Clarity: the orphan of our culture, the crown jewel of effective leadership  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

I was at a networking dinner a few months ago with business leaders at my alma mater where successful people were asked to share their "top 5" points of advice for young business graduates. A senior officer in one of the worlds largest pharmaceutical companies (not Walgreens!) said, "If you want to really stand out as an individual, seek to have clarity. Nobody seems to have clarity anymore. Clarity on who you are, what you believe, what you are good at, what you're not, what you're wanting to achieve/experience, and what you mean by what you say. When I see a candidate who has a handle on clarity, I instantly take note and try to find a place for them on my team."

His commentary struck me. Obviously, he was contextually speaking just from a corporate success vantage point, but the statement has much broader application. We have lost clarity in so many areas of life. What does it mean to be a "Christian" today, for instance? What qualifies that label? The world is dying in darkness and despair, as clarity has been lost in all areas. Lack of clarity has even infiltrated the church and our leadership culture to where words become awkward bundles of ideas, intimidatingly vague.

As leaders, we need to be torch-bearers of clarity and hope! So let's start with each other. I think there is some fog among us about what is really meant by certain words. Things like discipleship, community, mentoring, leading, serving and following Jesus certainly have relation to one another and many times overlap in how they are lived out - but they are separate and need clarity.

So, let's start. I know there are about 45-55 people who check this blog regularly, so I'm expecting at least 20 of you to weigh in on these questions:

1. What does it mean to "disciple" someone?
2. What does it mean to "mentor" someone?
3. What does it mean to "lead" someone?
4. In answering 1 or all 3 of those questions, please try to clarify the differences and similarities.

If I just hit your fog in the heart - describing the very confusion that has hampered your own leadership capacity, please weigh in sharing just where your fog has centered. Perhaps you've felt paralyzed that in each relationship you had to somehow do all 3, when you weren't sure how to do any 1 of those really well. Maybe one of those words has just haunted you out of fear and insecurity. Share! We need to know our challenges, know each other and be known as leaders. It's imperative.

This entry was posted at Tuesday, February 19, 2008 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

14 thoughts and responses

I love a good Pop Quiz. The idea of taking a test with no time for preparation gives me a great escape for not doing well.

Interestingly enough, refers to the word disciple as: "Obsolete. to teach; train".

Now "OBSOLETE" is a bit of a complication for me, because "to teach; to train;" would have been my definition. So for now, I'll stick with the OBSOLETE and chew on the differences.

February 20, 2008 at 9:02 AM

As I thought about a person of clarity, I see someone you can read clearly, know where he or she stands, a person who is open honest, and real. That is not a picture of the popular guy or gal of today. The cool people are the exotic and mysterious, unreadable and unpredictable. In this culture cool rules over clarity.

February 20, 2008 at 2:48 PM

(the ex-Walgreens guy baited me to add to this!)
I like what John said. I'd call it authenticity. In our culture Discipleship is doing our part in leading people from imagery to authenticity in how we see and know God, ourselves, and each other and the resulting transformation that those relationships entail.

February 20, 2008 at 6:54 PM

so how's discipleship different than mentoring and leading?

Intrigued in Indy

February 20, 2008 at 11:04 PM

There is a real sense in which your non-Walgreens guy was whining for a world that is gone, and may not come back. Clarity--the world in the 19th and 20th centuries really believed that science would provide clarity to the mysteries of the world, only to have deeper mysteries revealed. Unfortunately, the modern church offered a reactive kind of "clarity" that was, as John hints, unauthentic. I was there. When I was 22, there were 4,036 things that I KNEW clearly to be black and white. I spoke about them on TV, I debated them on the student union grounds. I was full of clarity. And now, almost 20 years later, I think I was wrong on many (most?) of those issues.

I now have about 4 or 5 issues that are non-negotiables for me (see, I don't even have clarity on how many there are!), issues that I will stake my life on and live or die by. I personally believe that discipleship happens away from the center of clarity and at the margins of life, where real life challenges faith and faith steps up and responds, knowing God loves regardless of the circumstances.

Discipling, mentoring, leading--like most other words in our culture, they change in meaning with the times in which we live. They have meanings that we pour into them depending on the circumstances we're in. 10 years ago leadership was all the buzz, and, quite frankly, both inside and outside the church we hyped everyone up into thinking they were or could be leaders.

