Once the book was published I imagined that it would be easier to find the motivation to write on a regular basis. I think the sigh of relief I breathed may have been too big and relaxed me a bit too much, as that old familiar laziness has crept back into my bones. Blogging to stay sharp and share some of the big ideas from my book make so much sense, but like books, blogs don’t write themselves. Or can they?
Over the next few posts I’m going to share some excerpts from Leadership In Doubt. I hope they generate some discussion and pique your curiosity, and if you find any elements of your own story within mine, I hope you’ll be encouraged to explore how you might bless others by finding your own unique ways of sharing it.
“For years I tried to talk myself out of writing this book; in fact, for a long time it felt very scary even calling it a book, because books are meant to be written, not talked about in the abstract. The sad truth is that I didn’t really believe that I would – or, if I’m being totally honest, could – do it. Why put myself through a lot of anguish and give myself another reason to be self-critical? But this dream stubbornly refused to die. As I reflect on the unfolding of my life during the four years of my life when the dream started becoming reality (2011-2015), I believe that every experience of consequence was part of the preparation necessary to move me from a nagging, ever-present disbelief in myself, to an active belief in God’s relentless, unstoppable desire to transform me into the kind of person who doesn’t hide his light under a basket. This process has involved a lot of very painful pruning. I’ve had to admit a lot of unpleasant things about myself. I’ve had to learn to stop taking myself so seriously. And I’ve had to come to terms with the surprising truth that I have a story worth sharing, one that came to be shared in my own voice at just the right time.”
Trust and doubt. Fear and peace. Faith and work. Simple word pairs. My life and leadership journey have led me to explore the wide, frightening valleys that exist between the distant peaks of those small words. Through this exploration I’ve learned a lot about myself, but I’ve learned a whole lot more about God and His astonishing love for me and each of us. Learning happened during seasons of intense struggle and fierce spiritual opposition that repeatedly told me “your story is not worth sharing.” But my story is worth sharing. My story is relatable because I’m an everyday leader and person – no fancy titles, no advanced degrees – trying to use the gifts and passions God gave me to be successful and make a difference. God equipped me to do things I never would have thought possible – run a call center, launch a technology project and write a book – after I invited Him into every part of my life. He never gave up on me, even when I was ready to give up on myself.
What’s your POV? What’s your story and who will benefit from hearing it?
That was an excellent question, one I was happy to answer because I had been waiting for someone to ask it. I was attending the weekly breakfast meeting of a local civic organization. I had been invited to speak to them a couple of times before, and while I wasn’t there to speak that day, I wanted to let them know that I had finished writing the book I had mentioned on my last visit. As the meeting concluded, the gentleman sitting across from me began asking questions about the book, the last of which was “Why is your book different?” I offered four reasons (in no particular order of significance):
1. Unlike any other book you will ever read, Leadership In Doubt is my story. That may or may not mean much to people, but that certainly qualifies it as different.
2. I’m not a CEO, a 4-star general or a championship coach. I’m middle management. I’m an EOL – an Everyday Ordinary Leader – a voice that’s not often heard or considered in discussions about leadership.
3. I imagine that most leadership books are written from a perspective of personal strength; my story is fueled by my weaknesses.
4. It was those weaknesses that drove me to cry out to God in the darkest, lowest moment of my life, and in response He lovingly challenged me to trust Him in ways I never had before. By inviting God into my work life, my leadership journey went in unexpected directions as I explored what it meant to live and work with God at the center.
What I love most about leadership is the privilege of building into the lives of other people, the way that great friends and mentors did for me during formative seasons of my life. This is what motivated me to share my story in such a personal and risky way. My prayer is that God will use it to help other leaders like me chart a better journey for themselves and the people they lead.
Leadership In Doubt is now a real book that anyone can buy and read. 8 years and 57 days elapsed from President Kennedy’s famous speech about putting a man on the moon (5/25/61) to the date of the actual moon landing (7/20/69), which isn’t that much longer than the time from the original inspiration for my book (1/19/09) to the date of its publication (2/20/17). That is a handy dose of perspective.
I self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace tool, which proved to be an easier process than I imagined, although I won’t say that it was without some challenges. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to publish their own work. If you’re interested in learning more about my book you can check out my own eStore at:
The book is also available through Amazon.
