Leadership Bears and Bees

“Boy, with her, it’s my way or the highway.”  My cheeks flared at the overheard criticism from one of my choir members.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” chimed in another.  Their conversation continued on, unaware of my presence in the hallway.

Unseen, I fled to my office, alone with my anger.   I am so sick of this garbage…………constantly gossiping and criticizing.   My thoughts became darker from there.  Thanks to God, rehearsal ended before this encounter and I didn’t inflict myself on the entire choir.  I simply went home to lick my wounds and plan decorations for my pity party.

The incident occurred in the midst of rehearsals for a musical entitled “From Heaven’s Throne,” by David Clydesdale.  In true Clydesdale fashion, the production featured soaring solos, eight part harmonies and detailed directions for staging, lighting, etc.  The concept? The Christmas story from Heaven’s perspective, told by angels.  Production notes recommended a white robed choir and a white draped stage. Videos of other church’s performances staged that way, captured the planning team.

Some choir members balked at wearing white robes dubbing it an “unnecessary expense,” when we owned “perfectly good enough choir robes of our own.”  The dark colored, somewhat worn looking hunter green robes didn’t seem too angelic to any of us on the planning team and we decided white robe rental to be a must in our budget.  The choir knew that all six members of the planning team made the robe decision yet these two members threw me under the bus, not the whole committee.  Why?

In this ongoing summer series from Paul’s list of leadership qualities in Titus one, today I’m considering the phrase “not overbearing.”  Some translations say “self-willed” or “dominating.”  To me it means exactly what those two choir folk said about me, “my way or the highway.”  It means people are afraid to disagree with you.  Somehow you’ve caused them to feel that their opinion is irrelevant.  You’ve browbeat them into your way of doing things in the past or just run up over the top of them.  If folks dare to disagree with you, you label them disloyal troublemakers.  I used to do that.  A lot.

I’m not excusing these two members, or anyone else, for gossiping about any leader in this way.  What they did is sin.  They should have spoken to me privately.  HOWEVER, I must take ownership for some of this because I didn’t always create a climate that made this easy for people.  Maybe you aren’t either.

I am passionate about the arts.  I find joy in creating beauty whether it’s in a garden, on the written page, the interior design of a room or on a performance stage.  When I’m in my zone, ideas bubble up faster than I can express them and I feel an energy that propels me past my physical surroundings or needs, like hunger.  I’m writing this now with a growling stomach.  That kind of passion can also overwhelm people and often makes me a poor listener.

I become so excited about my concepts and ideas, I used to consistently neglect to allow others into my processes.  It took me some years to learn the wondrous joy of allowing others to share their ideas equally and then melding all that into something truly fantastic, far better than I could create on my own.

I’ve worked with overbearing leaders. It’s soul crushing.  It stifles creative process and makes me stop caring about a project.  I feel devalued, minimized and overlooked.  I’m sad and repentant that I’ve made people feel that way.  Those two choir members spoke some truth, not in a right way or place, but truth nonetheless.  A number of times, in my early days, I made large decisions with small input from others around me and then rolled those decisions out like edicts.  No wonder they felt as they did.

Here’s a short checklist to determine whether you might need to make a shift in your style.   I want to be known as Teddy bear, not a grizzly bear, don’t’ you? I want people to enjoy working alongside me and feel better for it.

  • When you make a decision that will affect people under you, do you allow them any input?

Most of us experience, at some point, the frustration of higher ups, who don’t understand our department, class, ministry, whatever, as well as we do, making decisions that negatively affect us, without any input from us.  Sometimes they rub salt in the wound by assuring you “we’re all part of the team here.”  Right.  That’s not a team, that’s a monarchy.  I don’t want to be a Queen Bee.  I want to be a worker bee, building the hive with all the other workers.

A great leader makes unpopular decisions as they hold big picture responsibilities, but smart leaders listen to those who will be affected.  They engender tremendous loyalty because even when their decisions affect people adversely, underlings know they’ve been heard and understood.

  • Do you enjoy working with a team or do you secretly prefer the lone wolf role?

At first, I worked with teams grudgingly, not understanding basic Biblical concepts of how the body of Christ is designed to work.   It is far more time consuming to consider different points of view and achieve a blend of ideas.  This IS the kingdom work folks.  Helping people develop their gifts and providing platforms for other’s concepts is far more important than the product you create together.

  • If you do allow others into the process, is it the same few people over and over?

