One of my next projects involves some intensive research on the character of Robert E. Lee, General of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Yesterday, as I was reading about Lee’s character and personality, of his sense of strength, duty, and personal belief, I was reminded of how Tony Blair had challenged us at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit last Friday. In an interview with with the Willow Creek Association President Jimmy Mellado, former British Prime Minister Blair spoke of what he called the “irreducible core.”
The irreducible core.
“Say what you think and stand by it, or fall by it.” – Tony Blair
Mellado listed the near-juggernaut of events that Blair faced as Prime Minister: conflict in Northern Ireland where he brokered a peace agreement where so many others had failed, 9-11, 7-07-05 (the terrorist bombings in London), Iraq, Iran…the list went on. I don’t remember the exact question Mellado asked him, but as Blair talked, what emerged for me was this: here was a man who calmly and resolutely stood his ground in the midst of intense criticism and risk. He said, quite simply, that we all want to be liked, but that there are things we have to stand for, things we will not yield to, liked or not. That in any negotiation or relationship, we must be prepared, if necessary, to walk away, if to continue means to destroy our integrity. Compromise is important and necessary, but he made a distinction between necessary, acceptable yielding (my words here, I can’t remember just how he put it) in order to move negotiations forward, and those compromises that are unacceptable, where character demands that you stand where you stand.
The irreducible core.
Based on that core, the duty of the leader, Blair said, is to decide.
All of this resonates deeply with me, because over the years, my irreducible core has been elusive, too plagued by holes, and coupled with an intense desire to be liked, as he said, I’ve sometimes lacked the fortitude to say what I think and stand by it. And the need to decide? Years ago, I would have heard that and had it go right over my head. Now it hits me right between the eyes, and I know it’s truth. To know and live the core of our hearts, and to make bold, necessary decisions: that’s leadership. I heard Blair’s words as a direct challenge, a call to step up with greater heart, with greater faith, with a renewed resolve to decide, and to live out my decisions with all my heart, painful or not.
“The pain is nothing next to the blessing.” – Tony Blair
Blair admitted the pain that’s involved in that kind of life and leadership, and he said the best way to temper than pain is by counting our great blessings. Gratefulness as an answer to necessary pain resonated deeply as well. Several years ago, I began to literally count my blessings in a more formal way, and I can honestly say the various pains of my life eased. It remains true for me to this day, and Blair reminded me again to begin each day in gratitude and joy.
One of the last things Blair said was simple, profound, and implied much of what I think about when I think of creativity, meaning, and the reason for getting up in the morning. He spoke of “the joy of getting things done.” He didn’t mean the joy of checking things off a list. I took him to be referring to the deep joy of making, of moving life forward, of taking the material of life and shaping emerging realities according to the means God has given us. The joy of taking 5 coins and making 10.
The final sentence of my notes haunts me a bit, tells me I have a overdue date with sabbatical time.
I wrote: “What is my irreducible core?”