Unspoken common sense said "Uh, not all at the same time you can't."

Our lives have both intentional and unintentional impacts on those around us. To me, mentoring has an intentionality about it at least on the part of the mentor. Disciple, in its NT form, is an apprentice, something that our 21st century world has no clue about. We no longer apprentice ourselves to other people to learn a trade--that left with the onset of the industrial revolution and the rise of the modern university. Leadership is whatever Jim Collins, Tom Peters, Bill Hybels, John Maxwell or Bono happens to say it is at the moment.

The real truth for me is the management and mystery of our relationships. Management because there can be a "sweet science" to the intentionality we take to impact the world through relationships. Mystery because the reality is often that we are the proverbial blind beggars who have only caught a brief flash of the light and nourishment of God and we're groping in that direction, hoping we're moving rightly and not alone.

February 21, 2008 at 8:00 AM

The speaker says, "If you want to really stand out as an individual, seek to have clarity. Nobody seems to have clarity anymore".

Consider a water glass full of water and pond scum. Take a hard look at it. Can't see through it. Just darkness and muck. No clarity.

Consider the same glass of water filled from an artesian spring. The sunlight sparkles in and around the glass. Endless clarity.

Clarity comes from the removal of contaminates. These imperfections can be removed by fire, filtering, selection or some other process. The end result is clarity.

This is a picture of our life in Christ. Clarity comes through revelation many times produced by the purification process of gaining knowledge, understanding and wisdom directly from God.

I have been speed reading the Bible. The challenge started with a newly discovered love for God's Word. I am gaining clarity about the seemingly conflicting God of the old testament and the God of the new testament.

My eyes are just cracked open ever so slightly and I can almost begin to see light in the darkness. I am to fear the God of old knowing He is a jealous God and has not changed in character from times past. Yet, I am to appreciate His grace beyond measure in holding back His immediate judgment on my life and blessing me as a child of the King.

God grant me clarity.

The Janitor

February 21, 2008 at 8:36 AM

Arnie...that makes me want to cuss in a good way

February 21, 2008 at 9:47 AM

Arnie, you put my thoughts and feelings down exactly when you wrote, "I personally believe that discipleship happens away from the center of clarity and at the margins of life, where real life challenges faith and faith steps up and responds, knowing God loves regardless of the circumstances."

At least that has been how God has led me to disciple.

February 21, 2008 at 11:07 AM

I think what Cheryl is saying is that makes her want to cuss in a good way to.

February 21, 2008 at 11:14 AM

I think we all seek clarity in many areas of life, to see things clearly and simply, to understand the deep complexities of life. We try on many levels. Religion and faith is an attempt at that. As a follower of Christ, I try to disciple others so that they may see Christ clearly and understand faith. But I also see the modern day Pharisees who try to put everything into nice neat boxes. Some want to identify all people with labels so they will know how to respond to them and how to control them. Others claim they have all of the theological answers and have figured it all out. They may never feel satisfied or justified with the answer, “I don’t know”. Perhaps others are just uncomfortable with the mysteries of life and faith.
I remember the discussion following the leading the blind exercise at the Advance retreat. So many expressed how their being blind enhanced their ability to experience more. And their leading also enhanced their view of things. There is so much we can learn and lead others to see if we are willing to not settle for our small world view of things. For me, when I think I have clarity and have it all figured out, I stop learning and that is when I begin to lose the wonder and joy of my life in Christ. Joy returns when I experience new people, new cultures and new ideas.

February 21, 2008 at 11:48 AM

these good comments almost make me want to cuss in a metholutherabapticostal sort of good way...
The certainties of the world (or at least our understanding of it) become more unclear as Christ becomes more clear and discovering our own self becomes more clear--honest, realistic, and authentic, even if that authenticity is the realization that some things are just going to be unclear...

February 21, 2008 at 12:02 PM

Ya'll are dorks, but I love ya!

February 21, 2008 at 3:07 PM

Does a 'dork' lead or follow?

February 21, 2008 at 3:41 PM

Anonymous, who are you? And how you do you know I cuss in a good way?


Dorks follow Mork from Ork. He cussed in a good way with "shazbot".

Nanu, nanu.

February 23, 2008 at 10:41 PM

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