Buoys and Leadership
“Just circle around like you always do so I can drop a ski.”
My dad shouted back: “I can’t swing the boat over there anymore because of the buoy!”
I squinted at the water surface to the left of our dock. Sure enough there was a floating metal object put there by our new neighbor. Apparently he didn’t want to spend the money for a boat hoist and decided to sink a buoy line to tie up his boat. However, there was no boat currently attached, and the buoy was small enough and far enough from the shore to be easily missed by any passing boat or by a water skier like me.
Having grown up around water, I am familiar with buoys. They mark out swimming areas or indicate channels deep enough for large boats to safely maneuver. Some have lights to guide watercraft and bells to warn of reefs or other hazards. Buoys keep things afloat or prevent them from drifting.
As leaders in our company, organization, church or family, we are often the buoys that keep people from being carried along with no purpose or even into dangerous situations. We also serve as a safety float to keep people’s heads above water and to prevent situations from sinking into despair or descending into chaos.
But the most important purpose of a leadership buoy is to lift up, to encourage.
The New Testament is full of encouragement and encouragers. The Holy Spirit encouraged the saints and the early church (Acts 9:31). Those saints in turn became encouragers themselves. Church planters and missionaries are mentioned by name as encouragers: Paul, Silas, and Judas. One man was such an outstanding encourager that the apostles changed his name from Joseph to Barnabas, “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).
Throughout the letters to the early churches there was encouragement of hearts, of spirits, of faith in the Lord Jesus. Those early believers needed to hear words that would give them hope to persevere and carry on (Hebrews 6:18; Romans 15:4).
They also were urged to encourage each other (2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:11) and to do it every day! (Hebrews 3:13) Their faith was an encouragement to those who were bringing them the message of grace and love and forgiveness (Acts 28:15; 2 Corinthians 7:4). The early evangelists and church leaders cultivated an atmosphere of encouragement.
We too welcome this encouragement. We love receiving support and hope. We feel great when our confidence is uplifted. We enjoy giving someone a pat on the back. We applaud and cheer. I love this feeling of being uplifted, and I also enjoy being a cheerleader.
But if our organization, our company, our family is to be strong, confident and full of life, encouragement has to be more than just cheering someone on. It also involves instruction and correction. There’s no point in encouraging people to keep on a path that isn’t working out. They need encouragement to do better, make better choices, even learn and acquire new skills.
The apostle Paul reminds us that encouragement also needs the right tools: patience, careful instruction, sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:9). Tell the truth and stand by it confidently. And most importantly, don’t encourage others down a wrong path!
As a teacher I encouraged with direction and correction. That was my goal. When I felt students were underestimating their potential, I showed them how they could grow and achieve so much more. At the same time I would be sure give them the opportunities and resources to help them reach new heights. Encouragement without resources is pointless and frustrating to those we are motivating.
However, not every encouragement tool works in every situation or with every person. I know my children responded differently to our efforts to motivate, guide, and encourage them. One needed firmness, whereas another responded to a calm warning. Some of my students answered positively to a smile and suggestions. Others needed to have a fire lit under them!
Knowing who we are leading and how they will most likely react will determine which course of action is needed. Who responds to urging and coaxing and who would benefit from a firm intervention? Who needs a “course correction” and who could use a boost to their confidence? We also should be ready to quickly adjust our tactics once we recognize our encouraging efforts aren’t working.
As we lead in our company, our school, our church, our home, we are buoys to those we serve. We keep them from sinking under the weight of their assignment, their job, their responsibilities. We guide them and keep them from drifting into places where they will do harm or be harmed. We lift them up when they are down and cheer them on. We don’t add to their burdens. We are sensitive to their needs and recognize what approach we should use. We encourage!
If our words and actions are truly encouraging, those we lead will feel hopeful, reassured, supported, and appreciated. They will sense that we are trying to be helpful and affirming and that we truly understand. And the morale of the family, company, church, or organization will be uplifted.
As a leader I need to look for that same hope and assurance and support. I know my Lord Jesus is my faithful buoy. He keeps me afloat when I’m in danger of sinking. He keeps me from drifting with the current or waves. He holds me firm. He marks my safe channel. He warns me away from danger. He is my guide and my beacon of hope! He knows me intimately and uses just the encouraging strategy I need.
He is my biggest encourager! He is my joy!
Leaving my guilt at the cross,
(First published at Lead Like Jesus July 2021)