he 90-mile-per-hour fast ball left the pitcher's hand like a bullet from a rifle barrel and an instant later slammed into the catcher's mitt with a loud thwack. The batter, who had watched the blur sail past him, turned to the umpire and asked, "Well, what is it?" The umpire raised himself from his half-crouch behind the catcher, adjusted his face mask, dusted off the knee of his trousers, and said to the impatient batter, "It ain't nothin' until I call it."
That umpire exemplifies one of the major reasons for leadership, something management experts call "defining reality." Leaders help people understand and make sense of their circumstances. They are successful to the degree that people trust their judgment and have confidence in the accuracy and integrity with which they define reality.
Leaders Can Be Wrong
As the current political scene shows all too well, a single event or set of circumstances can be interpreted differently depending on the perspective of the interpreter. Different presuppositions and agendas lead to different conclusions and explanations. Different definitions of sociopolitical reality lead to multiple political parties.
Different definitions of metaphysical reality produce a variety of religions. Different definitions of spiritual reality within the framework of Christianity result in the proliferation of denominations.
When individuals or parties or movements offer different definitions for the same reality, they cannot all be right. Some are demonstrably wrong. Handling frogs does not cause warts. The sun does not revolve around the earth. Leninist socialism does not work. Still, each of these notions had its advocates, and none was easily dispelled. Entrenched assumptions are difficult to uproot, especially when they are advanced by respected leaders. Respected leaders can be wrong, however, and their definitions of reality misguided. In that case, those who recognize the error are obliged to point it out, and the greater the consequences of the error, the greater the obligation upon the reformers.
Those who challenge prevailing assumptions are seldom popular, at least at the beginning. Their motives are impugned, their ideas maligned. Any hope of displacing error with truth requires perseverance, sometimes in the face of shrill opposition. The Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century began with the conviction that leaders such as Luther and Zwingli had inaccurately defined the reality of the church and Christian discipleship. The Anabaptists believed that the consequences of that error were enormous: superficial faith, anemic witness, and a church devoid of spiritual power. They had to speak up, even at the risk of their lives.