I was walking along a path, deep in the woods. It was narrow, but defined, made not by man, but by the gentle hooves of deer as they made their way in the thicket. Wild blueberries and large, green ferns blanketed the earth while majestic trees, centuries old, canopied the sky.
My Companion and I could not walk next to each other, for the path was too narrow. He walked close behind me as we made our way over thick roots and the curves and dips of the earth.
As we walked along, my mind began to wonder with the worry and challenges in my life. They came to me, or I would come upon them and they would distract me from the moment. They were like boulders, weighing heavily on my mind and heart. I would get distracted, irritated and discouraged. I thought I needed to carry them, take care of them, fix them, own them. They weighed me down, darkened the path and made me weep. And then, one day, I turned and passed the boulders to my Companion. As He touched them the boulders would crumble into bits of rock and dust, and the weightiness would no longer exist.
Allowing us to keep going on our Way.
The burden was not the purpose of the path. The burden was not mine to carry.
Every now and then, He would rest his hand on my shoulder and whisper a Word in my ear, telling me to notice, listen, look up, be.
Never, do, should, ought or need.
I would lean in, so I could hear his Word and pay attention.
It was easy to get off the path, to find oneself in the middle of nowhere, or stuck in the mud, or lost along the Way, or weighed down again by heavy boulders.
I realized I had to watch where I was going, stay focused on the path in front of me and not get too concerned with what was coming up ahead.
There was enough beauty to take in and pay attention to in the path that was before us.
We walked on, Jesus and I.
And as we walked through sun beams and cob webs, around tree stumps and snake holes, we breathed in Peace.
In 1996, Hilary Clinton used the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” as the title of her book, It takes a Village. The origins of the proverb cannot be found. Those who have gone looking for the proverb’s origins, haven’t found its roots and aren’t quite sure where Hillary heard it, but that doesn’t matter – because we in America like it and we believe it. We like the idea that we parents are not alone in raising a child, that it takes neighbors, coaches, teachers, tutors, pastors, other parents, instructors, pediatricians, and civil servants to help raise a child. We like the idea that our children have a net underneath them to keep them from falling or failing. We like the idea that there is a village of people out there helping us raise our children, filling in the holes we have neglected to fill, offering the life lessons we have forgotten to teach.
I have always liked this idea; that we are all there for each other and for each other’s children. But lately I have begun to wonder: Is there entitlement in the village? We don’t hope that teacher’s mentor our children, we expect them to see our children for the shining star that they are. We don’t appreciate when coaches tell our kids they did well, we expect them to pay them special attention. We want our children to be seen, recognized, given a star, be first, and noticed for the awesome child that they are, and if they aren’t recognized, we become offended, we take it personally and demand justice.
We have moved from “it takes a village to raise a child,” to “the village better love and appreciate my child!” What is the result of that shift? – Entitled, self-absorbed children, who become entitled, self-absorbed adults.
Don’t get me wrong, I love when other people love my children. I need other adults to guide and nurture my children. God knows I can’t do it by myself. Where I am catching myself is that sometimes I want the village to fix my children – to take care of them because I know they are lonely or insecure, or struggling. I know they need something I can’t give them, and I keep waiting for the school, the church, the coach, to swoop in and see what I see and to save the day. That is not the role of the village.
We all need to learn how to be lonely. We all need to work through our insecurities. We are all left out from time to time. We all need to learn humility. We all need to learn that the world does not revolve around us. We all need to learn how to be good winners and losers. We all need to learn to fail. The village cannot save children from the pain and challenges of growing up and it doesn’t do them any favors if it tries.
Our job in the village is to treat children as human beings, respect them and hold them accountable as fellow participants and contributors to the village. Our job is not to worship them, or protect them from life, or expect less of them because they are children. The village is responsible for forming community in which there is a deep sense of belonging, in which there are agreed upon norms and behaviors, and shared values and beliefs. The role of the village is treat all children equally, to teach what it means to be a good neighbor and to hold them accountable. The village it is not responsible for the happiness of every child. The village is not the Super Parent.
As I write this, the world seems more unstable today than it did yesterday – although I know that’s not true. Yesterday’s violence in Paris just brings the instability of the world into focus. I am reminded that all too often my understanding of the village is far too small. We live in a global village. What happens to children in every corner of the world, impacts the global village. When God’s children suffer, the whole world groans.
