Recently I heard the story of a golf course that had quite a unique problem — a monkey infestation. (I think this course must have been in India!) It created all kinds of issues on the golf course. The golfers would hit the ball and the monkeys would pick up the played ball and toss it. Sometimes they would toss it into the rough. Sometimes they would even toss it up on the green, which made some of the other golfers, who were in competition, angry.
They knew they had to deal with their monkey infestation problem. They tried capturing them and taking them to another location, which took a great deal of time and a great deal of expense. To their surprise, those monkeys not only came back but they actually brought friends, so the problem even got bigger. Since they couldn’t solve the problem, they made a rule: Wherever the monkey lays the ball, play it there.
As leaders, that’s one of the first things we have to learn about leadership: wherever the monkey has placed the ball, that’s where we start the leadership role. We have to play the ball wherever it gets placed, however unfair a spot that may be in these economic times. We can complain a great deal about how unfair it is that we have to serve in this time when others before us served in better times but you have to play the ball wherever it’s laid.
I think about two great heroes of mine. Franklin Roosevelt, who had to play the ball where it landed in the Great Depression, and Winston Churchill, who had to lead at the worst of times.
Now what’s interesting to me is that Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t a great economist. Matter of fact, he wasn’t very good at it at all. Churchill wasn’t a great military strategist, but what both of them had, what every leader needs to have — hope. And they could inspire others with a sense of hope. They didn’t have to be the best in their field.
And that’s the second important characteristic about leadership. First thing is to be a person of hope and a vision to call people to a better day. And second, you have to be a person that’s not the best at everything. Conductors of orchestras rarely are experts in any one instrument, but they know how to bring all the instruments together. They know how to bring the talent out.
So as leaders, let us remember to play the ball as best we can where it’s laid, inspire hope and seek out talent that’s all around us to take us to a better day. If we can do these things, we can do great things for the Kingdom.
John Upton is executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and president of the Baptist World Alliance.