Did you ever see that submarine movie set in World War II with Matthew McConaughey and Bill Paxton called U-571? There’s a scene where Lieutenant Andy Tyler is turned down for a promotion to be the captain of his own submarine. He later finds out that his commanding officer, Captain Dahlgren (Paxton) was the one who recommended that he not be promoted.
Tyler confronts Dahlgren, angrily claiming that he is ready to lead his own submarine, that he is more than qualified than anyone else…that he has an extensive knowledge of all the roles and jobs on the sub and cares so much about his men that he is willing to lay down his life for them.
Suddenly Captain Dahlgren asks him the question that causes him to reconsider everything. He looks at him and says this: “I’m not questioning your bravery. But are you willing to lay their lives on the line?”
At that moment, Tyler pauses and gets silent.
Dahlgren continues: “You see, you hesitate. As a captain you can’t. You have to act. If you don’t you put the entire crew at risk. Now that’s the job. It’s not a science. You have to be able to make hard decisions based on imperfect information, asking men to carry out orders that may result in their deaths. And if you’re wrong, you suffer the consequences. If you are not prepared to make those decisions, without pause, without reflection, then you got no business being a submarine captain.”
Now, to be fair, I’ve never really been a leader of a large organization. Leadership is something that’s been pounded into me from a young age though, and seems to be a topic that keeps coming up in conversations with people that run in the circles in which I run.
You see, in college I used to think I wanted to be a “leader,” but then I realized that really all that I wanted was attention and a reputation. I’d jump at opportunities to be seen as a “leader,” but when it came to actually leading…actually putting others before myself when nobody could see or when there was no way that I could get the credit, I wanted nothing to do with that. I wanted to be a pastor, because that was where I could get the most attention. I didn’t actually want to pray for people behind closed doors. I didn’t actually want to do the hard work of shepherding and caring for people’s needs. I didn’t want the pressure of being a Godly example all the time to everyone around me.
Few leaders admit that. And their people suffer for it.
My eagerness to lead has quelled, partly because deep down I’d like to think that I genuinely care about the people around me enough to know that I ought not take leadership so lightly, and I ought never use it as a way to merely get attention. It is a stewardship … Something God gives people that they must be faithful to, or he will remove them from it.
My prayer is that if you are a young leader, you will start to be honest about why you want to lead. Your motives may even appear on the outside selfless and courageous. But when the lives of others, the spiritual growth of others, the development of others, the opinion and perspective of church in others, the families of others… When those are all at stake…
…are you willing to lay their lives on the line?