The village has work to do, love to give and compassion to offer. The village needs to be looking outward to a hurting world, not inward to self acclamation. Let’s be certain we are not hurting the village by demanding more than it can give and taking more from it than we need.
Our country is going about the process of finding its next leader. I wonder how much time presidential candidates actually spend thinking about the kind of leader they are and will hope to be. It would behoove them to reflect on what it means to be a leader. Rather than thinking about leadership, they are immersed in getting out sound bites, messaging, and stating their position on issues. None of that is true leadership. Anyone can give their opinion and then find like-minded people who agree with them. That is not being a leader. Leadership has more to do with listening than speaking, compromising than winning and humility than power.
There is nothing glamorous about being a leader.
It begins with maturity. It is easier to be a mature person in an immature system, than a mature person in an immature system. All organizations have a level of maturity. When the organization is immature, and by that I mean, highly anxious, reactive, and self-seeking, it’s easy to get stuck in unhealthy patterns and behavior. It’s much more difficult to stay above the anxiety, not become part of the immature behavior. It’s easy to get hooked. We all have emotional buttons and old scripts that trigger emotions that do not serve us and end up hurting the system. This requires self-awareness and a good dose of maturity.
Any time there is vision, no matter how many people share that vision, always, always, always expect resistance. You can communicate, plan, strategize and work for consensus with the greatest due diligence and someone will say, “That is not going to work,” “I have a problem with that,” “You are wrong.” Resistance happens any time there is change in a system. Be ready for it. Stay the course. Listen again. Stay the course. This requires self actualization and persistence.
Don’t be reactive. When you get a snarky email or someone uses emotional language, or is critical, it is so hard to not be reactive. This is especially true when you have put your heart, mind, soul, and body into a project. It is so easy to get defensive and react. The only way I have learned to not be reactive is to have advisors who are not in the system, to hear my reaction and help me step away, see the comment without emotion, and then respond. This requires discipline and perspective. Get into the balcony!
It’s not about being liked, or popular, or placed on a pedestal. People like putting their leaders on a pedestals. Don’t let them put you there! Once you are put there, jump down immediately. It’s dangerous up there on that pedestal. Many good leaders have been placed up high, only to fall hard. When you are up there on that pedestal, it’s easy to forget you are a human being, with the same temptations and habits as everyone else. Stay grounded. Stay human. This requires humility and awareness of your own ego.
A word on challenge: Lord, in your mercy. I could keep a journal of every challenge I face each week and turn it into a book. I bet you could too. If you are a leader, you are going to face challenges. That’s why you are a leader: to take on challenges. Some of them will be technical. Technical challenges are like mosquito bites. They are a pain, but they go away quickly. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important, or get in the way of greater issues, but you can manage them by finding clear steps to resolutions. Don’t make technical challenges bigger than they need to be.
Adaptive challenges, why they are another story altogether. The are like running an obstacle course blind folded. You think you know the obstacles ahead of you and then, surprise! there is another obstacle for you to work through. This process can be absolutely exhausting and irritating. This is where staying non anxious and not taking things personal come in to play. The approach I have found most helpful is to see adaptive challenges as a challenge course. I take it on like a game to be won and try to figure out how to use resources, problem solving, skills, intuition, humor, communication and rest, to learn my way through it. Challenge courses are fun, and they are most fun when they are accomplished with a team.
Team. Team. Team. It is impossible to accomplish anything significant alone. Leadership requires the ability to work with a team. This means every person has a job to do and not one job is more important than the other. It means you trust people to do their job, and don’t do their job for them. It means you get your job done, so others can get their job done. Creating a good team is so difficult and so important. It’s o.k. to tell a team member they are not carrying their weight. If teams are going to be successful, they most be honest with each other.
Lastly, I want to say as something about peace. Your leadership is not all of you, its only a part of you. You have permission to not be the leader all of the time. You have permission to set boundaries where your phone is off, your email goes unchecked and your batteries are recharged. You have permission to be a human being instead of a human doing. You will be a better leader, if you live into your higher purpose.
A final word. There will some days when you will fail at being an effective leader and you will think, “I suck at this. What’s the point?!” Don’t give up, or give in to the voices that tell you to work harder, be perfect, be stronger, please everyone, and get angry. Listen rather to the voice that says, breathe, listen, laugh, accept, surrender, and be yourself. You got this.