Friday, November 1, 2013

the hiddenness of leadership

I am currently attending the Faith & Learning Symposium at Baylor University, an event I have been wanting to attend for the past several years.  Sponsored by their Institute for Faith & Learning, this year's Symposium is focusing on the work of Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Philosopher who is often referred to as the father of existentialism.  Kierkegaard grew up as a Lutheran and much of his thinking and writing reflects this worldview...I think that is probably why he resonates so much with me.

One of Kierkegaard's ideas revolves around the hiddenness of Christianity - that the Christian lives his or her life hiding their faith (so it, in and of itself, does not become the good work which creates pride) and lives out their faith in serving others because it is the right thing to do. ***quick caveat...I am by no means a Kierkegaard expert (not even a novice yet) so I might be wrong...please bear with me.

As I listened to the speakers talk about Kierkegaard and this concept of hiddenness, I began to reflect on a concept that dealt with the hiddenness of leadership.  The great paradox of leadership is that once you have to tell people you are a leader, you are no longer a leader.  I am not a leader because I say so...or because others put me into a leadership position...or because there is a nameplate on my door that says "leader."  I am a leader because what I do causes others to want to follow.  

Many of my colleagues will say to me, "I'm not a leader" when clearly they are...people listen to them, they respect them, they follow them - and that makes them a leader.  Others I know declare, "I'm a leader" and when I look around the room, no one is listening to them, respecting them, or following them.  While their words and actions are not hidden from others, they also are not leading.

So what does it mean (and what does it look like) when your leadership is hidden?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • I don't talk about titles, I talk about roles
  • I don't micro-manage, I set up a culture in which others can manage themselves
  • I don't refer to myself with a title, I use my given name
  • I don't sit at the head of the table, I sit in and among my colleagues
  • I am not the center of attention, I give others the opportunity to be the center of attention
  • I don't refer to myself as a leader, but I do see myself as a leader
  • I don't speak about achieving my personal goals, I help others achieve their goals
  • I don't tell others how to lead, I invite them into a dialogue about leadership
  • I don't try to make others lead like me, I encourage them to bring their whole selves into a leadership role
  • I don't talk about positions that are higher or lower, I speak to the way we work together to accomplish the goals and mission
  • I don't talk about what I have done, I talk about the accomplishment of the mission
I think you get the idea.  This is not as easy a task as it might seem, especially when you feel as if you are no longer being recognized for your work and leadership.  The temptation will be to stand up and say in a loud voice, "Hey, look at me - remember that I am the leader!"  I encourage you (and I remind myself) to keep leadership hidden, remembering that this is my calling...this is my vocation...and as a good friend of mine reminded me this week, my calling and vocation from God is irrevocable.  Therefore I must lead, and I must do so in a way that brings glory to God and serves the neighbor..and I must do so in a way that my leadership never gets in the way of leading.

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