Leaders are learners.  Said differently, if you aren’t learning, you shouldn’t be leading.  To me, this is a core characteristic of someone in a leadership position.

When I think of learning, my mind jumps quickly to the picture of a classroom setting.  There is a teacher, a student, and a lesson.  This is the picture – we in the West – view as discipleship as well.  A mentor and mentee and an open Bible.  But when it comes to learning, there is much more to the story.

We learn from people’s lives.  We learn by watching.  We learn by imitating.  It’s like learning to ride a bike.  You begin with training wheels.  Then you move to the side of a grassy hill, with someone holding your shirt or bike seat as you nervously try to find what balance is.  Eventually, you are cruising on your own, even practicing riding with no hands.

I started adding up in my mind, recently, who all I have learned from.  These people don’t know I have learned from them.  Why?  Because I’ve only met a few of them.  I learn by watching, and trying, and falling, getting back up, and then trying again.

Here are a few “distant mentors” of mine and the lessons they have taught me:

1. President George W. Bush This should come as no surprise.  I have written this post as well as this one on the leadership lessons I’ve learned from him.  I named my first son after him.  I’m not a staunch Republican – by any sense – but I felt there was much to learn from him.  If I had to narrow it down to one lesson I’m trying to learn from him, it is this:  Take responsibility for the negative things, even for the actions of people on your team.

2. Michael Hyatt Many of you know of his blog.  If you don’t, you ought to.  I was at a conference a few years ago and heard him talking about using social media to further a cause.  Up until that point, I saw social media as a waste of time.  His blog is practical, helpful, and full of good information.  I’ve told him I think he shepherds his readers well.  Big lesson from him:  Help equip others so they can thrive in their calling.

3. Steve McVey, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Gary Thomas – You might recognize some of these names, but not all of them.  Each are authors whose books have greatly impacted my philosophy and theology.  I’ve never met any of them, but could tell you lessons from each that have helped shape who I am today.  Biggest lesson from these guys all wrapped into one thought:  Understand what God has done in you.  Live in, and from that place.

4. Dave Ramsey – This guy is a real pain.  He’s controversial because he is so black and white about money management. Listening to his podcast years ago made me create my philosophy of stewarding the resources God had entrusted to me.  Soon after reading this book from him, my wife and I started killing all our debt.  To date, all we have left is our house.  Give us 6 or 7 more years, and we’ll hopefully have that gone as well.  Biggest lesson:  Live within your means.

5. Pete Briscoe, Matt Chandler, Andy Stanley Although these guys are pastors and authors, their main influence on me is a little different. Yes, I’m sure they have shaped my theology, but I list to them for their influence on my public communication.  As I listen to how these guys preach and teach, I compare them to how I feel most comfortable in large group settings.  Biggest lesson from them:  Speak with boldness, conviction, steeped in God’s Word.

There’s my list.  I’m sure there are more, but those came to mind quickly.

How about you?  Who are some of your distant mentors?

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