I was at the Verizon store the other day to have something checked with my phone. The technician pulled up the details of my account on her computer and declared “that can’t be right—you can’t spend that much time on your cell phone!” Alas, I fear it is. And much of the time is spent talking leaders through various matters. As I step back from these conversations and ask myself what general wisdom I might gather from these many hours of conversation, two somewhat contradictory reflections come to mind.
Much of leadership is in the details. Much of leadership is in grappling well and authentically with the often unexpected things that land on your plate: the tree that has fallen against the building, the problem with the minister’s insurance, the administrator who resigned, the short-fall in the pledge drive, the need to let go a staff member, the unexpected bequest. Often these issues come to us in spite of the fact that they were not part of the work we had planned and in spite of the fact that we might feel ourselves ill-equipped to deal with them. Dealing with them well requires willingness to consult wisely and to state clearly one’s own opinion. It requires patience for things to take the time they need to take and decisiveness to make a decision when it is time—even in the face of lingering uncertainty. It requires willingness to get involved in what really is one’s own and the self-discipline to stay out of what is not. Done well, there is a moral quality to this involvement in the stuff of an organization’s life. The quality of this involvement in the details reveals much about a leader: is she or he resentful of the intrusion? Hurried? Hesitant? Self-absorbed? Anxious? Distant? Somewhere I read that a how a monk cares for his room reveals all a spiritual director needs to know about his soul. Some such thing is also true of the spirit we bring to our leadership. Indeed, technically correct leadership can still be all wrong if it lacks the right spiritual quality. And, conversely, the communities we lead often marvelously and mystically compensate for the technical imperfections of how we work on an issue, if we get the spirit right.
Yet, leadership needs to be more than dealing well and authentically with the issues that find themselves on the agenda when we serve. The key leadership of a congregation—lay and ordained—need to ask themselves about the larger significance of the issues with which they find themselves dealing. That tree that fell against the building—might an arborist need to come to look at all the trees? That issue with the minister’s insurance—shouldn’t the congregation instead be considering the overall benefit package that it wants to offer to all the staff? It is, of course, possible to see every issue in larger frame, no matter how small. The challenge is to decide which to deal with in wider perspective. And, for the board and board president, the challenge is to let go of those issues that do not have a larger significance for the direction of the congregation.
Whatever comes before us as leaders, we must remember that there is no doing it perfectly. Yet there is the possibility and the challenge of doing it with a faithful spirit.
Great to work with all of you.