A Tale of Two Leaders: Which Are You?

More than twenty years ago, I had an experience with two very different leaders. Those experiences have dramatically shaped my own view of leadership. In the end, they represent two very different styles, leading to two very different results.

An Apple and an Orange, Side-by-Side - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bluestocking, Image #3501504

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/[photographer]

One evening in 1988, my business partner and I had dinner with one of the most prominent pastors in America. He’s not so well known now, but at the time he was at the top of his game.

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His name was a household word. He had enjoyed a string of bestsellers and one of the largest viewing audience of any TV evangelist. We were there to talk about the prospect of publishing his next book.

He was his usual charming self at dinner. For about forty-five minutes he regaled us with stories of his children, his grandchildren, his new house, the growth of his ministry and influence, etc. Never once did he ask us about our lives, our families, or our business. We got the distinct sense that this was merely another speech, masquerading as a conversation.

Finally, he came up for air. Seeming a bit embarrassed that he had waxed on and on about himself, he said, “I’m sorry, enough about me …”

For a nano-second, we felt a spark of hope. It was quickly extinguished when—without taking a breath—he continued: “Let’s talk about my book.”

In the ten years I was in a business relationship with this author, I don’t recall him ever asking me a single question. At the end of our association, he didn’t know me any better than he did the first day we met.

Contrast this with another meeting I had in 1983. At the time, I was working for Word Books, a company that Thomas Nelson later acquired. I was an acquistions editor. My boss, Ernie Owen, was a master at author relations. He rightly believed that this was the cornerstone of any successful publishing program.

As part of my training, he sent me to Anchorage, Alaska to attend the Billy Graham Crusade. He thought it would be good for us to support Mr. Graham in this way since we were his exclusive publisher.

I was 28-years-old. I had never met anyone as famous as Mr. Graham, and I was nervous as I could possibly be. I spent the long plane ride from Dallas to Anchorage writing out a set of questions I intended to ask Mr. Graham when we met.

I arrived at the arena where Mr. Graham was scheduled to speak about an hour before the program was to begin. My palms were sweating. My mouth was dry. But I was eager to meet this great man of God, counting it an extraordinary privilege to meet such a living legend.

One of his aides ushered me back to the “Green Room”—the special preparation room where speakers wait until it is their turn to speak. When I walked into the room, Mr. Graham was the only one there. He immediately stood up, smiled, and extended his hand, “Hi, Michael, my name is Billy.” (As if I didn’t know.)

He invited me to sit down and visit with him. I pulled out my day planner with my list of questions. I never got to ask a single one.

Mr. Graham pummeled me with questions. He asked about my upbringing, my family, and my business. He asked me about my relationship with Christ.

These were not the questions of an interrogator but a friend. He laughed easily, and followed up every answer with another query—before I could turn the tables. He never took his eyes off me. He was totally present.

I left feeling known and validated. I was on cloud nine. In 20 minutes, he had an impact on me that would forever change the way I think about leadership. I remember thinking, If I am ever in a position of leadership, that’s the kind of person I want to be!

Two leaders. Two styles. Two very different outcomes. The first one is essentially washed up. He essentially has no influence today. Meanwhile, at age 92, Mr. Graham has left a legacy—not only in the lives of the millions he has touched, but in my heart. The legend lives on.

Questions: What kind of leader are you? Is it all about you or is it all about them? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/ronjenson Ron Jenson

    Great blog Michael. By the way, I have met Billy Graham and I agree with Cheryl below.

  • Nina

    A great leader discovers the strengths of others and helps bring those qualities out. To do this requires great listening skills.

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  • Bradford

    Thanks for the post! You can really tell when someone is interested in you getting to know them or when they are interested in getting to know you.

  • http://www.homestrong.net Dean

    That is a very useful bit of advise. I’ve seen that in my life as well, as many of the people I most respect are also the people who will look me in the eye and actually care when they ask, “How are you doing today?” Thanks for this reminder.

  • http://www.christopherscottblog.typepad.com/ Christopher Scott

    Wow, what a great story Michael.

