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  • Kenan Bishop

Leadership is A Lion’s Den (TLDR: Devoured or Nah?)

Have you ever wondered why a leader with high potential and developing practices might not make it? Have you wondered why a leader with a reputation for having a positive, mission driven outlook and charisma might have a short lived tenure?

Leadership is a Lion’s Den and charisma will not keep you from being devoured.

My grandmother taught me about Daniel when I was a kid. He was facing insurmountable odds, placed in a den of beasts that would surely devour him. He was divinely protected and was ultimately unscathed. Leaders face insurmountable odds navigating staffing, development, operations, pipeline, board relations, community engagement, and the mythical search for the 25th hour of the day needed to get it all done. Leadership is a Lion’s Den.

Leaders strive to overcome competing agendas, decision fatigue, supporting people and leveraging processes, lying awake at night chasing peace in the midst of strife. Leaders give pep talks to themselves and others. Leaders read, and make stalled improvement attempts. The impeccable charisma that got them to that leadership seat falls short of what it takes to sustain within the Lion’s Den.

As a young executive who was charged with expanding into new territories, developing leaders, and establishing and maintaining structures of accountability, I was freaking out. I had entered the Lion’s den & I didn’t want to be devoured.

The newness of the teams that I supported, the lift of the vision, and the expectation for performance led me to my knees.

Inspired, I saw images in my sleep for structures that felt right to me AND were in may ways burdensome for those I led. I shared exemplars for my expectations, structures for accountability, and an ear for the occasional vent when things felt too hard. I rolled up my sleeves along with those I supported and showed those leaders what could be done. They tried, delivered, and eventually resigned because the expectations never seemed to let up. They were in the Lion’s Den.

I was rewarded for my zeal, and was consistently leveraged to shape a bench of leaders who also tried and eventually resigned because they were in the Lion’s Den. I was proud of those outliers who lasted, climbed the leadership ranks, and reached out to me years later to share their reflection on how my processes helped them to be effective in areas where others had struggled. The affirmations felt great. I assumed I had equipped them to survive the Lion’s Den. Until I got a chance to ReThinc.

I joined a team where weekend work wasn’t expected. I served on a cabinet that was highly relational and highly efficient. I became a part of a team that showed up well for one another with words that affirmed, questions that confronted, and laugher that sustained. There was ample runway to craft vision, clear expectations for deliverables, thought partnership, and a consistent investment in the development of my capacity, and the capacity of those that I was entrusted to lead. The Lion’s Den had grown more ferocious but we weren’t being devoured.

Our team had charisma but there was something more.

Strategy, check. Resources, check. Intelligence, check.

Those things exist to some degree on every team, but we SAW one another. We saw our CEO. His strategic mind, his sincere affect, & his belief in people. We saw our CSO. Her compassion, her sophistication, and unwavering teamliness. We saw our CPO’s humility & inquisitive nature. We saw our CFO’s no nonsense way of getting to the heart of a matter. As the CEAO, they saw me for my hip hop, pentecostal, confluent-thinking self. We saw one another and that meant that “we belonged” at work & that sense of belonging kept us from being devoured. I’ll never forget that team.

Now, as Co-founder of Rethinc, I get to help people change the ways we work so that belonging is the norm. Working across lines of difference, leveraging cycles of practice, and making sure that DEI truly means something is our expertise and our purpose. You don’t have to be devoured.

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