Being good shepherds

Daily Reading for May 6

Leadership never happens in a vacuum, but among specific individuals in a particular context, which means we need to relate to them. Building these relationships is like building capital we can draw on when we want to challenge people to move forward in some new ways. If we do not take the time to make these connections, any changes we institute will be short-lived and will certainly not last beyond our tenure. The force for human togetherness is a powerful one, and leaders ignore it at their peril. In any church, large or small, we must be well-connected to key players, and find ways to communicate with everyone. Preachers, of course, have the pulpit, but it takes more than preaching to forge a solid connection with a congregation.

At the same time, leaders are not just one of the gang, and we have to be prepared to step apart from the group. Leaders have to be able to deal with the loneliness that ensues; we all want to be accepted, and it is hard to move apart. As I mentioned earlier, Ronald Heifetz describes this as the “view from the balcony,” getting above the fray enough to have a wider perspective. Heifetz suggests viewing ourselves as a part of the dance even when we are viewing from the balcony. Finding the balance between connecting with people and stepping ahead of them to lead is the ongoing dance of community life.

So in addition to a clear sense of ourselves and our purpose, we need to pay attention to our relationships. The content of our ideas and the course we chart are critically important. Still, those relationships determine the outcome of our leadership endeavors as much as our direction. The best leaders balance individuality and togetherness, moving ahead while fostering close ties with their followers. This is called “differentiated leadership” and at its most basic, it involves maintaining ourselves and staying in relationship with those around us.

Leaders need to find the right balance between closeness and distance. You cannot minister or lead in isolation. Still, solitude is necessary: you do need the time alone to think and pray. Yet then you need to come back into the fray, to connect with all the people: the ones you love as well as the ones who drive you up a wall.

From Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry by Margaret J. Marcuson. Copyright © 2009. Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY.

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