What is the Real Nature of Success and Leadership?

It all started with a thought-provoking Facebook update by my friend, Lon Alderman:

“Lon Alderman thinking about all of the stuff written about “success”, and wondering how it all stacks up against (Mark 10:43-45)”

What followed was equally thought-provoking and powerful, a discussion about “success and leadership” raising BIG questions and our humble but heart-felt answers through dialogue. We believe these questions and our dialogue are of value to others. We hope it provokes you to rethink your definitions of success, of leadership and of what your daily living is all about. I trust it will further enrich your search to live at The Intersection of Purpose and Now. As Lon Alderman writes: real sharpening happens when people speak the truth in love with one another.”

Below is the discussion thread that ensued, which both Lon and I are posting on our respective blogs. It begins with brief comments from others, then I enter as the voice of “trouble-maker”. Lon takes it in it’s best direction at 1:26 p.m. on July 1 and later Alistair takes us on a helpful turn. You will find Lon’s excellent blog at Daily Build Up. Lon provides an outstanding devotional guide, among other benefits that make his blog one of my favorites.

Mark 10:43-45 (NIV)

43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Lon thinking about all of the stuff written about “success”, and wondering how it all stacks up against (Mark 10:43-45)


Unless what is written about “success” is based on Mark 10:43-45 (and the rest of the manual aka Bible) it isn’t worth spit!


Thanks, Tim! Isn’t it interesting how much of the success literature within the church is based on principles gleaned from the world?


Isn’t it interesting that there are so many books on how to be a good leader and virtually nothing on how to be a good follower?


That’s true, John! Bill Allison argues that leadership is the wrong direction; rather, we should be studying followership as in following Jesus! (Check out Bill’s blog at: http://tinyurl.com/ly4ku2


Of course, it’s tough for most of us to say we have, indeed, “given our lives as a portion for many”. What portion? How much must one give or serve to be successful? How many must one serve to be successful? How must we serve to be successful? We all fall short of Christ.

Even well-meaning Christians tend to measure “success” by who they are ministering to, rather how they are ministering by… Show me a church that doesn’t measure success with the amount of people in the pews and offering in the plates.

My experience is that there is actually a great deal of Christian wisdom at work in modern “success” literature. Even some of the “wealth” literature is really about discovering God’s purpose for you and pursuing it with fervor and faith. There are many exceptions, of course, but “one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch”. (Amway, a professed “Christian” business has certainly gone astray, for example. Another example of “if heaven is like church, who wants to go there?”)

Philemon 1:6 (NIV) “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

I must decide by listening to God how to actively share my faith. Preaching seldom works – people are better watchers than listeners. The best of the success literature helps people, albeit in typically secular terms, to understand every good thing they want to have, do and become, to purify their beliefs in pursuit of success and measure it in the currencies of peace, fulfillment, happiness, service to others, as well as money.

We must measure success literature with the Bible as our standard. If there is no need to write or read anything beyond the Bible, why are we on Facebook?


Mark, does the failure on our part as Christ followers negate the principle of success as described in Mark 10:43-45?


Of course not. And thank you for asking, if I gave that impression. By no means at all do I believe that our failure negates the truth of scripture. Our failure should put us in hot pursuit of more fully understanding and pursuing His truth, and writing about and pursuing “success” is a tangible means of doing so.

I’m offering an answer to your implied question: “How does all the ‘success’ stuff stack up against Mark 10:43-45?” More and more, it stacks up fairly well and in many cases the stuff is human expression in pursuit of understanding God, who surpasses our understanding (we all fall short of Christ).

Of course, if it weren’t for our Fall, we wouldn’t be searching for understanding God or “success” in the first place!

Lon, you know one of the primary reasons I appreciate you and your ministry SO much is because you measure success in “how you are ministering by…” rather than “who you are ministering to, and how many”. The “who” of your ministry merely gives you focus, and a very good one at that! The “how many” is merely a motivator to remind yourself that your work – God’s work – is not yet finished!

