Angry young man
“It must be nice to be an angry young man. It’s a good thing you’re right son, because they’re lining up for the day you’ll be wrong.”
That was the opening salvo from my boss’ boss after a meeting I had just finished with a cadre of design engineers. I stood in his office not quite knowing how to respond to his “angry young man” characterization of me. I knew I had more than a tendency to bulldoze people who didn’t grasp situations fast enough, but isn’t that how it is done?
The next day I received a copy of the Letter to James. This snippet of the Bible was not sent to me by my boss’ boss. No, his boss sent it. The president of the company. I was not yet a Christian. I went to church and so the Scriptures weren’t foreign to me. Just Jesus. I spent the next months, and years, trying to comply with what was some very personal performance counselling, and I was failing. The old Adam was still alive.
After Jesus rescued me, there was no magic wand-waving, with all shortcomings instantly cured. Some parts of my old-self did immediately change, but not my impatience. However, it did mean that the Holy Spirit could be victorious. I was in a world where debate was not merely encouraged, it was mandated, and I loved to engage in it. And yet God was inviting me to take every thought captive to the mind of Christ. I do not remember how, but I started writing the following six letters on the top of my memo pad as I started every meeting:
Too bad those six letters do not spell some cool acronym. It matters not. I wrote them over and over. They reminded me Whose I was.
Being reminded was important. In that environment – as you might imagine – highly motivated people can become, let us just say, a bit aggressive. Add arrogance and career aspirations into the mix, and those technical debates can become downright savage. QH-SS-SA was the key for me. Early in the Letter to James we read, “…let every person be Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak, and Slow to Anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (cf. Jas. 1:19-20). My goal in those mental and verbal wrestling matches was now to allow God’s righteousness to shine.
The epistle’s description of the power of the tongue in chapter 3 drives home the point. “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire. And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” (cf. Jas. 3:6) “A world of unrighteousness.” Strong words. We each know too well the truth of God’s Word. If this exhortation is not enough, consider how the power of the tongue is magnified when the person wagging it is the leader.
Rather than rattle off more verses of Scripture, one only needs to look at Jesus and how often he asked questions. His goal was to draw out from those he was teaching what they knew. He wanted them to think on their feet. To be sure, he pointed them to truth when necessary, but always with love and humility. He was less interested in demonstrating that he knew the right answer, and much more interested in them. As leaders, let us be QH-SS-SA.
This was originally written as a guest post for C12 Charlotte.