I recently had a conversation with two people very dear to me. We spoke about what we modeled for our children while they were growing up. The wife mentioned one area where she was not even aware that her children were watching, but they absorbed nonetheless. This got me thinking. After three decades of ministry, I have noticed that parental leadership, organizational leadership and pretty much any kind of leadership will not follow a set formula or a direct path. It is intricate and delicate and none of us get it altogether right.
Here are four ways that you and every other leader will model:
- There are times when you will model well and know that you are. You are intentional, you know what you are doing is right and good and you repeat your actions regularly. Those who you lead will absorb this and start behaving like you do. Watch any two-year old and you will see this in action.
- There are times when you will model well and not know that you are. There are things you do well naturally. You cannot do it any other way. It is simply a part of you. Others watch and will follow without you even knowing. The mother of a young woman who worked for me many years ago told me that her daughter was so glad her first job was working for me. She said I set a high standard and modeled excellence for her. This set her up for success in her working career. I had no idea I was doing this.
- There are times when you will model poorly and know that you are. We all make mistakes. We are flawed. You will probably at some point lose your temper. Perhaps you yell, or sulk, whichever is your particular brand of poor conflict management. Or, perhaps you will become distracted at work due to personal problems and you know your performance is not up to scratch. Whatever it may be, there will be times when you are aware that you are being a poor role model.
- There are times when you will model poorly and not know that you are. All of us in leadership roles, whether as parents, as church volunteers, as managers or executive leaders are on a journey. We are all growing within ourselves. There are times when you will model poorly simply because you don’t know any better. You don’t realize that what you are doing could be done better. After more than three decades of being in some sort of leadership role, I can categorically say that there were things I did in my twenties, or thirties or even recently that I regret now. Given a chance to have a do-over, I would certainly choose a different path. I didn’t at the time, not because I was stubborn but because I was ignorant.
Given that we are flawed humans who cannot possibly be perfect role models, I offer some thoughts to help ease your burden and help carry your load:
Jesus modeled forgiveness. He offers you grace – his unmerited favor. Even when you don’t deserve it, he wholeheartedly accepts you and loves you. When you model poorly, certainly make corrections, but offer yourself and others forgiveness.
Jesus modeled humility. He invites you to this posture too. When you get it right and you know it, enter into a place of humility. It will make those you lead follow you all the more freely. It also opens for yourself a path of grace for when you get it wrong.
Jesus modeled gentleness. He asks of you a gentle touch. Souls are delicate. Hold others with care and especially be gentle to yourself.
Jesus modeled rest. He calls you to a restful leadership. Pace yourself. Take time to rest. Allow yourself the right to unpack the burden and lighten the load. Lean into him.
Wherever you find yourself, I urge you to come to terms with this – leadership is not a pedestal; nor is it a place of condemnation for known and unknown mistakes. It is not a dire duty nor is it an impossible task.
Leadership is a sacred gift. It is a grace. It is joy.
As you lead, model for those coming behind the freedom to forgive yourself. Model a freedom to laugh at yourself. Do this so that they too will learn to forgive and they too will learn to lead with joy.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Mathew 11:29