I’m excited to see some of the success literature that you mentioned, Mark. Could you suggest a definitive work to get me started?
Thanks, Mark! I love the sharpening process with you! I know that I will get your full-on perspective and not have to wonder what you really think! That’s got to be one of your gifts that serves you so well in coaching! Far too often I interact with people wondering what their agreeable faces are hiding! Again, real sharpening happens when people speak the truth in love with one another. You do that in an exemplary way! Thank you!
Ahhh, we’re just saying the same thing from two perspectives; I am assured of that. You get me going in good directions…

As for recommendations for a “definitive” work – great request. I’m not sure if I have such a recommendation at the tip of my tongue. Partly, because so much of what I read I consider to be “success” literature, from John Eldredge and Mark Batterson to Napoleon Hill and Lance Secretan. (I LOVE Eldredge and Batterson)

The aggravating thing I find, and I actually think this may be true to the original point you were making, is how so many authors disguise their beliefs and questions in “new age-y” language, or their doubts about the reality of God are so deep they don’t recognize how closely their other beliefs are directly supportive of His Word. Lance Secretan’s “One” is a good example of this, and I highly recommend it. Steven Covey’s “7 Habits” is another example, although he and many others would say he is a Christian – or the same as.

I have some familiarity with Covey, so I think I’ll dive into the work of Mr. Secretan. Thanks again, Mark! May God bless until our next “meeting”!
I thought you were going to call me today? I have a coaching client soon, but tomorrow would work if you still want to talk.
Well, you see, I got involved in this thread on facebook and….
Marine Corps Leadership is based on good followership first.
Hi Lon… remember doing and thinking about this a long time ago with you at the the leadership camps… oh boy is that way back.. however… on leadership.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fumQ0s7DCEY
but on success… shift the paradigm
Lon, again, this a great conversation you have started – thanks again.

It’s interesting that it seems all of us make a direct link between success and leadership. This is a connection I help my clients make in the first session of any leadership or other development program. It generally requires personal leadership to achieve success. Formal leadership is dependent on personal leadership. And yes, one of the surest signs of potential leadership is indeed “followership”, something that an activity called “helium hoop” quickly and effectively demonstrates through experiential learning. Simply put, the best leaders know when to lead, follow or get out of the way.

Lon, Alistair references The Starfish and the Spider, watch his video link; it’s another book I would recommend, too. I think you might find it directly related to your ministry, too. [in hindsight, this is more relevant to our discussion than any other reference mentioned]
Stepping into a coaching session will have to (re-)join this thread later this evening. Looks like fun!
success and failure are too binary (I think) we are constantly being called into relationship with God by God. this then leads into every relationship we have.. as christians we are called to serve not to follow, the only one we HAVE to follow is christ… and this is where it gets interesting for in following Christ we are called to love. How can you measure success in this dodgy, painful, joyous, infuriating, sublime, human process.
If one day the pastors were all removed, and one day I hope they are, what would they do without that ‘leadership’. pastors should be working themselves out of a job, and the people ought to be moving toward that goal.. by becoming more themselves in a full relationship with God and man. Success IMHO is not about numbers or goods its about my conscience and its relationship with God.. rich or poor
Another good one, Alistair. Binary, an unnecessary dichotomy perhaps, but motivating…ultimately in the dichotomous options of heaven and hell.

Likewise, I think we too easily limit the concept of leadership in binary, dichotomous concepts like “leader” and “followers”.

Ultimately, there are leaders and there are not leaders, and we all play either role at various times. Ultimately, when the church is full of leaders, I think we will still need pastoring, but we’ll all be ministers. The healthiest churches are ones that would still thrive and grow with or without a directing pastor, just like the starfish.

Mark… a long time ago I came up with a concept of group that is along the lines of how you describe leadership.. it was called the donut principle. Dont know if I shared it with Lon, its a simple way of looking at group process through the use of activity…

at the minute i’m thinking this…

Alistair, I’m not making the connection: donut principle and the link you provide?
one has to do with leadership the other has to do with belonging to a group without leadership but shares a common vision
Ahhh, I was getting into the Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros video!
The helium hoop quickly and powerfully demonstrates that sometimes the most effective leadership quality is to allow someone else to lead, among many other lessons.
As long as Lon’s with a client and we’re on the subject of leadership, have you read my blog today? 🙂


This thread is amazing! It started with a simple musing that was picked up by (Tim) a friend from high school (we played football together). Then a friend from graduate school (John) chimed in. Then a coaching colleague (Mark) weighed in. Finally, Alistair (from Scotland) a friend from my years at Western Illinois University joined the conversation. That is just way too cool!

Oh, and the subject is pretty enjoyable, too! For me, the key to this question of success and leadership boils down the metric we use for determining success. Once established, this will determine the nature of leadership.

So, if success is a relationship with Jesus the Christ, then leadership is guiding people into said relationship. This is my bias regarding success, but the world says, “But that won’t feed the family!”.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is… (Romans 12:2)


Informative and provocative…

Oddly enough, I still find these conclusions troubling. I define success as “The continual achievement of your own predetermined goals, stabilized by balance and purified by belief,” so my relationship with Christ certainly fits but many other lesser things fit as well. Success is not an event, it’s continual, so accepting a relationship with Christ would be successful, but the continuing pursuit of my relationship with him much better and purifying.

Leadership? I think the problem is in how we measure it. I don’t think leadership is measured by what I do, even it it’s guiding people to Christ. It is measured by what those who would follow me do, at their own discretion, having followed me. I bring more people into relationship with Christ by living as “salt and light” than by passing out tracts.

Finally, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can (to Acorn Ministries).” John Wesley


Where we differ (foundationally) is that I believe that it is God that will determine my steps:

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3)

When I claim success as achieving MY goals, then where is God? Could “success” as you’ve defined it become a god?

I believe that God is not interested in my work; rather, it is my devotion and relationship with Jesus that matters. I’m not anti-planning, but I do recognize that it is not my achievement that God desires.

21″Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7)

Well, good morning, my friend! This is very helpful in my exploration of the whole topic of success and leadership. I think we have a point of disagreement, but much different than you state.

  1. I also believe that it is God that will determine my steps (Proverbs 3). We absolutely agree on this.
  2. If I trust in the Lord, He will be in my goals, breath life into my goals, be the source of my goals, determine my goals; my goals will be His goals. Success is achieving my goals because, or more accurately, when my goals are from God.
  3. We have been separated from God, however, so our goals require a “purification” process. He will determine my steps” but my will gets in the way. Have you ever doubted or been reaffirmed in your ministry? That’s part of the purification. Acorn, I would say, is YOUR idea FROM God.
  4. God gets nasty about our separateness at times (e.g. Isaiah 59:1-3); yet offers us a way back (e.g. Ephesians 2:13)
  5. So God is interested in my work. If it is His work, or if it is not, either way He is interested. But where are my interests.
So much of my work – my non-secular ministry – is about helping people with the purification process. What do I want and WHY do I want it? I help people test the WHY as well as the WHAT, before they get too caught up in the HOW.

I’ve always been fascinated by an Einstein quote: “I want to know God’s thoughts, all the rest are details.” Not literally, or exactly, or in any way do I mean to “limit” God, but in a way I believe that if we allow our wants to be God’s want, He does leave a lot of the “details” to us.

We get things turned around, though. We too often want to determine and prioritize the big thoughts – our dreams, wants, goals, missions, etc. – then pray that God will take care of the details. This separates us from God, and success becomes more about us and less about God.

So I can not only have the goal of “making lots of money”, and that can be ordained by God – it can even be my commission…because of Wesley’s thought. God is equipping me in a unique way, wealth, to do His work. He may not be equipping me in that way as much as I sometimes (want for selfish reasons and tongue in cheek), but He is equipping me financially as in other ways.

If you have made it this far with us, you may want to join our conversation. Please add your comments to The Intersection of Purpose and Now!

About pdncoach

A Go-Giver business coach working with leaders whose success depends on the performance and productivity of others. I coach individual leaders and their teams... in small to mid-size businesses, ministries and non-profits... to accelerate their results and achieve dreams by getting past the difficult, strategic challenges of their current realities.
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