Masters of Renunciation

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This week my friend, colleague, and mentor Rev. Kelly Allen  pointed me to a New York Times opinion piece about leadership. The piece is worth reading in its entirety (link at the end) but I found this portion to be particularly compelling:

“close off your options. People in public life live in a beckoning world. They have an array of opportunities. They naturally want to keep all their options open. The shrewd strategists tell them to make a series of tepid commitments to see what pans out. Hedge your bets. Play it smart.

But the shrewd strategy leads to impotence. You spread yourself thin. You dissipate your energies and never put full force behind any cause. You make your own trivial career the object of your attention, not the vision that inspired you in the first place.

The public official who does this leaves no mark. Only the masters of renunciation leave an imprint, only those who can say a hundred Nos for the sake of an overwhelming Yes. Only the person who has burned the ships and committed to one issue has the courage to cast aside the advice of the strategists and actually push through change.”

What does it mean, as a leader, to be a “master of renunciation” and to close off all of the many options and opportunities that might come your way in order to be supremely focused on one inspiring idea? I think that Mr. Brooks is on to something here. The idea of “playing it safe” and “hedging my bets” really resonated with me. What do you think makes a good leader? 

For Further Reading: The Leadership Revival

  • I love the phrase — that in itself is embodied wisdom. I tell my church all the time that I do three things — worship, outreach, and member care & nurture. Of course, as the article wisely says, the hard part is sticking to it…