Biblical Leadership
2/1/11 at 07:35 AM 0 Comments

Are you dramatic enough to lead?

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"In a culture like ours ... it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message."
– Marshall McLuhan, 1964

The prophet Ezekiel struggled to be heard by the Israelites. They persisted in their disobedience despite enduring the judgment other prophets had promised. Though they were sure they'd soon return home from exile, Ezekiel's job was to shatter their dreams with a prophecy of further judgment.

God commanded him to deliver his message with unusual acts of drama.

Ezekiel exemplified "the medium is the message," a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan in his iconic 1964 book, Understanding Media. McLuhan said the form of a medium weaves into the fabric of whatever message it is conveying: "People don't actually read newspapers," he writes. "They step into them every morning like a hot bath."

In the 6th century B.C., Ezekiel became the medium for his own message. He literally camped out in the town square and preached his divine warnings to everyone within earshot. He no doubt attracted gawking crowds as he symbolically acted out his prophecies:

He shaved his head and beard, burning, chopping and scattering it to represent the destruction of the Israelites He dug a hole under the city wall and walked through it with his baggage as a sign of the coming exile He lay on his side on and off for 390 days to signify the number of years of Israel's iniquity He ate measly rations to signify the coming famine during the Babylonian siege

History has produced other dramatic communicators. Like Ezekiel, Gandhi was a man of extreme convictions and actions, who completely identified with India's common people. He lived in the same poor conditions as they did and willingly took beatings to demonstrate his dedication to their freedom.

During his campaign of nonviolent resistance against British rule, he fasted nearly to death to protest violence that had broken out among some of his own followers. Gandhi shut down the entire country one day – no workers in the government buildings, no trains, no utilities – to prove the people of India were more powerful than their imperial occupier. Ultimately, the British Empire gave up.

In 1517, another master of drama named Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This widely distributed document of protest against the Roman Catholic Church led to his excommunication. But regardless of persecution, Luther's zealous resistance inspired the Protestant Reformation and helped define Western culture.

The story of Rosa Parks, a department store seamstress who in 1955 refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, dramatized the growing racial tension in America. Her act of defiance inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a media-frenzy event that helped propel Martin Luther King, Jr. into leadership of the new national civil rights movement.

Ezekiel, Luther and Rosa Parks are but a few characters in history that dramatized the causes they believed in. Rather than simply speaking out, they risked widespread rejection and imprisonment by acting out what they believed.

Drama is a necessary tool for every leader. To ensure our people remember and deliver our organization's #1 goal, cause or purpose, we must dramatize it. It must be memorable to matter.

Ezekiel's prophecies of judgment were crucial to his people's future survival. The problem was they'd heard his message so often that they no longer listened to it. Is that how people feel about your mission statement or your latest organization-wide initiative?

Great leaders embed themselves into the causes of their organizations, essentially becoming the medium for their message. Drama, of course, is not itself a precursor of success – there are countless charismatic leaders who've been short on results. But Ezekiel's bold, symbolic communication style inspires me to get creative and risk rejection for the sake of my organization's cause.

If I don't get dramatic about our mission, who will?

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