Leadership and the Icarus Principle

“It could never happen to me.  I’m in control of this situation.  I am too smart, or too spiritual to fall into that trap.”  Ever heard anyone talk like that? Ever said those things yourself? How long was it before the words came back to haunt the speaker? It probably wasn’t too long.

You may remember the story of the Greek mythological character, Icarus, a young man who sought to defy the laws of gravity by means of artificial wings.  He took flight, and soared to great heights, but despite his father’s warnings, flew too close to the sun.  His wax wings melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned.  The ancient myth carries a great moral truth.  You may think you are above the law, untouchable, invincible and unstoppable.  However, sooner or later, the laws of nature and gravity will bring you down.

The moral failures of religious and political leaders we hear about on the local and national news sound a lot like this mythical character.  They fly high for a while, but flying too close to the sun reveals the weakness of their humanity, and before long their world comes crashing down.

The myth also reminds me of a basic truth in leadership.  There is no substitute for integrity, and no limit to transparency for today’s leaders.  This truth is especially applicable to Church leaders.  Leading others requires total honesty, and is sustained by consistent, uncompromising self-examination.  The bottom line for effective leadership is not credentials, but character.  Character is first and foremost a matter of the heart.

I encourage and urge every leader I coach to take time regularly to stop all their activities and give their utmost attention to the condition of their own heart.  You do not learn character in school, nor do you get it in a 7-day leadership course.  Only God can create a “new heart,” shaped according to His heart.  And, only in a consistent walk with God can you maintain healthy blood flow to that heart.  While only God can create in us a new heart, He expects us to guard it, and grow it, according to His principles.

Avoiding the disaster of the Icarus Principle, hinges on two things:  self-awareness and accountability.

The leader cannot afford to ignore his or her blind spots.  If as a leader you say you do not have any blind spots, you are either naïve, arrogant, or both.  Paul urged the believers in Rome to “be honest in your estimate of yourselves” (Romans 12:3 NLT) His own self-awareness can be seen in his letter to the Corinthians.  He said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.  Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (I Cor. 9:27 NLT) What honesty!  What a challenge to each one of us! Are you aware of the condition of your heart?

Of equal importance is recognizing your strengths and giftedness.  The Gallup Organization has discovered the one common characteristic of strong leaders is their awareness of their strengths, and their commitment to leverage those strengths.

The leader must also create and maintain a consistent method of accountability.  I like to ask the following questions to young leaders, “Who speaks truth into your life on a regular basis?”  “Is there a person with whom you meet regularly for accountability?”  If there is no one holding you accountable, it is very possible you will discover the Icarus Principle the hard way – only after you crash, burn or perhaps drown. Accountability is the foundation of effective leadership.

If you are flying high today, what are you doing to maintain that flight tomorrow? Or, are you already headed for the water?

Published by Larry Doyle

Dr. Larry Doyle served as the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association from September 1, 2003, to May 31, 2016. Since retiring from the Piedmont Baptist Association in 2016, Dr. Doyle has served as interim pastor and pulpit supply for several churches in the Piedmont Triad area. He served the Pinecroft Baptist Church from August 2018 to October 2020. His ministry began in the pastorate in Kentucky, his native state. He served as pastor of three churches while completing his undergraduate, graduate and post graduate degrees. (1968–1979) He and his wife Becky, a native of Greensboro, served as missionaries with the International Mission Board in Ecuador from 1980 to 1992. They returned to North Carolina where Larry pastored the Union Cross Hispanic Baptist Church in Kernersville from 1992 to 2000. In January 2001 he and Becky moved Honduras where they served as the On-site Coordinator for Disaster Relief with the North Carolina Baptist Men, coordinating volunteer teams in rebuilding houses and churches after the destruction of Hurricane Mitch. Upon returning from Honduras in January 2002, Larry served as the International Ministries Director for Baptist Metrolina Ministries in Charlotte, NC, a position he held until answering the call to become the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association in Greensboro, NC in September 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Kentucky University, and received a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Today Larry enjoys “Strengths Coaching” and mentoring pastors and church leaders. He also enjoys finding, refinishing and repurposing old, discarded furniture. Larry and Becky have two sons, Steve and Tim, and are the proud grandparents of five.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: