Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Know One When I See One

Task: turn THIS into a 12x20 shed.
The team jumped out of the rental car, eager to begin serving, but a little nervous at the same time.  Was this the right address?  Where was the shed we were going to help build?  Most importantly, where was the skilled carpenter we were supposed to be assisting?  As the five of us stood in the driveway waiting for our leader to arrive, we were all thinking the same thing: Day One of our mission trip to rebuild Alabama homes destroyed by the April tornadoes was off to a slow start.  A communications mixup had resulted in five enthusiastic but unskilled Asbury students being sent to a construction site with no tools, no blueprints, no building materials, and — hard as it was to fathom — no carpenter.  For an hour we labored heroically, moving things here and there, pounding rusty nails out of splintered boards, and making suggestions to one another, but the truth was hard to ignore: we were in ‘way over our heads and we needed a leader who knew what he or she was doing.

Salvation arrived in the form of Randy, who apologized for the confusion, loaded us into the car, and led us to another job site.  Within minutes of our arrival, we knew exactly what to do.  Randy had sized us up and given us a task perfectly suited to our limited skill set.  Each of us knew his or her designated role, and we completed our assignment quickly and efficiently even though Randy had to leave to attend to other duties.  The rest of our week went smoothly, and we left Alabama feeling that we had accomplished our mission.  What made the difference?  We had been served by a leader.

Leadership can be hard to define, but it is easily recognized.  I know a leader when I see one.  Leaders are the people who know what to do in a given situation, and are able to communicate that vision in such a way that others can, and will, follow their instructions.  Leaders inspire trust.  Leaders take the time to get to know their team well enough to help each person on the team achieve success.  Leaders serve.

Randy was our leader for only a short time, but in that time he was able to transform our group from five aimless, confused individuals into one focused, confident team.  Randy was the man with the plan, and he shared that plan with us in a way that made it ours.  Although he left us the freedom to work out the details on our own, he didn’t abandon us.  Randy checked in periodically to see if we needed anything and he made sure those needs were provided for.  Everyone smiled whenever Randy pulled up to the job site.

There are other “Randys” in my life, people who inspire my trust because they know where they’re going and how to get there, people who motivate me and energize me and make me want to go with them.  Leaders.  There are also Drivers, people who come up behind me when I’m working and try to push me in another direction.  Usually all they do is knock me off balance and irritate me; certainly they don’t make me more effective or successful.  They are the tornadoes in my life: demanding, capricious, intrusive, and destructive.  If they have a plan, I can’t see it.  When the Drivers pull up, I don’t smile; I grit my teeth.

I think Drivers are Leaders out of their element.  Leaders can’t really lead if they don’t know where they’re going; all they can do is pretend to lead, and that turns them into Drivers.  Jesus summed it up in two words: “Blind Pharisee!” (Matthew 23:26)  If I am going to be an effective leader, I need to have a destination clearly in mind.

Am I a leader?

My mother will tell you that I was born a leader.  Indisputably, I was a bossy toddler.  I was a pushy preschooler.  I was an extremely unpopular kid, and I suspect it had something to do with my Driver personality.  I don’t want to be a Driver, and I’ve worked hard to grow out of those habits, but maturity is a slow process at best.  

Lately I’ve noticed that people are following me, usually when I least expect it.  Perhaps that is the key to effective leadership: just go where God leads, and don’t worry about trying to drag others along. If they come on their own, that’s not because I am a great leader, but because Jesus is.  My task at that point is simply to do what Randy did: look behind me periodically and offer assistance where it’s obviously needed.  If people start smiling, I’ll know I’m on the right track.

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