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?


About Larry Doyle

Dr. Larry S. Doyle is the Director of Missions of the Piedmont Baptist Association He has served as Director of Missions since September 1, 2003. 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. He and his wife Becky, a native of Greensboro, served as IMB/SBC missionaries in Ecuador from 1980 to 1992. He then came to the Triad to pastor the Hispanic Baptist Church in Kernersville, NC from 1992 to 2000. He and his wife served as the On-site Coordinator for Disaster Relief in Honduras from January 2000 to January 2001. Dr. Doyle was the International Ministries Director for the Baptist Metrolina Ministries in Charlotte, NC from 2001 to 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. Larry and Becky have two sons, Steve and Tim, and are the proud grandparents of three. They attend Calvary Baptist Church in McLeansville.
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