I met someone recently who plays basketball at the collegiate level. She was having a tough time on the court that year and in this particular game, she was having a nightmare. Passes were going astray, shots were missing the rim altogether, and she was consistently getting scored on. With each mistake, her impact on the game shrunk smaller and smaller, and she operated with extreme timidity. It looked like she would have paid someone $100,000 just to take her off the court.
She approached me later about one of our books and the effect it’s had on her, and I began to engage by asking what she is passionate about. She told me the degree she was pursuing and how she wanted to be a college coach. I never asked what she was studying or what she wanted to be. But usually when people go there they are telling me that they have no passions to pursue or, at least, their passions won’t pay the bills. And that was this girl to a T!
“Basketball is all I’ve ever done and known in my life.” I could see that she was falling into the trap of a limited experience.
I don’t knock her for not having many other experiences growing up. It’s the limiting belief that the future can only be in something that she has experienced and known in the past. We are all in danger of falling into the same trap.
“I’d really love to coach, because then I wouldn’t be the one playing. I could just lead from the sideline.”
I didn’t respond to her comment with words, only with a deeply saddened silence. I wasn’t just saddened for her and her feelings of languishing, but for the countless people who are being mentored by folks that want to just lead from the sideline. People who want to tell others what to do and tell them to get outside of their comfort zone, without having to model it themselves.
We have this insane notion that the title of captain, coach, boss, president, or parent automatically gives us the ability to influence and affect change. But a title does not equate to followers.
Having a title doesn’t mean you have influence, and not having a title doesn’t mean you don’t have influence. Influence isn’t gained by achievement or accolades. It isn’t attained by having a degree and letters after your name.
Influence is earned through the story you are living. It comes from the life that you have lived to date, and what you are consistently modeling right now. It comes from the fortitude you show in the midst of resistance and struggle.
Simply put, you need to be in the pursuit of following your dreams and scratching towards your greatest potential in order for me to follow.
Leadership positions and titles can demand compliance, but they rarely elicit greatness.
The Courage Needed To Fan Gifts Into Flame
One of my favorite passages of Scripture comes in II Timothy 1:6-7. Paul is talking to a young Timothy, maybe 14 to 19 years old, and is not only encouraging him, but admonishing him to fan his gifts into flame. Paul knew that Timothy had the gift of preaching, but there was timidity in Timothy much like the timidity we see in those we get to lead and influence.
It’s crazy how we can see the greatness in others that they rarely acknowledge themselves. It’s like my friend who was livid with me because I wouldn’t shoot more in our soccer game. I took two players on and scored a goal during a tight game, and my friend yelled, “Jamie, why are you messing around?!?! Do more of that!!! You can take this game over if you want to!”
My friend could see what I had the ability to do, but it was the very thing I was afraid of doing myself. I suppressed the desire to play harder believing that I truly wasn’t capable.
I think the same thing was happening with Timothy, and it’s likely the same thing is happening with you. Timothy was probably wondering, “Who am I, as a teenager, to start teaching grown men and women?!” It was the fear of inadequacy and what others thought that was holding him back.
Paul’s admonition was that we need you to embrace what you uniquely have. We need you to fan your gifts into flame. But it’s not easy. That’s why the next verse encourages, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.”
Why does Paul remind him of this? Because it takes insane courage to fan your gifts into flame. It takes insane power to demand the ball on the court when you feel like others are angry that you keep shooting. It takes a lot of self-control to quit your job and pursue your passion while leading your family. It takes enormous depths of love to help an enemy who is hurting. Others cannot choose for you. They cannot directly fan your gifts into flame. You have to embrace it and do the dirty hard work yourself.
I’ve spoken about the concepts in this and other books for years, and I’ve seen the effect they’ve had on others. However, I have to be the one who chooses to take those concepts and get them in a book. Writing a book takes self-control and an insane amount of courage, and that’s exactly what it takes for you to fan your gifts into flame.
Though he didn’t fan Timothy’s gifts into flame, Paul played a pivotal role in Timothy’s choice. He was sharing what he could see and he was encouraging Timothy to move. But Paul didn’t threaten him or shame him. He didn’t do what many in leadership roles do in saying, “If you don’t do ___________ then (insert consequence).” He didn’t say, “If you don’t do _____________ then you are (insert a derogatory term or phrase).”
And for what it’s worth, saying these things in your coaches or leaders meetings behind closed doors isn’t helping the situation. It’s psychologically conditioning yourselves to see and draw out the very things in that person that frustrate you!
Paul didn’t push. Paul didn’t beg. Paul affirmed Timothy’s autonomy.
Notice that Paul didn’t say “Let me help you fan your gifts into flame.” As leaders and influencers, we cannot directly fan someone’s gifts into flame. Timothy, like all of us, had the power to choose. But Paul did play a role in affecting change in Timothy. He went back to a simple truth: God has given you power, love and self-control. He didn’t bitch, beg, pull or prod. He said, this is what it takes to embrace your gifts, these are the things that are yours in Christ, and here is what is true about this situation.
But here’s the thing, Timothy had to hear that from someone who was living it.
Paul was sold out to the mission he believed God gave him. He was unwavering in his belief that God had visited him on the Emmaus road. Even though he was beaten, slandered, and threatened with his life, he was still pursuing a mission that he was willing to die for. It was a dream that was destined to fail without divine intervention. Timothy had experienced Paul’s life. He had seen firsthand how Paul was moving forward and embracing the things that scared him, and that’s exactly why Paul could help fan that gift into flame.
I wonder what would change if we stopped talking to others about getting out of their comfort zone and invited them to see a life that models it?
It’s our pursuit of embracing the hardships of growth and development that allows others to link up with us and move forward themselves. It’s our progress in the struggle that allows others to genuinely connect with us. It’s our engagement with resistance that allows us to empathize with those we get to lead and treat them like people, not production units.
I see far too many people who are trying to lead by piling up stacks and stacks of logs and dry kindling on top of a little spark they see. They hover over people and bombard them with information, quotes, books, and inspirational videos. They smother them with encouragement and sometimes try to do the work for them. They try to cram forty years of life experience into a sixty-minute office meeting and expect their people to accept the information, apply it, learn from it, and thrive.
Sadly, I’ve been one of those people.
But that’s not how growth happens. That’s not how people embrace their own personal greatness.
Your personal greatness must be fanned. Like a small ember, it must be blown on gently and consistently. It must not be smothered because it needs air to breathe. It needs the right amount of kindling at the right time for it to catch fire.
Simply put, it needs an optimal environment in which it can grow. And optimal doen’t mean easy.
Your words can be the breath of air that meets the ember, but it takes someone embracing their own journey to know that the process cannot be accelerated and they cannot force the fire to grow.
In leadership, we want change now. But leaders who are on the journey themselves know that there is no enduring change that happens right now. There are no fixes or switches that one can flip. As leaders and influencers we can only create an environment ripe for change. And we create that environment by the life that they see, not the words that we say.
Fanning other people’s gifts into flame can only come from fanning your gifts into flame - Chasing a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. When people see you living that way, you elicit the greatness from others.
“The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” - James Buchanan
- Jamie Gilbert