If you are consulting the same two or three people for most of what you do, you are officially in a rut and most likely not connecting well with people underneath you, in spite of what they may say to your face.  In the healthy human body, new cells are produced every day and blood flows continuously. Places where this doesn’t happen are considered diseased or dying.

The opposite of overbearing is stated well in this verse with my notes added in.   Let it challenge and encourage you today.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition (being more concerned about the product than the process and people) or vain conceit ( If  you consider your ideas better than others most of the times) . Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…” Phillippians 2:3 NIV










Faithful or Feckless?

Loyal is the best way I can describe our first dog, Luther.  A mix of collie and German Shepherd, he inspired us to name him after the famous reformed theologian.  As our very first pup, he endured our rookie mistakes. I remember a time we stupidly fed him a large bowl of leftover French Toast batter and he wretched the rich mixture for two days.  Another time playing fetch at a nearby pond, we threw a stick out waaaaaaaaay too far. He used every ounce of strength to fetch it back, then collapsed in exhaustion at our feet.  It’s like all those mistakes you make with a first child, you know?

When we brought another pup home, a chocolate lab, Luther showed no jealousy.  Instead, he faithfully taught Whitfield (named after English theologian, George Whitfield) our dog expectations. Luther trained Whitfield as much as we did.

When Ken fought a life-threatening pneumonia in the hospital for weeks, Luther and Whitfield spent long days in their outside dog run waiting for my return home each day. As soon as I let them out at night, Whitfield ran around the yard releasing pent-up energy. Meanwhile, Luther stood quietly by my side, waiting for some head pets.  Luther always checked in with us first, evaluated our emotions, then responded accordingly.  The first few nights of Ken’s hospitalization, I came home and wept by my kitchen table. I felt  exhausted and frightened from all the unknowns.  Whitfield always found his dinner bowl quickly then joined me by the table.  Luther rested his head on my lap, delaying his dinner until I stood up from the table.

When major surgery sidelined me for weeks of recovery, Luther laid by my side much of each day.  His soft head and sweet face were a comfortable diversion when pain pills didn’t do their job.  I’ll never forget his unwavering attention and devotion during that difficult time.

Throughout his lifetime, Luther demonstrated his loyalty to us consistently, guarding our daughter after she entered the family, obeying our rules and prioritizing time with us above all else.  He could be a poster pup for that trait we love so much in certain dog breeds, faithfulness. I think it’s one of the greatest dog qualities of all.

God values faithfulness even more. In Luke 16:10, the good doctor says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”  Applied to relationships, it means God expects us to treat whomever He’s placed in our lives very well, with thoughtfulness and respect.  As I continue my summer series on the leadership qualities listed in Titus chapter one, I’m intrigued that Paul places faithfulness second in the list.  He uses the phrase, “faithful to his wife.”  Checking the Greek and historical context here, Paul refers to a faithfulness of character in general, observable by example in a marital relationship.  Since all elders probably weren’t married at that time, I think it’s okay to broaden our meaning a bit.

How faithful are we in our relationships?  Webster defines faithful as “loyal, constant, staunch, steadfast, resolute, firm in adherence to whatever one owes allegiance.”  What does that look like in our day to day relationships? How specifically, do we want people to be faithful towards us?  Here’s a list of ways people demonstrate that character trait to me.  Let it inspire you in your behavior towards your circle of people.

  • They celebrate me, quirks and all, not just merely tolerate me.
  • They speak well of me when I’m not around.
  • They don’t gossip about me or my family or listen to those who do.
  • They speak the truth in love to me even when they know I may not receive it well.
  • They make plans with me and show up. They don’t dump me if a more interesting offer comes along.
  • They listen to my stories numerous times.
  • They are present physically and emotionally, when life goes sideways for me.
  • They celebrate my achievements and breakthroughs even when theirs haven’t happened yet.
  • They remind me of God’s word and character when I am questioning both.

There’s my list.  What’s yours?  Of much greater importance, what might God’s list of faithfulness characteristics contain?  I think it could look like this:

  • Me before all else, in their hearts.
  • Love for My people demonstrated through actions.
  • Daily conversations.
  • Consistent obedience.
  • Valuing the things I do and disengaging from things I hate.
  • Treasuring My words.
  • Serving others, like my Son did.
  • Showing up for church.
  • Returning My tithe and giving offerings cheerfully and generously.

How are you demonstrating faithfulness to God and those around you? Can people count on you, consistently?  More importantly, can God?