This past Friday evening my wife and I made our first ever trip to Sight & Sound Millennium Theater in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to see their production of Jonah. While the presentation was spectacularly staged and choreographed (including special effects, massive sets, and colorful costumes) the life lessons presented through the story are what makes this event so special.
Based on the biblical story, Jonah offers a more in-depth view of the prophet of Israel who decided to run from his appointed assignment. Many of Jonah’s decisions were based on his own selfish wishes and desires. Because his father had died at the hands of the people of Nineveh, he struggled to imagine himself delivering any news to the city, even bad news. Throughout the story Jonah persistently acts in a selfish and sometimes petulant manner, especially when his motives and aspirations differ from what God and others expect.
It isn’t difficult to draw some leadership comparisons between Jonah and many of today’s political and business leaders. Few persons in leadership positions seem ready to deliver bad news or to act with integrity when the path of a nation or corporation is at risk. Even when they do sometimes venture down the path of truth it is often with less than stellar results because, like Jonah, they may wish to disassociate from the actual consequences of their actions.
Jonah’s leadership approach involved lots of running. He tried to distance himself from his assignment by boarding a ship headed in the opposite direction from Nineveh. He runs from his responsibility to deal with personal pain and feelings of revenge. Later in the story he selfishly runs from his own lack of compassion and forgiveness by blaming his circumstances on a lowly worm.
What might you and I be running from as leaders? Are there past experiences we haven’t fully embraced because we didn’t like the outcome? Is our self-image too painful to fully reveal to others? Have we become so good at deflecting blame we no longer understand how to accept personal responsibility? Do we use lies and half-truths to justify our actions or inactions?
Jonah spent three solitary days in the belly of a giant fish to learn some of his most poignant life lessons, and even this experience didn’t transform everything in his life. Whatever we, as leaders, are called to do it never makes sense to run away from the difficult or uncertain decisions and outcomes we face. By confronting our fears, and courageously accepting responsibility, our leadership will earn the respect and trust of those we serve. Running away will only prolong our assignment, it won’t replace it with something less difficult.
The next time you face a challenging leadership task perhaps the best strategy is to run toward it instead of looking for excuses to head in the opposite direction.