The 21st Century western culture of shame in which we live tells us we’re not enough. We’re not good enough, wealthy enough, strong enough, attractive enough or loved enough. This shaming culture distorts reality. It can cause us to see with skewed vision. This has two contrasting results.

One is that some things look worse than they really are. This is the most common way of mis-seeing today. We all know about this. Something that is small, minor and relatively unimportant gets blown out of all proportion. A mountain is made out of a mole hill. We find ourselves in a crisis that is soon resolved or passes over, and we look back and wonder why we were so worried. It’s because we allowed things to look worse than they really were.

The other, which is less common but can happen to us all, is that some things look better than they really are. We perceive that all is well, when it’s not. We put a glossy sheen on something which is rotten underneath. This is getting easier to do today. Through good branding and attractive advertising online and on social media, it’s possible to make anything look good. We can be fooled that a product, an organisation or a business is great and doing really well, when in reality it’s not. It maybe dying or even dead.

I was reading Revelation chapter 3 in the Bible recently, where Jesus describes the true condition of a number of communities. Here’s what he says about the church in a place called Sardis: ‘You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.’ When I read that, I stopped. I pondered. It made me think that some things look much better than they really are. It’s easy to be fooled that all is good, when it’s not.

So much of leadership is about vision. It involves seeing clearly. Not just seeing the future, but the present. Leaders need to look around. They need to observe. And they need to look within. Within themselves. And within their organisation. Is it all gloss, or is there substance? Is there life, or is it dead?

Leaders need to look for life. For evidence of vitality. For what is developing organically and naturally. This may be different to what is said or promoted or championed. Real life is so much more than an advertising campaign. It’s deeper than a recognised brand.

We’ve recently seen some well-known and well-branded UK businesses go bust when all seemed well. Everything looked rosy and normal and good. But underneath the business was dying. They had a good reputation for being alive, but they were dead.

Some organisations – including businesses, charities and churches – live off their past reputation. But you can’t do that for ever. We have to live off present reality. The art of leadership includes being able to see clearly. To see decay and do something about it, before it leads to death. And to see life, and nurture it.

Leaders need to pray for vision to be able to see. To really see.