We are all shaped by what came before us. We continue to be shaped by the present, and we will be shaped daily by what lies ahead. Even as we get older and become a voice that shapes others.

Are you aware of the relationships you have created around you that continue to shape you?

2008 was an interesting year. It was a good year in my development as a leader, and I was surrounded by many good people. There are a number of years I can look back on and realize were placed in my life as a landmark for understanding my personal skill set and influence in setting. 2008 stands out for a number of young individuals I saw move into adulthood and begin their journey into leadership. Context, key events, key people, life shaping relationships. When we reflect, it all culminates into our story as people of influence.

2008 was also the beginning of economic turmoil to come. For many larger leadership brands it meant a change in the leadership conversation. I recall vividly how the beginning of the year was filled with material spouting bravado in leadership, standing out for high ideals, most of which directed organizations as machinery. Bring in the economic crisis. The year ended with a cautious tone, people staying put in their roles, and a call for more authentic and feeling leadership. Less mechanics, more human element.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

I have been engaged in a number of conversations on leadership lately. Many different perspectives, many different levels of thought. In this process, as with many topics we engage in, I realize that some of my language becomes ambiguous. You know how it is, you use one word often enough and it suddenly drifts in meaning. It morphs into other arenas and directions than we first intended. Some of the axioms of old are becoming new again today, good or bad. In the process we attach word meanings to people desiring ideals to play out.

Leadership. Discipleship. Mentorship.

All three of these ships sail together in my language and understanding. They all require investment in others and seeking to create new understanding within a given context. That new understanding usually means change and transformation. Even in small ways, observed from the exterior, are marks of leadership. I would affirm that within all these conversations and observations the latter three ships follow the first.

In light of the above verse, leadership is really a mark of being a chief imitator.

A person recognizing they are being shaped by the one they follow, and in doing so realize they shape those who seek their example. And let’s not kid ourselves, we are followed in all facets of life. Some just ignore this or choose not to acknowledge it.

All three ‘ships’ recognize that we impact, influence, and instruct the lives of others. Intentionally doing something about it makes quality leadership stand out. It gives us the opportunity to bless another with how they ‘walk in the way of love’, and we are also blessed as we acknowledge that others are doing the same for us.

I am reminded that at all levels of imitation I have three key groups developing me as a leader:

  1. The ships before me. Those who have shown me how to sail, and continue to do so. I acknowledge them by name and recognize how they have been placed uniquely in my path. There are many manuals, blogs, quotable quotes on leadership today that stress certain actions to take. Not many talk about looking to those we have followed. If leadership is a relational exercise, why would we treat it as though it is a mechanical checklist?
  2. The ships beside me. There are always a few that we must recognize are moving in the same direction, possibly the same pace, and are kindred to us in their current place of growth. These friends are God-given and are needed to gird and encourage as I move along. I feed into them, and they feed into me. I can go for coffee with certain people and have a lateral conversation of encouragement, and they can do the same. Leadership is relational, and friendship therefore is a natural outcome.
  3. The ships behind me. An increasing number that I must allow to keep pace with me and are actively learning from the navigation I have chosen before them. I have been entrusted with people who look to me and are learning from my actions and reactions. By not acknowledging this I diminish the importance of my actions turning into instruction and guidance for those who have chosen to learn and grow.

Leadership and your place of influence in life are malleable and growing. More importantly, this shaping is always in relationship form. It is paramount that we recognize the part we play in our growth process, because we are all growing, not simply a part of the machine.

Have you recognized the people in your life that fit into all three of these ships? Where would they place you?

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