    I really hope that I’m in the second category. In my heart I believe that I am, but it’s tough to objectively look at ourselves.

    In my book I write about a similar distinction between extroverts and introverts. Sometimes extroverts are not as good at “connecting” with people because they tend to talk more and listen less. To the contrary, introverts usually connect better with others because they listen more and talk less. Hence, allowing the other person to share his or her thoughts and feelings.

    Thanks for this inspiring post.

  • Anonymous

    I remember some 25 years ago we volunteered as worked the Chicago for Jesus rally in Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois. All of the big name Christian leaders were there to show forth their talents etc., My job for those three days was to get the next speaker, singer, groups, etc., ready in the wings 5-10 minutes before they were to go on next as the event was live TV. The names are somewhat of a blur today as to all of the groups that sang or shared during this event. But there were two individuals who stuck out like a cookie next to a carrot.

    One was a big name preacher from the Chicago area. The other was Bill Bright founder of Campus Crusade. The big time Chicago preacher sat in his Mercedes out in the parking lot. There parked close to the entrance to the back steps leading to the stage he waited for his time on stage. Three separate times I had to send a volunteer worker out his car in the rain to ask him to please come in now. Three times the volunteer came back saying he was told by the two bodyguards not to bother the Preacher again. Come out just before it was time for him to go on. Finally I had to sayif he did not come in right then he would be scrubbed. We would just move to the next person(s) into his slot. The volunteer didn’t want to go out to deliver the message. This mans bodyguards had really scared him previously. But he go out and in came the Chicago preacher visibly irritated that we had been bothering him. It was anything but a shepherds heart that we were feeling that day by this man. He went on and delivered his sickly sweet message and we could not believe it was the same man. Afterward he snubbed those standing about as he headed back to his waiting Mercedes driving quickly out of the parking lot. I was obviously not very impressed.

    Then there was Bill Bright. bill Bright who humbly allowed us to move a choir group in front of his assigned time slot. They had been scrubbed the night before due to circumstances beyond their control. Bill was sitting backstage quietly waiting with an O2 bottle available if he needed it. He had recently been diagnosed with the same disease that ended up taking his life almost 30 years later. But there he was the founder of a world wide ministry talking to anyone who came over to see him or get his autograph on their Bibles etc. He was simply there ministering to those about volunteering that day. Encouraging these people who were just trying to do the best job they could under some pretty foul weather conditions. I was amazed when he was called to the wings he came without fanfare or prodding. He was ready to share his heart and we who watched this leader of men were ready to listen. Differences in leadership were evident to all those behind the scenes that day even thought both came off well in front of the camera. But we knew who the true leader was that day. It was evident in the fruit we were allowed to taste and not in the presentation for others to see. I still remember both of their names but one stayed a small time preacher in Chicago and well we all know the story of Bill Bright and his ministry to millions.

    Did I mention that as a Sgt in the U.S. Marines I saw all forms of leadership. It was there also very evident to those who were forced to just follow certain leaders due to rank. This verses those few other true leaders like my Captain overseas. He always who took care of his men first and looked to his own comfort later. The type of leader whom we would follow anywhere and back again. Christ is such a leader.

  • http://3-18ministries.blogspot.com Tory Satter

    My wife and I have been on the mission field for 7 years. When we visit churches to share about our ministry we end up talking about ourselves and the ministry. People would want to know what was going on in our lives, family and ministry. That started to overflow into my relationships and conversations especially around the time we would share with churches. I have had to make a conscious effort to be a better questioner and listener! Thanks for the reminder and challenge!

  • Andrew Hawkins

    Fabulous article, Michael! Both my wife and I mentioned independently how moved we were reading it. Such a simple and powerful principle–listening to others and yet how rare!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thank you for your kind words. There is definitely a shortage on listening!

