Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
– Proverbs 27:6
It was the summer after my sophomore year in college. In the spring of that same year, I had applied for a student life leadership position at my university. I didn’t get it. At that time, I was devastated. That position, I thought, was the next step in my developmental journey as a leader. By the time summer came around, I got over it. I was working a dreamy job as a camp counselor in Longs Peak, Colorado. My days consisted of coaching (and playing) basketball, taking hikes, walking in the trees on the camp’s ropes course and hanging out with 30 awesome college kids (a few of whom I thought were pretty cute). Life was good.
One day, I received a message from the Camp Director. Someone from my university – Kelvin, the staff member who supervised that position I had wanted only months ago – called and wanted me to call him back. When I had a chance, I called Kelvin back. We caught up for a couple of minutes, and then he told me the reason for his call: the position I wanted had opened up because the guy who initially got the job had a change of plans. He wanted to offer it to me, but only with a condition. He first wanted to talk with me about some problematic behaviors he saw in me as a leader. He didn’t elaborate on the phone, but said he would write a letter and send it by the end of the week.
I was dumbfounded. What could he be concerned about? I’m a natural leader. People follow me. I don’t have any glaring sin issues going on that would disqualify me. What is this all about?
A few days later, I got the letter and gingerly opened it. It was a long letter – nearly two pages long, single-spaced, 10- or 11-point font. I started in. The first paragraph was great: “Ryan, I think you’re a great leader. People follow you. You can accomplish just about whatever you want with people. You’re gifted.” That’s right, I thought.
However, all of that shifted at the beginning of the second paragraph: “but, Ryan, I’ve noticed that you tend to use people to get what you want. It seems that people are more a means to you than an end. You mobilize people to help you achieve, then leave them while you move forward to the next task.” Whoa! I got a lump in my throat and read on. The rest of the letter provided examples of my use-and-abuse style of leadership, and unpacked Kelvin’s concerns for me. Then, in the last paragraph, he lovingly invited me to chat through all of this during one of my upcoming breaks from camp.
I remember that meeting vividly.
It was a beautiful Colorado day. Kelvin and I sat by the lake on our campus and talked. Kelvin made his point: there were serious things I needed to work on as a leader. I cried. Hard. And Kelvin put his arm around me. He cared for me. He loved me enough to say the challenging things I needed to hear, and then walk beside me as I grew as a leader. He offered me the job that day, and I happily accepted. Then, all throughout that year, Kelvin mentored me and helped me become a different kind of leader.
In his letter and through our talk by the lake, Kelvin showed that he loved me enough to wound me. Kelvin was a faithful friend to me. Kelvin got in my way, and I am so glad he did.
I’m a different person because Kelvin did the courageous, loving thing. He got in my way when I didn’t ask for it and didn’t recognize my need for that kind of instruction.
Over the years, I certainly have not cured my use-and-abuse leadership, but God has been graciously changing me. So much so that today, I not only try to live out true, servant leadership with those I lead, but I stand on my soapbox whenever I can (in my classes, consulting, training, etc.) and teach that leadership is ultimately about serving and developing others, not using other people to get what you want.
I needed Kelvin to get in my way. I needed a faithful friend.
My family, friends, colleagues, teammates, and students need me to get in their way. (Quick clarification: I am not suggesting you confront without establishing a relationship, seeking God for His direction, checking your motives, and/or moving forward in a loving, kind-hearted manner).
So it is for you.
There are people in your life – perhaps on your team, in your church, in your family or friend circles – who need you to get in their way. Will you love them enough to wound them? Will you be a faithful friend?
So I ask you, who needs you to get in their way?