When I launched this blog on Election Day last year I had big plans to get back into blogging, in part as a way of setting the stage for the eventual publication of my book. I was very deliberate about my choice of that day because, in my mind, it was illustrative of the dearth of principled leadership in our country; many of the events of the past few weeks (both originating from the White House and in response to them) have reinforced this belief. Adults acting like petulant children are encouraging other adults to adopt a similar attitude, and it feels like you and your side are losing if you don’t.
Where are the voices of reason in all of this madness? Where are the voices that can unite people around shared values? Do those values even exist any longer?
President’s Day doesn’t mean much more to many people than a day off from work or school. I didn’t intend to publish on that day but it feels right to have done so. We have a right and an obligation to expect and demand better from the people who lead us, but if we keep putting bad leaders in office we should not be surprised at the mess in which we live.
“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT
I have a lot for which to be thankful: my family, my health, my job, the Cubs finally winning the World Series. I want to take a moment this morning and give thanks also for my weaknesses. Weakness has caused me to acknowledge and celebrate my dependence on God. Weakness has compelled me to turn to other people and entrust them with glimpses of my true self that I would have preferred to have kept hidden. I have grown the most as a person during the seasons of greatest struggle. All of the self-doubt and anxiety and hesitation…they are each an essential part of my story, as are the times of triumph where I overcame them, and the regrets when I failed to do so.
I know it’s a cliche, but there is no opportunity for personal or professional growth without confronting and overcoming weakness. As hard as the fight can be, the alternative is stagnation and entropy, a slow decline into lifelessness. Who wants to give thanks for that?
So if you’re sharing a list of things for which you’re thankful with family & friends today, take a risk and put yourself out there by giving thanks for a weakness that has made you stronger.
Must be willing to spend less time talking and more time listening
Must be willing to assume the best about people with different opinions, not the worst
Must be willing to spend less time insulting people and more time understanding them
Must be willing to look first in the mirror for someone to blame
Must be willing to state your case without shouting down others
Posers, charlatans and megalomaniacs need not apply.
In the wake of the election results we’ve heard some gracious, conciliatory words from the candidates. That’s a good sign, but how long will those feelings last? Scrolling through my Facebook feed I’m seeing a lot of people attempting to strike a similar tone – also encouraging – but many others remain filled with angst or anger.
If you’re in a position to influence others, choose your words carefully in the weeks ahead, while so many people are a desperate for a sign of hope.
My name is Jae Knowlton and today I’m launching a blog called Leadership In Doubt. I’ve written a book with this same title that I intend to self-publish before the end of the year. The book details the integration of my faith and work lives, and how that has shaped my leadership journey. The blog is a way for me to connect with others who are on, have been on or are willing to explore a similar journey of their own.
I’m not a CEO and I don’t have an MBA; I’m just an EOL – an Everyday, Ordinary Leader. I worked in middle-management roles with a global call center organization for over 20 years, where I learned more about myself and my God-given potential than I could have imagined possible at the outset of my career. God has blessed me with a big dream, one in which this book and my story help and inspire other leaders in similar roles, leaders who may have a hard time relating to the leadership experiences of people who have reached the pinnacles of their professions.
I’ve come to believe that leaders who identify as Christians are most effective when engaged with God all 7 days of the week. That’s one of the most important things God has taught me in my leadership journey, although I don’t pretend that it was easy, or that I was always paying attention to the lessons. Doubt has been a constant companion along the way. Both the book and the blog will explore these lessons and what I learned (and failed to learn) from them.
Blogs are most effective when they’re interactive. People were made to live in community – even when it’s online – so whether you’re trying to figure out how your faith relates to your work life, or if you’ve already made some breakthroughs, I hope that you’ll share your perspectives here so that we can develop a community dedicated to exploring this theme.
It’s no coincidence that I’m launching this blog on Election Day in the U.S. I’m weary of and appalled by this election cycle and its ugliness. Both major candidates are deficient in praiseworthy attributes. Inspirational leadership could unite this country; instead, Americans across the political spectrum have become so polarized and intolerant that they’re assigning people the very worst motives simply because they see the world through a different lens. Inspirational political leadership in America today is very much in doubt. Yet whoever wins, God remains sovereign, and the outcome won’t catch Him by surprise. His ultimate purposes will be fulfilled regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.
Thanks for reading. My hope and prayer is that you see God show up in unexpected ways on your own leadership journey. Please check back for updates on the publication of Leadership In Doubt!