I didn’t grow up with a very positive image of myself, and being the youngest of three, I certainly didn’t see myself as a leader. My father was a good man, but not very adept at the skills of helping a young boy develop confidence. In fact, I can actually remember the one time my father told me that I had done a good job. I was probably eight years old, and I was thrilled at his postive feedback about my accomplishments. In addition to the lack of positive feedback from my father, I grew up in a church that taught that you could never be too sure whether God loved you. If you were good enough, then you might slip by the burning fires of hell and into heaven. Well, I knew I wasn’t very good, so I was sure I must be damned.
I thought the best thing for me was to get away from home as early as possible and to begin charting my own course in life. At eighteen years of age I enrolled in my denomination’s version of seminary in order to study the Word and become a preacher. I wanted to help others “slip by” the coming damnation.
Four things happened to me in the following five years that changed the course of my life. One, I reconnected with my childhood sweetheart and we married. I was blown away that Terry would chose me. I still believe that I married up and am grateful every day that she is still the love of my life. I have probably learned more about love and grace from her than from any other source. In fact, her love and forgiveness are experiences of grace that continue to help me more fully understand God’s unconditional love.
Secondly, I met my father-in-law, who believed I could do anything he thought I could. He constantly encouraged me to be positive and step out of my comfort zone. He pushed me to speak, teach and lead, and I stepped up. That push was all I needed to get started pushing myself.
Thirdly, those years in seminary and a short time in Vancouver planting a church forced me further into God’s word as I tried to figure out how to understand how that “fire insurance gospel” could be the “good news” of the scriptures and good news to the unchurched people I was trying to reach. It was there that God revealed to me the meaning of His grace and unconditional love for us all. This was the most important of all these events, but the fourth one had a different kind of significant impact.
The fourth thing that happened is relatively small and seemingly insignificant. A real estate agent, whose name I cannot even remember gave me a set of tapes recorded by Zig Ziglar, entitled, How to Stay Motivated. Since Ziglar’s teachings were peppered with references to the Bible I listened with great interest. The one thing he taught that has stuck with me through the years is, “You are who you are and where you are because of what has gone into your mind. And you can change who you are and where you are by changing what goes into your mind.” Those words reminded me of the words of Solomon who said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” That is when I set my course on changing what goes into my mind. I learned that I am not helpless and life is not hopeless. I have since become a life long learner, reader and student of God’s Word and of human and organizational behavior. I have surrounded myself at every opportunity with great leaders and teachers. I have studied and observed them. I have made it my purpose to continuously improve my leadership skills so I can help others do the same.
I know there are great leaders today who have life experiences much more difficult and challenging than mine. Watching these leaders and realizing my personal experiences gives me confidence that it is possible for anyone who aspires to be an exceptional leader to break free from the chains of the past and become the exceptional leader they envision.