Leading by Example

It’s not “do as I say”, it’s “do as I do.” I remember attending a workshop on leadership styles. Like anyone who is being honest about their wants, I would like things to go a certain way. I remain open to learning a better way and I am humble enough to know I don’t know all, that there is much, much for me to learn. But after 53 years of living and 27 years of Ordained Ministry I do have some idea of where I would like to see church leadership headed. But I am most uncomfortable with leading by decree. And while many in the church, who are used to an old model of church leadership and come from their own secular culture model of leadership (from 20 years ago) may suggest that leadership by decree is the way to go even they would resist such a performance by me if what I decreed was not to their liking.

I remember an older man tell me, “you are the CEO, you say tell us what to do and we will follow.” Finally one day I had enough and I responded, “That only works as long as I am doing what you like.” He disagreed but by then I knew him and we both knew deep down that I was right. It’s no secret that the leadership style of years gone by is decidedly out of favour and no longer effective. In fact that style is more than problematic, it is counter-productive. Both because of the individualistic times we live in (“no one is going to tell ME how to live”) and the baggage of the past (we all know the stories of the hypocrisy of leaders who said one thing and did another) no one will take orders from on high at face value. Leaders today who fail to understand that they must walk the talk are leaders who are tempting mutiny or worse.

That’s why I try as best I can to do what I want others to do. I don’t whine, I don’t complain about something unless it is a matter I have tried to fix myself, I don’t ever ask people to do what I am not willing to do, and most importantly, I try to show consideration for others in the way I want other church leaders to show consideration for each other. That latter effort is key, unless there is a culture of consideration no one will go the extra mile for each other.

And the same goes for mission or strategic planning, if the church has a mission, a vision, it wants the faithful to live by then the leadership, lay and clergy, MUST demonstrate over and over that they live and work that way. Time and again I have seen great plans remain untried, strategic plans gathering dust on shelves, because the leadership did not live by the vision itself. The laity look at such plans and wonder what the self-interest is for the leadership, if it is not another example of the clergy getting “her/his way” at the expense of the laity. Under such circumstances it is less about living into a new way and more about a battle of wills for theories that will never be demonstrated in the community itself.

I have found that even when lay people strongly disagree with my vision for the church they will give me time to demonstrate it and live it out if they see me living it myself. Leaders who live by their own words get much more of a hearing, more consideration, and more attention, if the effort matches the rational.