A couple months ago, a former youth group member from two decades ago moved back to Florida from Colorado and showed up at church with her family.  She now has children that are ready for the youth group.  What a surprise!  I have a 30-year history with her family. I did her parents wedding, baptized and buried her grandmother, baptized her father and stepmom, two of her uncles and more.  After tight hugs and introductions to her children and husband, my wife and I entered into a “catching up on life” conversation with them. 

During the subsequent conversation, the husband of this former teen now turned to a mature adult mom, asked questions about my current role in the church and the succession plan that I had implemented a decade ago.  Then he summarized the whole conversation with a short statement I had never heard or even thought of before.  He said, “So, you stepped up by stepping back.”  My wife and I talked about that statement on our way to and during lunch.  I wrote it down on my “Potential Blog” list.  It was profound.  I’ve pondered that line repeatedly the past two months.  No one had previously used that language. It was a new thought to me.

As I’ve mulled over the statement, I realized most everyone else has talked about me “stepping down” over the last 10 years since I executed the succession plan I formulated about 15 years ago at Cape Christian.  No one ever mentioned “stepping up.”  I had heard and used the phrase “stepping back.”  But not “stepping up.”  Now for two months I’ve been contemplating.  Why did that statement, “So, you stepped up by stepping back” grip me the way it did?

Here are two reflections from the past two months:

1).  Stepping Up is More Noble Than Stepping Down.  In our culture, leaders often “step down” because they are overwhelmed, have health issues, family challenges, or just want a change of scenery.  Or worse, they “step down” because they made poor moral choices.  None of the above describes the reason I implemented a succession plan and moved to a different seat on the bus.  It was all focused toward the long-term health of the organization I birthed.  It wasn’t to make my life easier.  In fact, it would have been much easier to stay in the lead role beyond age 55.  It would have meant more financial security.  It would have been a whole lot simpler in so many ways.  (see my recent blog “Two Words That Made Me Angry”).  Bottom line, I really do love stepping up more than I love stepping down.  That phrase will always stick with me. 

By John Maxwell

By Jim Collins

2).  Stepping Up has been My Leadership Goal.  Ever since hearing John Maxwell and Jim Collins describe Level Five Leadership (see above graphs with descriptions), that became my preferred future.  A very long time ago, I stepped up from Level 1 to Level 2, Level 2 to Level 3, etc.  Maybe my Type 3 (Achiever) scoring on the Enneagram personality assessment has kept me climbing toward the top of the pyramid.  But that’s not really it.  Actually, seeking to be more like Jesus has been my biggest motivation.  Jesus stepped back to step up.  Jesus taught and modeled the upside down leadership lifestyle.  Jesus calls me to descend into greatness.  (Read Matthew 20:20-28 or Philippians 2:3-11).  I want to be more like Jesus.

So for you.  I have a few questions.  Where are you in your leadership development journey?  Which Level are you on?  What will it take for you to get to the next level?  What are you learning from other leaders who are further along on the journey?  What could you teach me or others about leadership?  I’d love to hear more in the comment section below.  Thank you!

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