"Ouch!" I breathed one afternoon in my office. Shawn (not his name), our newly hired pastoral team leader (and therefore my new boss), had just commented on how forceful and scary "women from Trinidad" could be. That hurt. I'm from Trinidad. I wondered what about me had allowed him the space to offer such a remark. More, I wondered what it said about him.
On the surface, Shawn led and communicated in the gentlest, most welcoming of ways. His sermons delivered the good news in language that made no apologies for Jesus' lordship even as his tone and illustrative stories made Sunday morning newcomers feel safe. He picked his battles well; he consulted and collaborated with volunteer leaders and staff as issues arose; he worshipped the Lord with all his heart and soul. Yet his leadership smudged people in subtle ways…he was good at diminishing what was different from his way of doing things.
After leadership meetings between pastors, deacons, and elders, he'd caution me. I asked too many questions, was too direct, too bold, too energetic, too…much. Sure, I had to be conscious of how I shared my ideas and vision with colleagues and staff: did I invite…or announce? And yet his cautions, offered without any suggestions of how to change, began to hurt. I spent a year dissecting all I said and did at leadership meetings. Maybe my style was wrong. I couldn't trust myself: What if my words offended…yet again?
God taught me some important leadership lessons through my working with Shawn, lessons I couldn't appreciate at the time. I've learned to own my strengths and weaknesses, extend grace to the leaders around me, and embrace God as Creator.
"Own" My Strengths and Weaknesses
Shawn's passive aggressive behavior (truly—who makes a colleague responsible for the feelings and behavior of everyone else in a meeting?) forced me to pray through the challenge of the Apostle Paul's letters to Timothy. Paul exhorted Timothy to lead out of a place of intentional availability and vulnerability—to speak up, to not be hindered by his youth, to use and not neglect the gift he'd received through the laying on of hands.
Like you, I need the white mercy of God's Word to wash me clean every day. I trip, fall, blunder, and bludgeon my way through conversations and projects, often wondering why God's given me this particular task, this particular moment…to lead with his voice, his compassion, his patience. I'm not perfect. And yet, when I criticize any part of me—my "difficult" temperament; my way with words; my impatience; my approach to motherhood; my intensity; my inability to suffer gadabouts gladly; my love of music; my discernment, leadership, teaching, intercession, and administration gifts; my propensity to brood; my impetuousness—I suggest to God that he's made a mistake. Perhaps he dropped some stitches when weaving me deep in my mother's womb. When I criticize, I choose to be unavailable or vulnerable.