  • Dennis

    I just found your website so I’m a little late in adding to the discussion. Your insight reminds me of many conversations with both versions of the leaders you describe. The comments others have contributed are full of wisdom. But I admit that I kind of sympathize for the anonymous pastor. Not for who he is and not to excuse him, but shouldn’t we (the contemporary Christian culture) take some responsibility for creating leaders like him. “at the top of his game” and “washed up” are terms we use to describe professional athletes and movie stars –celebrities. I sense that the Billy Graham type does not set out to be a celebrity but a faithful pastor. Anonymous set out to be a celebrity and used the gospel for his own purpose. God creates leaders like Billy Graham, we create leaders like anonymous.

  • Todd

    Good post? Oh yeah. Challenging? You bet! I don”t think I have ever taken the time to read so many comments after a blog post as I did for this post. I may skim thru them, but this topic is pretty key. The proverbial statement of God giving us one mouth and two ears comes into sharper focus with this post/comments. I forwarded this to my four kids and new son-inlaw. I am sure I will be forwarding it on to others as well.
    Thanks for the challenging reminder Michael.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome. Thanks for taking time to read the post, the comments, and then leave a comment!

  • http://debomendoorhetbosch.blogspot.com/ André Bor

    Michael, thank you for this beautiful story. For a kind of shy person as I am, asking questions is always a way out to a good conversation. People feel important when they got a question about their lives. And it’s so easy to do.

    Happy new year.
    André Bor

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  • http://www.halfwaydownstairs.blogspot.com Emily

    Inspiring article. I plan to share it with my readers during my regular Friday linkage.

  • http://twitter.com/2020VisionBook Joshua Hood

    As usual, you make a great point. Being genuinely interested in other people is one of the biggest keys to connecting with them and becoming a great leader and influencer. Thank you for a valuable reminder!

    Joshua Hood

  • http://twitter.com/NewEnglandHiker Roy Wallen

    This is a great story about a great man who was greatly used by God. Perhaps he was so powerfully used because he was focused on others, not himself. This, I think, is the essence of servant leadership. Thanks for sharing the story.

  • Brian

    Thank you for the very helpful post! 

  • Gfrei

    Thanks homie, this is wonderfully helpful.

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  • Jacob Summers

    Awesome! Thanks for taking the example of a great man like Billy Graham. A world leader who exudes humility.

  • annepeterson

    I would have to say I spent a great deal of my life wrapped around me and my pain. I am becoming the 2nd type of leader and full of thankfulness that I still have time. Great post, Michael, as always.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Thanks for sharing your journey. And, yes, we still have time!

  • http://twitter.com/JimLewisCEO Jim Lewis

    I had a similar experience as yours with “Billy” when I drove a limo and had the opportunity to chauffeur  Peter Drucker to a conference 2.5 hours away. He was truly interested in me, and encouraged me through the loss of my business. Both great men and leaders!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Wow!  What an awesome opportunity, Jim!

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  • Michelle

    Max Lucado is JUST like that. One of the most humble and personable people i know. Is more interested in the person he is talking to than himself.

  • Sandy

    My Grandmother lived to be 104 (1896-2000) and she loved loved loved Billy Graham!

  • Rob Chaput

    Wow – amazing story. I will carry this one with me to change the way I lead. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dorci

    Social media has become a breeding ground for narcissism, and the art of relationship is quickly fading. Reverend Graham got it right because he has the heart of Jesus and lives for Him, not the world or himself. Thanks for the reminder that in this age of pride, genuine humility still shines the brightest.

  • Mary Biz

    I was filled with awe just reading the words you’ve written about this Great man. Of course, it makes sense that anyone with a message to share would like to “know” the pulse of the individuals with whom they share. I think people in general, appreciate being understood, and that line of questioning tells them you” care.” I know I would like to be that kind of caring person. (In fact, I think I am that caring individual, yet I hesitate to ask questions which would help me to be wiser about those around me). But, in the course of my growing up, I was schooled to hold my tongue and mind my business. So here is my inquiry in response to your question: How does one learn to turn off that mind your own business mentality and, ask relevant, but not “prying” questions?It is an art I have yet to master.

  • Eileen Holtry

    This story is a great example of the difference between a transactional and a transformational leadership style.