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Greetings dear friends & welcome to my world again this week. Following on from my comments the last few weeks, I thought today I would develop this theme a little more & discuss image management. There is nothing particularly wrong with those two words, but when you put them together & give them to a leader, it can be a deadly cocktail. Image management is what we begin to do when our inner world becomes separated from our outer world.

If the outward & inward are not integrated, we literally come apart. And we have seen plenty of examples in recent years of leaders whose lives have dis-integrated. Everything is done for show.

These professionals, because they look & act this way, look zealous & committed, with all their trappings. However, whilst they appear righteous & pure, inwardly they are often the opposite, insecure & self-indulgent. Paying attention to your outer life while your inner life languishes is like getting a facelift when you have a malignant tumour.

If you have been in leadership any length of time, we all know what it is like to prop up an external image not matching our reality. Sometimes the life I appear to show is not the one I am experiencing Monday to Friday.

The greatest danger, really, is not in projecting a false image; rather it is in getting comfortable with it, learning how to “succeed” with a disconnected soul. Over time we can become very adept at playing the image-management game.

The truth is you do not have to have a healthy soul to be seen as a success. You are walking in a minefield when your outward success begins to outpace your inward life. In recent years we have seen too many examples of people whose outward success was beyond what their character could handle.

In the movie Avatar, Marine Jake Sully is a paraplegic whose military assignment is to gather Intel by using an “avatar” identity. Even though he was broken, the avatar he lived through virtually was strong, powerful & whole. The avatar everyone saw was radically different than the Jake Sully no one saw. Many of us in ministry feel the need to assume an “avatar” identity.

A Latin phrase on an ancient coat of arms speaks to the tension of image management. Esse quam videri means “to be rather than appear to be,” [1] & those words resonate with me. I do not want there to be a gap between what I am & what I portray. I do not want to project an avatar when my internal world is broken. But as the years go by, I have found it easy to function from my experience, gifting & skill.

After the Christchurch Earthquakes, many buildings were damaged beyond repair. Weeks went by & nothing appeared to happen. Nothing changed. No crews, no machinery, no wrecking ball. Then one day people were notified a Saturday morning an old building was coming down, so everyone went downtown to watch. At the appointed time, you heard a muffled explosion. Slowly the walls began to crack, bricks began to crumble, & finally the whole thing fell in on itself in a pile of dust and rubble.

All those weeks when people thought nothing was going on, when nothing was changing on the outside, a systematic dismantling was taking place inside. Weaknesses were being exposed, & skilled demolition experts were working their magic. The end result was a total collapse, an implosion.

This image has served as a warning to me. When I practice image management I am headed toward an implosion.

I remember sitting in a meeting a few years back with a group of veteran leaders. One white-haired man at the table had served in leadership roles more than forty years. I will never forget the words quietly but powerfully rolled off his lips: “The older I get, the less concern I have with what I have or have not done & the more concern I have for what I have or have not become.”

The older I get, the more his words ring true to me. They are a call to pay attention to what is happening inside. They are a reminder I have a soul. I am more than simply what I achieve outwardly.

A healthy soul keeps my life glued together. Neglect of the soul & preoccupation with doing, achieving, & succeeding will inevitably lead to image management.

So, how are you doing with this one my friends? If your life were a building, are you being dismantled from the inside? Is an implosion in your future?

I hope my comments each week are helpful dear readers; & again, provide just an opinion, from my world. Thank you for taking the time to be with me, I hope my journey may encourage you also. This is Kenn Butler in Paradise, Nelson. With my best wishes for another week… I look forward to being with you all again soon.

[1] Inspired by Lance Witt, the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live & lead from a healthy soul.

Kenn Butler
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