Great Stories, Leadership

Machine Gun Management

Hope is the greatest weapon of all. So reads the tagline for the new movie Machine Gun Preacher starring Gerard Butler in the title role portraying the compelling Sam Childers, a former violent criminal who became a missionary in Sudan running an orphanage, and has claimed to have engaged in a paramilitary campaign to rescue children abducted to fight as soldiers in the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army. It makes for Hollywood greatness. In addition to providing a well balanced movie review, Christianity Today has released a challenging investigative report into allegations that Childers has fabricated many of the most exciting aspects of his story, and that his orphanage is failing to provide even basic proper care to the children. It’s worth taking the time to read. (In some ways this is reminiscent of last spring’s exposure of Greg Mortenson by Outside Magazine and 60 minutes). I have no idea what the truth is about Childers, and for my purposes it really doesn’t matter. It’s unlikely there will be a full resolution to the competing claims. The only thing that is highly predictable is that many people will take one of two positions. 1. Childers may be an imperfect man but he has done significant goo for the children of Sudan and is being unfairly attacked for relatively minor transgressions. 2. Childers is a charlatan who has proven himself untrustworthy and everything he’s done or accomplished is now suspect. I wish it were that simple. In my limited experience, the kind of edgy leaders that bring change in the most complex areas of society are rarely easy to manage. They tend to be idealistic, passionate, somewhat rebellious, and prone to a “whatever it takes” approach. They get stuff done, but they have little inclination to play by the rules or patience for protocol. I find these leaders fascinating. They tell amazing stories and typically have phenomenal charisma. I’m drawn to their energy. At the same time there is a higher risk involved. As a donor I have to be concerned about the potential for issues and conflict. Risk-taking charity leaders need a different kind of support than more predictable types. They need a board who accept some level of tension but have the strength to maintain accountability. It takes great emotional intelligence and trust building. They also need management team members who are willing to fill gaps in the leader’s skill set. They also need people in their lives who are unafraid to challenge and confront, but do so from a position of love and support. Sam Childers’ story is messy. Much messier than most. It will probably make for a good movie, but in real life it is tragic that orphans in the Sudan are the ones who’s well being is ultimately likely to be compromised in the apparently tarnished legacy of a high risk, high reward leader.