By Scott Cormode

Leaders often stagnate or even fail because they refuse to acknowledge their weaknesses and avoid the hard work of overcoming them. But there are times when people do embrace their weaknesses and do the painful work of learning that is necessary to get past them. I think of a middle-aged mother named Ann, who had to face her fears when she felt called to become a nurse. Although she described the move as a calling from God, Ann feared school. She “knew” she was not very smart because she had not excelled in high school, but she longed to go where God called her. The epitome of her academic fears was mathematics, which she had avoided since ninth grade. Fortunately, nurses do not have to know math. Or so she thought. In the midst of nursing school, she discovered that nurses need to “calculate meds.” If a doctor prescribed a dosage of 0.5 grams and the pharmacy only had an eight ounce bottle of the medicine, the nurse had to know how to convert ounces to grams. It is a simple math problem, but one that terrified Ann. So she had a choice. She could hide her math weakness and accept that on a few tests in nursing school she would do poorly—rationalizing that pharmacists usually calculate the dosages anyway. Or she could embrace her weakness and conquer her fear of math.

Measuring

Measuring

The deciding factor was her intense desire to be a good nurse. It turns out that there was something she feared more than math. She could not stand the thought of one day giving a patient the wrong dosage. She had to embrace her weakness. So she asked her son to help her. He was in high school and had long before mastered the simple ratios involved in the calculations. They worked on the problem for a long summer. He’d devise problems for her and she’d struggle to master them. At first, her lack of confidence was a much bigger problem than her arithmetic deficiencies. But over time she became proficient. She passed the courses and became a nurse. But that’s not where the story ends. She had learned the lessons so well that she became the math expert on her nursing floor. When others had difficulty converting dosages, they asked for her help. What was once a weakness had become a strength—and the source of a healthy confidence.

How had she found the courage to admit her weakness and overcome it? Every time she felt the fear welling up in her, she countered it with her intense desire to be good at the job to which God had called her. Her calling was more important than her fear of admitting failure.

(Previously published in The Next Faithful Step, a resource for leaders.)

Scott Cormode is the Hugh De Pree Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Theological Seminary and is the author of Making Spiritual Sense: Christian Leaders as Spiritual Interpreters and developer of leadership.fuller.edu.

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