What was – local thugs were keeping the holy city of his fathers in ruins as the people there had tried to rebuild it for 40 years.
What should be – a city with a wall around it.
In that discovery, he made a risky decision. It wasn’t enough to pray or weep over it. He needed to take action. So Nehemiah aimed for The Gap. And 52 days after his arrival in Jerusalem, the wall was completed.
Moses was hiding from his past on the back side of the desert when he discovered a gap between what was and what should be.
What was – the cries of the oppressed Israelites had reached the ears of their God.
What should be – a nation of slaves set free to inherit the land of God’s promise.
In that discovery, he made a risky decision. It wasn’t enough to stand there and try to argue with a burning bush and the God who was calling him. He needed to take action. So Moses aimed for The Gap. And weeks later, he and a few million of his family members stood at the edge of the Red Sea.
This is the essence of leadership. Finding the gap between What Is and What Should Be and aiming for The Gap.
First you lead yourself to confront The Gap. Then you lead others by keeping them pointed toward The Gap and serving them until they get there.
What Nehemiah and Moses discovered, and you will too, is that aiming for The Gap creates pathways for you that you never knew existed. For the king’s cupbearer, it was all the resources (paid) and authority necessary to complete the task. For the Lawgiver, it was a miraculous deliverance through the sea. For both, the pathway didn’t appear until they took action to aim for The Gap.
George Carlin, in his old spoof of radio sportscaster Biff Barf, would say, “I call ‘em like I see ‘em. And if I don’t see ‘em, I make ‘em up!”
You would think that the easiest thing in this equation is knowing What Is. Unfortunately, that isn’t so. We have an extraordinary capacity to ignore the obvious, or those pesky little contradictions to what we think we know.
Example: All men really are created equal, Mr. Jefferson, and it is a self-evident truth. But that includes the women and slaves on your plantation.
What Is presents a lot of self-evident truths that, frankly, are extremely uncomfortable. It’s painful to face what Jim Collins calls the brutal facts, knowing that those brutal facts contain solutions that are yours for the finding. It’s a whole lot easier to play the glad game and pretend that somebody else can deal with it in 14 years or so.
What Is changes with time, and often changes quickly. Some people are addressing What Is issues from a generation ago as if they’re this morning’s news. Leaders don’t have that luxury. You can never aim for The Gap when you lack the courage and diligence to constantly monitor the ugly and the beautiful of What Is.
What Should Be
This should be obvious, too, right? Sorry. What Should Be is often dismissed to the land of imagination about the time we hit second grade. We start learning to color inside the lines, stand in line, and calculate the bottom line. Life becomes more about the lines than the gaps.
Life inside the lines creates “visions” that sound like this: “We’re aiming for a 5% increase in revenue for the next quarter.”
Really? That’s your Big Idea? That’s your Grand Dream?
Life inside the lines imagines a “poverty line” that is constantly shifting to keep 20% of our nation’s population below it, and a “jealousy line” that is constantly shifting to keep 1% of our population above it. Otherwise the politicians wouldn’t have much to talk about. After all, everyone needs the kindness of a savior, right?
Discovering What Should Be usually means flexing the muscles of childhood again. It requires imagination, a sense of adventure, and ideas that line up with ideals.
What Should Be holds on to timeless truths and impossible-looking dreams. It feeds on the three things that remain – faith, hope, and love – even in the face of cynicism, despair and hatred.
It would stand to reason that people in places of leadership are automatically pointed toward The Gap between What Is and What Should Be. Sorry again.
First of all, The Gap is a moving target. And while some things really do remain the same the more things change, The Gap morphs into new forms on a regular basis.
Aiming for The Gap is incredibly risky. The culture that produced Luke Skywalker and John Wayne honors the daredevils and heroes, but it also punishes those who swing for the fences and strike out. And as any good baseball fan can tell you, those who swing for the fences do strike out more.
Aiming for The Gap invites ridicule and criticism. Abraham Lincoln was referred to as “a long-armed ape.” And that was by one of his cabinet members! They are often dismissed by the intelligentsia as naïve or mocked as weak or stupid.
Aiming for The Gap often feels so unnecessary because of how long somebody can stay in a leadership position just aiming for the status quo or survival. In case you’re wondering, that’s about 4 years for CEOs of publicly-traded companies, 3.6 years for pastors, and 12 years for members of Congress.
So why bother? Why risk it? Because to a genuine leader, The Gap matters! More than personal comfort. More than sort-sighted approval from people warming the benches. More than the lukewarm fear of the mediocre majority.
It mattered enough to Nehemiah to weep, fast and pray for four months solid, then to risk his life to blurt out his dream to the king.
It mattered enough to Moses that he would confront the most powerful man in the world, along with his sorcerers and wizards, and demand that he free his entire unpaid labor force.
And when you free your imagination to see What Could Be, and open your heart to the realities of What Is, it just may matter to you, too.
Action and Time
Nehemiah waited four months before his opportunity presented itself. But when it did, he breathed a quick prayer and launched out into the deep.
Moses waited 40 years. But when God came calling, he seized the snake by the tail and made a beeline for Pharaoh.
Sometimes the first thing to do when you’re aiming for The Gap is nothing. Or at least it looks like nothing. It took Nehemiah some time to formulate a strategic plan. It took Moses some time to shake off his hero mentality and learn to depend completely on God. One spent a lot of time talking to God. The other spent a lot of time listening to Him. Both were ready, however, when the opportunity presented itself.
Louis Pasteur famously said that “chance favors the prepared mind.” So does every other form of opportunity. Aiming for The Gap is not an impulsive leap into the void. It’s a passionate dive into the truth – both seen and unseen. And it’s a decisive step when the opportunity arrives.
Anybody can talk about The Gap. Anybody can campaign against The Gap. Leaders do more. They prepare themselves. They prepare others. And when the time comes, they ask. They seek. They knock. And they don’t stop asking, seeking and knocking until The Gap starts retreating.
Isn’t it time you got off the bench? Isn’t it time you did more than talk about leadership or problem solving? Isn’t it time you retrained your scope to find The Gap, then prepared yourself to launch an all-out invasion to eliminate it?
Crazy, isn’t it?
Crazy enough to be true, with a leader like you.
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