A couple of months ago I was asked to be the project manager for the Christmas Village at my church, The Father’s House in Rochester, New York. Each December we put together a huge community outreach event.  For this event were preparing to host a Christmas production that would include a stage performance in our auditorium with broadway style theatrics and concert style musical entertainment.  The indoor service was followed by an outdoor experience where people would walk through a Christmas themed village, complete with 7 different cabins, each performing different aspects of the Christmas story.  There were various food vendors, photography stations, a petting zoo and other holiday activities.

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The Falala Christmas Family Village at The Father’s House (photo taken by author)

We anticipated 8,000 people attending this event over a 7 day period.  In order to pull it off with the excellence and intentionality we expect at our church, we determined we would need approximately 1000 volunteers on 40 teams. The teams ranged from creative production, technological support, environmental preparation, construction and guest experience to name a few. Months of preparation went into the development and execution of this amazing event.

About 2 months prior to our opening night, our Senior Pastor called the team leaders together and challenged us to own every aspect of responsibility for each individual team. He told us he would support us and hold us accountable to do whatever it took to ensure the event was “spectacular.”  Essentially, he empowered each of us to lead our individual areas completely and that we would be provided with the resources to achieve at a high level. As the project manager for the event I was responsible for ensuring this occurred. Clearly, there was no way I could micromanage this project and ensure success.  I had to ensure that each leader was empowered to succeed.  I meet with each area leader once a week to track timelines, brainstorm next steps, help solve problems and hold them accountable for bench mark measurables. However, the ultimate authority rested with each leader to ensure success in there area.  They were empowered to do whatever it took.  I was a support, they held the responsibility and authority for execution. This was a challenging reality for me as I tend to like to control things.  But this task was simply to big and to important.  I had to learn and embrace empowerment.

Great leaders understand the need for empowerment.  As leaders we need to be both empowered ourselves, to empower others and ultimately look to God for the ultimate source of our empowerment. Lets look at each of these truths in more depth.

Empowerment Truth #1: Ensure You Are Empowered

If we are not currently empowered to lead in our context, we must do what John Maxwell refers to as “Leading Up” in his book titled The 360 Degree Leader.  Essentially, we must seek to influence the person in authority over us to ensure we are empowered with the skills, resource, support and authority to succeed in the area we seek to lead. Failure to engender such support will inevitably lead to a crisis of leadership down the road.  My Senior Pastor, Pierre DuPlessis, did this for me during the Christmas Village project. I was having difficult gaining the necessary traction with some of my teams.  He gathered all the team leaders together, and said that for the duration of the project he was delegating all authority to me.  He said, that when I spoke they needed to view it as though it were coming from him directly.  He empowered me with the authority needed to lead well.  If you do not have empowerment, you only only have three options.

Your Options if Your Lack Empowerment:

  1. Do Nothing – Continue and be miserable
  2. Ask for Help – Influence your leadership to empower you to lead
  3. Leave – Seek a different environment within which to lead.

Empowerment Truth #2: Ensure You Empower Others

If we fail to empower others, our leadership will be limited to our own capacity, and that is very small, even for the best of us.  The greatest of leaders empower those they lead with skills, resource, support and authority.  They ensure that those who have chosen to labor with and engage in the same mission as the leader are able to truly own the mission and lead from an empowered place. If we want to be great leaders, we must embrace the empowerment of our people as one of the highest values, and our time allocation must reflect this reality.  Regardless of the authority Pierre had transferred to me, we would not get far if I abused the the trust he imbued to me. I had to transfer that empowered authority to the team leaders. As leaders we must strategically support our people in each of these areas.

Empowering Those We Lead:

  1. Skill Empowerment – Ensure that those you lead are continually receiving skill development.  We are only as good as our skill set and if we want to help those we lead be empowered, we must help them improve their skills and gain new ones.
  2. Resource Empowerment – Nothing demoralizes people more than feeling they do not have the resources to accomplish what a leader is expecting of them or what the mission demands.  Great leaders figure out how to provide the resources necessary for their people to excel.
  3. Support Empowerment – One of the worst things we can do as leaders is to misunderstand the capabilities of those who follow us.  When we assign a task or area of leadership to someone who follows us, we often assume that they have the capability to succeed. This is why we entrusted them with it in the first place.  While the particular assignment may seem easy for us, we deal with what Chip and Dan Heath refer to in the book Made to Stick, as “The Curse of Knowledge”.  We don’t remember what it is like to not know what we now know.  We must support those who follow us with advice, accountability, frequent check ins and an open door of communication to ensure their success.
  4. Authority Empowerment – As leaders, we love to delegate tasks to those who follow us, but seldom are we willing to relinquish the final say.  Essentially, this communicates to those we lead, that we will use them to accomplish tasks that are beneath us, but aren’t willing to let them hold real authority.  Those who are assigned tasks without authority, never become owners of the mission.

A former boss of mine frequently said, “It is the leaders responsibility to ensure the success of those they lead.”  Recently, pastor and author, Dr. David Ireland told me that his own leadership had hit a point where, in his words, “I can only increase my influence if I let others own larger areas of the work.” Great leaders understand that empowering those they lead with true authority is essential to expanding their own efficacy.

