Royal Robbins is a professional mountain climber. Writing in Sports Illustrated, he describes the one great essential of the sport. It is not physical strength or having the safest and best equipment, or even the proper training.  It is the ability to see things as they really are.  He writes:
  • “If we are keenly alert and aware of the rock and what we are doing on it, if we are honest with ourselves and our capabilities and weaknesses, if we avoid committing ourselves beyond what we know is safe, then we will climb safely. For climbing is an exercise in reality.  He who sees it clearly is on safe ground regardless of his experience or skill.  But he who sees reality as he would like it to be may have his illusions rudely stripped away from his eyes as the ground comes up fast.”
Royal Robbins illustrates a crucial leadership principle: Wise leaders resist seeing life as they would like to see it. They are honest with themselves regarding their capabilities and weaknesses. They seek to accurately assess the situation before them. In Leadership is the Key, Herb Miller identifies twelve traits of effective leaders.  One of the traits is “Objectivity:  The ability to accurately assess reality.”  He writes that ministers who frequently “fail to accurately define reality walk up stairs of sand in their journey toward effectiveness.”  He suggests that objectivity does not come from a high IQ or high levels of specialized knowledge, but from a leader’s willingness to be self-aware and sensitive to the feelings and opinions of others. Perhaps we could learn something about perception from Jesus’ extended stay at the temple as a child. After three days, his parents found him in the temple courts, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).  Jesus took time to listen and seek understanding. Based on research, John Savage (Calling and Caring) contends that 90% of the time, when we try to guess why a person dropped out of church, we guess wrong.  He suggests that the only real way to know why is to humbly ask the person.  Unless a person tells you their story, you really do not accurately know. The problem we often have in ministry is the tendency to project our own conclusions into difficult situations based on our insecurities. We have a tendency to attribute one cause to one effect.  To do so is to have an overly simplistic view and live under an illusion of understanding that is not connected to reality. A much better approach is to follow Jesus in the way listening and honest seeking, or even to heed James’ guidance that we be “Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Reverse these, and you have a distorted view of reality, as well as guaranteed conflict.  Put them into practice in ministry and you have understanding and a more accurate perception.  So, if rock climbing is an “exercise in reality,” then ministry (with all of its potential pitfalls) certainly fits that bill.  I believe Stephen Covey has it right: “Seek to understand, then to be understood.”  Seeing reality accurately will make you a more perceptive and effective leader.