January 15, 2014| 0

How to Win in Spite of Success (Acts 14:15-18)

15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

“It always feels very good when people say that they love you and they want to talk to you,” says Joe Tsai, the “most sought after executive in the world,” according to this week’s newspaper.[1] Mr. Tsai ought to know what it means to be idolized. After all, he’s the man at the helm of IPO plans for Alibaba—the Chinese Internet and social networking company that dwarfs Amazon in sales and seems set to launch at a higher valuation than either Google or Facebook did. We can only hope that Mr. Tsai and his colleagues will not be victims of their own success.

Phenomenal success puts leaders at risk—the risk of believing they have earned their success based on their personal talent. The glory of success can go to a leader’s head and make one believe they are better than other folks. That’s a risk not only to the leader, but to the entire organization. This is why Jim Collins, in his best-selling book Good to Great, identifies “level 5” leadership as a dominant trait in the most successful companies. Level 5 leaders do not let success go to their heads, nor are they defeated by their success; when they receive praise, they re-direct it to others.

It would be hard to imagine a greater temptation to believe in one’s own power than Paul and Barnabas faced after delivering miraculous healings with a mere word [Acts 14:8-10]. People treated them like gods [vv. 11-13] and wanted to worship them [v. 18]. To accept that praise, however, would have been to snatch death and defeat from the glorious success of the gospel.

Every good and life-giving power, including the creative power to generate wealth through business pursuits, finds its source directly in the grace of God. Leaders who stay true to the source of this power and bear witness to God’s grace, will bless their organizations and will continue to be conduits through which God may pour out his grace to bless others around them.

[1] Andrew Ross Sorkin, “The Man Behind a Global Behemoth’s Eventual I.P.O.”, New York Times, January 14, 2014.


© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

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