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Leaders, you're not alone

What does the race to the moon teach us about leadership? asks Abi Jarvis

I’m sure you know the names Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong – heroes who walked on the moon 50 years ago last Saturday.

A name you are likely less familiar with (unless you’re a space enthusiast) is Chris Kraft, the first flight director of NASA, who died two days after the anniversary.

Kraft invented the planning and control processes for crewed space missions and set up Nasa’s Mission Control operations to manage America’s first manned space flight and the subsequent Apollo missions to the moon. In other words, he’s one of the people who made it possible for Aldrin and Armstrong to do what they did. 

Kraft was a household name in the 60s, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in 1965, but his is not the name children associate with moon walking today. Such is the nature of the world – flashy actions and exciting stories are much more likely to be remembered and celebrated than the years of hard work that went into them, and the people who toiled to make them happen. Aldrin and Armstrong should be celebrated, but no one leads in isolation. They couldn’t have reached the moon without Kraft’s expertise and dedication, just as Kraft relied on the knowledge and hard work of countless others. 

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If we’re not careful, we can develop a view of leadership that buys into an individualised culture that is simply not reality. As a result, in attempting to follow in our heroes’ and role models’ footsteps, we put upon ourselves an unachievable pressure to single-handedly change the world. Then, when we inevitably fail, we think something is wrong with us. Leadership requires individuals to step up and take action, yes, but the best leaders do this in collaboration and unity with others. 

When Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego challenged cultural norms and refused to bow to an idol, they did so together – and their example no doubt inspired Daniel to do the same. Esther went before the king with the support of the Jewish community in Susa (Esther 4:15 – 16). Nehemiah developed the work of Zerubbabel in rebuilding Jerusalem (Ezra 3 – 5). Jesus appointed 12 disciples to support His mission, and Paul travelled with companions. Timothy’s faithful leadership came from the sincere faith” shown over decades by his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5).

The loudest voice is not always the person who has done the work, and the person with the most social media followers is not necessarily an expert in their field. When I listen to interviews with film stars, I notice the ones who share credit for their performance with their director or the script writer – perhaps even the cinematographer, costume designer or editor. This is honourable, and it shows that leadership doesn’t come in a vacuum. 

If you feel like your leadership is failing or all the pressure is on you, take a moment to look around you and see the people who are walking alongside you. Honour their gifts and show them that you value their worth – perhaps even publicly, in front of the people who value your leadership – and pray for them. And don’t forget that even if you feel like no one else is with you, remember that God is always with you. You don’t have to change the world, God will do that – but He invites you and those around you to be His co-workers in bringing about change. And whether famous or anonymous, everyone has a part to play. 

About the author

Abi Jarvis is the public leadership coordinator at the Evangelical Alliance, seeking to equip Christians with the skills and confidence to be leaders in the places where God has called them. She has a BA in Ancient History and a MSc in Political Communication. Abi loves going to the theatre, watches too many American TV dramas and somehow became responsible for daily office exercises despite her hatred of all things sporty. Much to her dismay, she ticks the box for pretty much every stereotypical feature of a PK - a pastor's kid.

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