stay in place beyond an expected point in time, to maintain belief and a course of action in spite of opposition.
You know you’re THE leader when you stay longer than others will, longer than you expected, and continue to believe the best in spite of opposition.
Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, But who can find a faithful man?
// Proverbs 20:6
THE leader is faithful. A leader is good at talking about being faithful.
THE leader stays when everyone leaves. A leader leaves when it’s not worth it.
In John 6, Jesus says something that the Bible calls a “hard saying.” And those that followed him started to complain about what he said. John 6:64-69 goes on to say this:
‘ “But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” ‘
In 1519, when a Spanish expedition led by Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico. Cortés knew his crew was already exhausted after the long sea journey, but he had to motivate them to succeed in the new land. So he ordered that their ships be burned. There was nowhere else to go. No one was coming to save them. They would complete their mission or die trying. Two years later he conquered Mexico in the name of Spain.
THE leader burns the ships. A leader always has an escape plan.
If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small. // Proverbs 24:10
THE leader does not leave when it gets dangerous or unsafe. A leader is not strong enough to endure the difficulty. If we quit something, we need to admit to ourselves that we failed under pressure.
The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked. // Proverbs 24:16
When Proverbs 24 talks about wickedness, it simply means “someone who does the wrong thing.” THE leader always understands that quitting is the wrong thing. A leader experiences difficulty and their response is most often summarized in one word. “nope.”
what to do when no one else is coming
Leadership may often make us feel alone like I described earlier, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m writing this during a particularly difficult time in my life and leadership where I feel like I am responsible for a lot and no one else is coming. The ship isn’t sinking. In fact, it’s going better than ever. But people have a lot of excuses to not be THE leader. And Benjamin Franklin said “he that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” I’ve found that to be true.
There are people in my life right now who could help me, but they are otherwise disposed. Or they simply don’t want to. Or they don’t have the maturity or capacity to do what THE leader needs to do. There’s a lot of good (and bad) reasons for us to feel alone as leaders. Like we’re the ones holding everything together by ourselves.
We know we cannot abandon the ship, but we can’t hold it together on our own.
King David experienced this. The city of Ziklag was raided by the Amalekites and they razed the city and took all the women and children of David and his men captive.
“And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” // 1 Samuel 30:6
These people blamed David for what happened to them. Maybe you’re surrounded by bitterness. Maybe you’re bitter yourself. You know what David did? He didn’t get insecure and ask everyone to encourage him. He didn’t quit. He didn’t jump off the ship and leave everyone to themselves. In the midst of his own personal distress, and the distress of those around him, he encouraged himself.
I was told recently by someone close to me: “If your dad would have died when he had a heart attack, I think you would have killed the church by now.”
This was by a person who I was - and still am - very close to. I don’t know if that person has ever felt like stoning me, but it felt pretty close to it when they said that. Sticks and stones may break my bones, and those words really hurt me.
Why would they say that? They felt I wasn’t leading in the right direction or making the right decisions. They felt that I didn’t have the strength, or ability to operate in the role I had been given.
My response? “I may not be the right one, but I’m the one right now.”
What does that mean? Regardless of what I am and what I’m not, I’ve decided to be THE leader. I’ve decided to be THE leader in my family, THE leader in my professional life, THE leader everywhere I happen to be. I’ve done that, and a lot of other people in our church have too.
A leader needs people to encourage them. THE leader encourages themselves in the Lord. Sometimes the only person that is going to encourage you is God. And that’s all that you need. If God has made you THE leader, you’re not on your own. It’s a privilege. You’re not better than anyone else, but you are certainly more capable. God is going to give you everything you need right when you need it. You’ve got what it takes. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be the captain. You’re the captain of your business, your family, your life.
You might not be the “right one”, but you’re the one right now. No one else is coming. You’re all you’ve got. Stay on the ship and do what you know you must do. You’re the captain as soon as you decide to be.
What happened with David?
David and his men rushed in among them and slaughtered them throughout that night and the entire next day until evening. None of the Amalekites escaped except 400 young men who fled on camels. David got back everything the Amalekites had taken, and he rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing: small or great, son or daughter, nor anything else that had been taken. David brought everything back.
// 1 Samuel 30:17-19