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Leading When the Majority is Wrong

September 27, 2016

Leading is a challenge in and of itself. Having to lead in the face of opposition; that seems almost impossible. In this shifting cultural climate, we must be prepared to lead with boldness and humility even when it feels like everyone is fighting against us and our principles. Although this tension seems new, it is present throughout human history, and we can learn how to face these obstacles from leaders before us.

In the Old Testament, we find a story where Moses sent twelve men to spy out a piece of land that God had promised to the Israelite people. They immediately notice the land is amazing, but they are fearful of the obstacles that stand in their way (Numbers 13:27). Ten of the twelve men are so afraid of the people living there that they don’t see any way they could overcome them. However, the other two men, Joshua and Caleb, trusted God’s promise and believed that they could, and should, occupy the land.

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.’ Then the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.’”

Numbers 13:30-31 ESV

If you know what happens at the end of the story, it’s easy to applaud Joshua and Caleb for their boldness and leadership. However, in this story, they represent just 16 percent of the spies that entered the land. Their opinion was wildly unpopular among their peers, but they knew that they were right.  

Last year, Amazon launched a new smartphone, their Fire Phone. Experts raved about the technology, the price point, and Amazon’s ability to influence a market. The majority of industry insiders believed the phone would be a big success and eat into the market share of iPhone and Galaxy customers. Those “industry insiders” were, of course, wrong. In fact, two months after Amazon’s Fire Phone launched, AT&T cut its price from $200 to 99 cents with a contract.

Have you ever had to lead when the majority was wrong? If you haven’t yet, at some point you will. The first question you have to ask yourself is, “Is the majority ever wrong?” From the story of Caleb and Joshua to the Amazon Fire Phone expectations, it’s obvious to see there are many times when the majority has been wrong.

The second question to ask is, “How do I know when the majority is wrong?” Here’s one really good way to know: If doubt and fear are the main motivators, you can just about bet that the majority is wrong.

Consider the ten other spies in the story, the 84 percent that were in the majority. Their motivation for not trying to conquer the land was fear of its inhabitants and doubt in God’s promises. The majority was wrong. Joshua and Caleb led rightly as they chose to believe God’s promises and trusted Him for strength against their enemies.

Take some time today to consider ways you might be a part of a misled majority.  It could even be as simple as getting sucked into a workout fad or spending too much time absorbing social media. Think about what motivates your actions and decisions as a leader. 

Once you’ve identified when the majority is wrong, you’ve taken the first big step. Next week, we’ll discuss how to lead when the majority is wrong.  See you then.



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