Leadership is about you. That is what you want me to say. I know you do. But when I say it, I don’t really mean it and I really don’t mean it the way it sounds. Leadership is about you…giving yourself to others and making your life’s work about making their life and work better. Give your life away to someone else and you will be a leader.
Not convinced yet?
Do you remember in Forrest Gump when Forrest gets on a school bus for the very first time? After introducing himself to the bus driver, he moves from the front to the back of the bus looking to find a place to sit. Seat after seat he encounters kids moving over and occupying any open space that he might sit in. When he asks about sitting in empty seats he is told, “seat’s taken.” Poor Forest learned that day that just because you get on the bus doesn’t guarantee you will have a seat to sit in for comfort, safety, and social engagement.
Forrest needed somebody – anybody – who would make room for him to sit down. He needed somebody – anybody – who would accept less space in their life so Forrest could have some space in his own life. He needed someone unafraid to meet somebody new, somebody different. That person was named Jenny, and the rest is history.
Well, sort of… because Forrest and Jenny are make believe.
Life, though, is real. We have few opportunities to edit what we did wrong or retake a scene that we know we could do better. So it is paramount that we get it right in real time and with real people. Second chances to make a first impression or to right a wrong are rare (if not nonexistent) experiences.
Leaders know this. They know that actions matter and words count, so they are careful in how they spend both. Leadership is more than action. It is more than direction giving. It is something else. Leadership is about creating space and opportunities for others to be more in life than they currently are. Leaders are not the ones who earn the most, gain the most, or steal the most. Leaders are not the loudest voice, biggest title, or longest tenure. Leadership is about how one person (or one team) makes others better in life.
Jenny made room for Forest to sit down. From that day forward he never forgot her. He never stopped thinking of her. He never quit protecting, providing for, and promoting her as “his girl.” Her one act of leadership opened the door for the greatest relationship she ever had in life. Forrest Gump was never a leader in any capacity, but he was forever tied to one whose leadership kept him safe and filled his life with hope. She wasn’t expecting that as an 8 year old Alabama school girl, but it happened.
If you are going to be a leader, then lead. Forget about all the lessons you have learned, books you have read, and seminars you have attended that told you how leaders take charge, make a plan, get things moving. Those may be practices or actions that some/many leaders display in their actual work, but they are not the traits of a leader. Anybody can act controlling, bark out orders, be bossy, or push people into action. No talent required to do those things – only misguided perceptions about how to act like a leader. Leadership starts by making room for others in your life, your plans, your future.
Leadership today is limited not by resources or opportunities, but by competence. Leading is not getting – it is giving. Leading is not championing something – it is changing someone. Leading is not seeking control- it is serving others. Leaders are not heroes – they are helpers to helpless, hearers of the silent criers, and highlighters of the good in others. Leaders are not lone rangers – they are faithful friends who foster the best in everyone they meet and in everything they attempt. Leaders like people more than power – they want to be worthy of their calling more than being a winner in a life long contest.
Christian leaders have a unique opportunity to lead. Secular leaders have to figure out what good leadership is and what good leaders do and rarely find agreement on the subject of leadership so many leaders today spend their entire life going from one leadership paradigm to the next. By our discipleship in Christ we should have our leadership priorities in order. In all we do we are to honor God, pursue a Christlike life, work faithfully, and give ourselves to others in generous and joyful ways. Christian leaders who lead like this will lead well and make a significant difference in everything they do because they are making room for others in their life, leadership, and longing for more. Leadership begins with an opportunity to look to the needs of others and act in a way that makes a mighty impact on many instead of a rich return for few.
Leadership is about you. It is about you taking everything God has given you – every gift, every connection, every opportunity, ever moment – and making it about others. Leadership is about you being exactly who God created and called you to be so that His gift to you can be enjoyed in the lives of others. Leadership is about you moving over and letting others sit down and enjoy the space to relax, be comforted, and find friendship. Leadership is about you moving over and letting God finish the good work He has started in you so that through you others may be reached, blessed, even saved. Leadership is about you…and God, and others, and you…together making a difference in this world in a kingdom movement kind of way.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2)
For Sunday, September 28, 2014 / Proper 21