I shouldn’t be surprised that so many leaders want to have more impact on others lives. But I am taken aback at times when people ask me how to get published, become a seminar speaker at a conference, or get ‘known’ within a particular world, a world that is much smaller than it seems at first and few outside of it know of it.
At the same time, I understand the drive. Leaders are a gifted group of forward-thinking people wired for maximum impact. Often driven to not waste their days, we want to make as big of a splash as possible. We want to do something that matters. The problem is that we don’t know what makes the biggest splash.
I recently wrote that a person’s platform isn’t that valuable in the end. We’re in an age where authors and speakers are taught, and rightly so most of the time, that they need to have a ‘platform.’ A platform is what Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner describes as, “It’s the way you, the author, will get your name and your book in front of potential consumers.” And, if you have a message that you want to deliver in multiple ‘worlds,’ you need to be diligent to do that.
The problem with platform thinking is that leaders confuse the marketing-oriented splash of ‘fame’ as the one that is the biggest. If we aren’t careful, we’ll begin to think that the bigger splash, or long-term impact, is made from writing, speaking, and being recognized, of having a platform. I mean, sure, it looks like a big splash. A lot of people see and talk about us and our work.
Here’s the secret: The ‘platform’ splash isn’t as big as it seems. Those ripples fade fast. It’s like a cannonball that makes people go ‘wow’ and then 3 minutes later they’re looking for the next person to jump and do it again. The platform has a celebrity aspect to it, just like the ‘look what I can do’ aspect of performing a cannonball off the diving board. Just like Hollywood (which moves quickly to the next star for major roles), a new person will come along to write the next book, lead the next organization, and be the ‘thought leader’ in a particular field. Again, for many of us this is our work, but it’s not our identity, it’s not what will last the longest from our life well spent.
Here’s how you can make the biggest splash, one with ripples that will shake the waters for decades and beyond:
- Minister well with others.
- Invest in their lives.
- Be diligent to listen.
- Pray with them.
- Model how to be faithful, vibrant, others-focused.
- Life your life as you let them share it with you.
- Be humble and real.
- Lead and encourage those around you.
I am sure you can add others, but you’ll make the biggest ‘splash’ with your life through ripples of mentored influence that will extend for generations.
It will be like a person hanging on the side, kicking the pool water for hours. And, as others join you in that, the waves of the pool get more vigorous. As others join their cause, soon you find a small group extending their work beyond what splash one person can do (who is still getting out of the pool, running up to the board, and shouting ‘look at me’ before they jump). All the while the waves of the pool are still churning by those who have carried on the cause and ‘life’ (purpose) of the one who taught them how to keep kicking the water each day.
Platforms aren’t necessarily bad, in my opinion, but (as I stated elsewhere), they have to have a purpose (a mission or message) beyond … gaining us just a bigger platform. And, ironically, this blog where I talk of this is part of mine. I get that. But this blog or much of my ‘upfront’ work (speaking, writing) won’t be part of the conversation/evaluation at the end of my life. People will reflect on my evident faithfulness to and love for Jesus Christ. They will talk of how I loved and cherished those in my family. A chief element is how diligently I shared my vocational calling with colleagues at Bethel College (and other organizations) and how well I taught those students who chose to learn with me. They’ll look back over my three plus decades in youth ministry and think of lives touched, changed, and the day-in and day-out way fruitful work from those years.
Family, colleagues, and those we lead/teach/mentor/disciple … that’s the splash that is the biggest. Look at them. Jump in!