Empowerment Truth #3 – Ultimate Empowerment Comes from God

In the creation story, God provides us with the ultimate example of empowerment.  He focused his creative and passionate energies into the creation of the world.  He carefully crafted each plant, rock and animal.  The pinnacle of His creation was humanity.  It was into humanity, as scripture tells us, that He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). This “breath of life” was given to no other creature.  Life was spoken into existence for all other creatures. God breathed His own breath into mankind alone. He empowered life in humanity, through his own breath.  Furthermore, scripture tells us He empowered mankind to “subdue” and have “dominion” (Genesis 1:28) over all that God had created.  Consider that reality.  God started this whole extraordinary world, and immediately handed the authority over to us.  That is empowerment.  The rest of the Bible is essentially the story of how God continues to help us live and operate in that empowerment.

The book of Ezra offers one of many glimpses in scripture, into how God empowers those who choose to follow him and are empowered to accomplish the extraordinary.  Ezra devoted his life to following God and the result was astounding. Time and time again, God supported and strengthen Ezra to succeed at the mission to which he had been called. Consider the following 6 references to “the hand of God” at work on Ezra’s behalf. In each instance we see a different manifestation of God’s empowerment for Ezra.

We see in this story 6 ways in which God empowered Ezra:

  • Empowered with Favor
  • Empowered with Influence
  • Empowered with Integrity
  • Empowered with Courage
  • Empowered with Wisdom
  • Empowered with Protection

1) Empowered with Favor – The first example of empowerment comes in Ezra 7:6 when we read, “He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.”

There were many scribes in the courts of the king.  Ezra was uniquely empowered by God with favor in the eyes of the king, because “the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” Experiencing this favor was not a one time thing for Ezra, nor should it be for anyone who chooses to dedicate their lives to following God’s plan.  Later, in the midst of the arduous journey back to Jerusalem, Ezra declares a fast to seek God for protection.  At that point he declares, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him” (Ezra 8:22). Great leaders understand that the hand of God brings favor when we seek Him.

2) Empowered with Integrity – Next we read that Ezra lived what he taught and God’s hand was on him as a result.  Ezra 7:9-10 tells us, “the good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

Clearly God’s hand rested on this young scribe because he studied, practiced and taught the law.  However, I believe this was a cyclical cause and effect relationship.  One can assume that while Ezra’s actions allowed God’s hand to rest on him, the hand of God inevitably allowed Ezra the fortitude to stand by the truths of God inspite of the pressures of living and working in the court of a foreign king. Great leaders understand that the hand of God brings integrity, even when it is difficult.

3) Empowered with Courage –  As a result of the favor of the king, Ezra was commissioned to return to Jerusalem and bring order to the chaos and disruption that thwarted the progress.  This must have been a both wondrous and ominous charge.  Ezra himself is recorded saying, “I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me” (Ezra 7:28a).

Leaders are called to engaged in challenging and often terrifying assignments. Needing courage to face the next step on a leadership journey is not something to ashamed of, rather it is something we should anticipate. Throughout history great leaders have turned to God for courage. Consider Joshua’s fears entering the promise land in the first chapter of Joshua.  Three times in that chapter, God reminds him to be “strong and courageous.” King David voiced a similar dependance on God’s power for courage in Psalm 27:13 when he proclaimed “Wait for the LORD, be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD.” Again David repeats this sentiment in Psalm 31:4, “Be strong, let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” Joshua was a military general and David was a king. If these men needed to turn to God for courage, we should do the same. Great leaders understand that the hand of God brings courage.

4) Empowered with Influence – Not only did Ezra draw courage to face the task ahead, God empowered him with supernatural ability to draw “leading men” to join his mission. “…the hand of the LORD my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me” (Ezra 7:28b).

The beginning of chapter 8 details for us that he drew 1496 men to join his effort.  This was no small organization.  This was a force to be reckoned with. No great endeavor can be accomplished without the influence of other leaders joining the effort. The hand of God, continually empowered Ezra with everything he needed to succeed, including drawing other great leaders into his company. Great leaders understand that the hand of God brings influence.

5) Empowered with Wisdom – Ezra left Babylon with the full financial and political support of the persian king as well as the authority of the entire empire.  He also had amassed a small army of men to join. However, part of the way into the journey to Jerusalem, Ezra discovers his team is not complete.  Ezra 8:18 records, “And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah with his sons and his kinsmen.”

Ezra identified that his leadership team was lacking men of insight and wisdom.  The hand of God was able to provide the balance his team needed in the form of Sherebiah, “a man of discretion.” The next few verses record that when Sherebiah was added to the team the total number of men at this point reaches to a total of 1754.  In the months and weeks ahead, Ezra would face leadership challenges and difficulties that would require wise counsel. When the hand of God is empowering us, every need and deficit will be provided for. Great leaders understand that the hand of God brings wisdom.

6) Empowered with Protection – As Ezra and his company of men continued along the journey to Jerusalem, they passed through wild and barren stretches of land that operated outside the rule of law.  Bandits and renegades imposed what appears to have been a “wild west” type environment and preyed upon passing caravans regardless of what the king decreed. Ezra reports that inspite of many attempts, “The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way” (Ezra 8:31).

God not only sees the dangers that lie ahead, he empowers us with protection as we navigate both the exigent and unexpected crises that crisscross our path. Great leaders understand that the hand of God brings protection.

As leaders, we have a tendency to think we need to go it alone. This is never a wise course of action.  We need one others. We accomplish far more when we collaborate and empower one others to lead with along side us.  Embracing the vital role empowerment plays is essential at every level of an organization and we ought to  leverage it to the fullest extent.

Great leaders choose to embrace empowerment and ultimately look to empower those around them. A truly empowered and empowering leader is an unstoppable force!

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