As the old saying goes: Leaders, you can't live with 'em; you can't live without 'em. Leadership is necessary to help move people, churches, and organizations forward. Without leadership, our natural state is to avoid change, enjoy the status quo, and hope things work out. If it weren't for leaders we'd still have floppy drives in our computers, lead in our paint, and horses pulling us around town.
That's why leaders can simultaneously be some of the most beloved and disliked people around. They can help change things for the better, but that inherently means leaving old ways behind. People love it when things improve, but they don't necessarily love all the steps it takes to improve. Thus, leaders drive people up the wall.
At their best, there are two things leaders must do to keep an organization healthy. Each one of these will likely make others around them upset, but a leader must stay steadfast in the face of criticism. Without these two qualities, a leader can tank an organization. We'll talk about the first today and the second tomorrow.
Number 1: Stay calm in the midst of anxiety.
Mark 4 tells the story of Jesus and his disciples crossing from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other. The boat gets caught in a storm. The eyewitness account says, "The waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped." The disciples, as they bucket water out of the boat, look around and realize that Jesus is no where to be seen. Did he get tossed overboard? Did they forget to take him?
Nope. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a pillow. Are the disciples comforted by Jesus' lack of concern over the situation? Hardly. They shout at him, "Don’t you care if we drown?"
There is no shortage of things to be anxious about these days. From the economy, to international affairs, to national politics, the price of gas, or whether or not Star Wars can bomb at the box office, the list of things to worry about doesn't seem to be going down anytime soon. This has implications for charitable giving at churches and bottom lines at companies. Local churches, in particular, compete with a near infinite amount of teaching and music available without having to leave bed, a me-first culture, and several generations of people, each less able to make relational connections than the last.
Anxiety can infiltrate every level of an organization: employees, boards, and whoever it is the organization serves. Anxiety is infectious. It gnaws at the self-protective parts of our brains. When we're anxious, we want to spread our anxiety to anyone we can. We want to know that we're not alone, that we have more and more people helping us protect whatever it is we're trying to protect (our brand, our reputation, our wallets, our well-being). Anyone who doesn't join us in our anxiety is suspect because they're not helping us in the all-important cause of preservation.
That's where the leader comes in. Healthy leaders are like a lighthouse guiding a boat back to harbor. Like Jesus, they ought to be able to recognize and acknowledge whatever is causing anxiety in the organization while at the same time being capable of not joining in with the anxiety. They have the emotional maturity to engage with anxious people in a way that doesn't belittle or deny the anxiety, while also keeping themselves free from the anxiety.
It's difficult for people to make a good decision while anxious and the same is true of organizations. Of churches in particular, anxiety wants to preserve self at all costs, which is in conflict with the church's mission of helping preserve others. That's why a leader must stay calm in the face of anxiety to make sure that the organization doesn't go too far adrift of its values and vision.
For some, a non-anxious leader can be a reassuring and calming presence. However, others are likely to grow suspicious, wary, or even angry at a non-anxious leader. "Do you want us to drown?!" Not sharing in someone else's anxiety can be seen as an insult or proof that you don't have someone's best interests at heart. A non-anxious leader, then, will have to work hard to make sure that people feel heard and protected by the leader. Even in the face of unchecked doubt, fear, and anger, leaders must stand firm in their non-anxious state and help lead others out of their own anxieties.
Embedded in Mark 4 as well is the necessity of self-care. If you know there's work to be done, a storm on the horizon, and waves crashing down, the best option may be to take a nap. Not because you want someone else to take care of the problems, but because you know can't best lead when you're tired or sick. Others will likely question your choice to go on a vacation, take a sabbatical, or take a nap when things seem at their worst. And that's okay. Let them question away. But you can stay steadfast in the knowledge that if the greatest leader in the world could take a nap, maybe you can too.
Tomorrow we'll look at Mark 5 as Jesus rids the city of a public nuisance and discover how that makes people upset too.