“Leader, Check Your Pride.”

“A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.”  Proverbs 29:23 (NASB)

As I mentioned in my last post, we had the privilege to take a few days off for Spring Break this year.  One of the things we did was tour a Civil War battlefield where the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought. The Battle of Pea Ridge in Northern Arkansas was a hard fought battle between the Union and Confederate forces.  Many lives were lost. Something struck me there that spurred on this short series of blog posts. What struck me was that leadership, more than anything else, seemed to turn the tide of this key Civil War battle. The first blog was about the leader, needing to stay alive.  Today’s blog is about checking our pride in leadership.

“Leader, check your pride.”   

Pride.  I am amazed how much pride gets in the way in our lives.  I see my own stubborn pride gets in the way of learning, of apologizing, and even of trying something new.  I struggle with wanting to be seen as having it all together, all the time.  I think many of us do.  Not many people leave the house in the morning hoping to be humiliated, hoping they need to be faced with their own ignorance on a topic, their need to admit wrong, their need to be a novice or a “newbie” at something.    

“Leader, check your pride.”

I observed at the Pea Ridge Battlefield how pride affects leaders.  In the battle of Pea Ridge the Confederate forces had significantly more troops (16,000 vs. 10,500).  They had secretly maneuvered to a different location than the Union forces expected. More troops, a new location and the element of surprise were all strong advantages for the Confederate troops on March 7, 1862.  So, why didn’t they emerge victorious in this battle?

Certainly, there could be a number of different reasons.  However, a key reason had nothing to do with military strength.  It had nothing to do with military tactics.  Rather the reason had everything to do with attitude, particularly the leader’s attitude and pride.

“Leader, check your pride.”

Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn was hungry for victory.  He was hungry for a reputation.  He wrote to his wife,“I am now in for it, to make a reputation and serve my country conspicuously or fail.  I must not, shall not, do the latter.”

This attitude led Van Dorn to push his troops hard through chilly conditions to Pea Ridge.  Onward they marched. They were tired, some even marching without shoes. Onward they marched.  They left their important supply wagons of food and extra ammunition behind as it would slow them down.  Onward they marched.  Van Dorn was so hungry to engage the Union forces.  He was hungry to make a reputation, to make a name for himself.  Onward they marched.

Van Dorn put his men into a position for a well-planned surprise attack.  Perhaps all the marching and pushing would pay off?  However, Van Dorn grew impatient and engaged his opponents before others in his command had established their positions.  As he sent messages that these other troops hurry up and take a faster route, they ran into Union resistance. Van Dorn lost the battle of Pea Ridge in many ways because he was blinded with such passion to win.

“Leader, check your pride.”

It’s not just General Van Dorn (and other Confederate and Union generals), but how many times, knowingly or unknowingly are you and I hungry for accomplishment and reputation?  How often have we wanted to make a name for ourselves and garner that “reputation” (as General Van Dorn openly declared)?  How often does our pride and our desire to achieve propel us into making poor decisions?  How often do we find ourselves seeking so badly to win, that we lose? (Believe me, I have done all these way more times than I want to admit!)

“Leader, check your pride.”

There are several good ways to check your pride, such as strong accountability, time in prayer, reading the Scriptures and worship.  However, all these require us to do something difficult as leaders.  All of the best ways to check our pride and make necessary adjustments requires something few of us like to do.  Checking our pride requires we adjust our posture from strength to humility.  Frankly, we need to slow down and climb a tree.  

“Leader, climb a tree.”

We need to slow down and realize the bigger picture that God is in charge of all things, not us.  I am currently reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson.  He shares about the Hebrews rescue from the Egyptians in the Biblical book of Exodus.  Peterson reminds his readers, that salvation, in this and all contexts, is all about God’s actions, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).   

We need to slow down and ask how a particular project affects our health and our family.  I caught a little of an episode of a television program where the husband was doubling production at his work.  The effect it was having on his wife though, was negative.  How often do we need to pause to ask questions about how a particular project may affect our family and our own well-being.  

We need to slow down and ask how a project affects the larger goals of our church or organization.  Sometimes, there is a temptation to do everything, because there are so many good possibilities.  It is hard to stay focused on a few areas.  I wonder if we are tempted by our own pride, to try to accomplish things beyond the scope of our church or organization?  (I speak this to my own shame.)  

We need to slow down and be sure the “supply wagons” are keeping up.  Just as General Van Dorn could have had a better chance at success had he had his full supplies, sometimes we move so fast that our supplies (energy, important clarifying conversations, etc.) can’t keep up.  We need to be sure that the troops are in place and ready.  

We need to slow down and climb a tree.

I know, it’s hard to slow down as a leader (I have failed at this many times).  But often it’s one of the most important things we can do to temper our pride and our desire to get things done.  Don’t let pride be your downfall.  Leader, friend, check your pride.