Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Leadership Autobiography

So for your amusement I'm going to post one of my assignments, a leadership autobiography. I think it's a rather dumb assignment. And I'm struggling because I'm taking the class pass/fail and so I don't feel like putting much effort into it. Yet I hate producing crap. Well you can see how I do when I'm writing for pass/fail instead of an A. With my luck, I'll still pull an A in the class and I'll wish I'd taken it for a grade. Oh well. Here are my random thoughts about leadership. A few decent things in there, mostly it's crap.

Like most people, I was originally given ideas about leadership by my parents. A significant lesson that I learned from my formative church was that women could not be leaders except in the kitchen and children’s departments (and even in the latter, a man oversaw the female Sunday School teachers). Yet my mother was a strong woman who frequently told me I could do anything I wanted to do, and I tended to listen to her rather than pay attention to the models at church. I learned from her how to subversively get your way from underneath male power structures.

During my junior high and high school years my dad was very influential in my life since he was my youth pastor and I spent nearly all my free time at church. Dad was beloved by all my friends (most of whom did not have fathers at home) because he was there for them and gave them positive experiences (youth camp, etc). I learned from him that leaders should be fun and available. Leaders didn’t have to be distant – they could be part of the gang and lead from within.

Also during this period of life I was thrust into a lot of leadership roles because I tended to excel at most things I tried – academics, school plays, band, church choir, etc. What I found was that when I did better than other people, they usually resented me for it. I experienced a lot of hatred and jealousy. I was constantly accused of being full of myself. I have no idea whether I really was or not, but I definitely learned that if one is naturally gifted she better not let on that she knows it, or she risks being ostracized.

When I moved to Los Angeles ten years ago, I was able to reinvent myself. I approach things more humbly now and try to be first a friend, letting my abilities reveal themselves rather than wearing them on my sleeve. It is still difficult to walk the fine line between acknowledging my gifts and not being stuck up about it. I’ve also become aware that I like to be in control of my life (which I got from Mom), and this can radiate out into wanting to inappropriately control situations at work, school, or church. I constantly struggle with wanting to enforce my own opinions against listening to others and valuing their thoughts (even though I may disagree or believe they have not thought through things as thoroughly as I have).

Fortunately, I’ve had some wonderful models of leadership in my work and church situations. I had a boss at USC, Michelle, who taught me the value of training her staff well then setting us free to do good work. I learned that I work best under a boss who allows me to make my own decisions and come up with original ideas for handling my tasks (sometimes failing, of course, but that was allowed). I also had a priest, Christopher, who was a genuine servant leader. He modeled a contemplative, deeply spiritual life toward which people gravitated. We all wanted the peace that he obviously had. And he taught it to us by training us in Christian practices such as prayer, meditation, and silence. He led us by living a life worth emulating.

On the negative side, I have already alluded to micro-managing, which is something that I do not agree with and do not believe brings out the best in people. I get extremely frustrated with people who need this sort of leadership – who do not take initiative or do not like to solve problems on their own. I have also had dishonest bosses who stole from their employees – obviously that was wrong, but the attitude behind it was what was really troublesome. They were basically selfish and materialist, seeing the company as more important than the workers. I believe this is an attitude many people – even in churches – can fall into. We must always remember that we lead human beings, not means to an end.

Recently I have become convinced that servant leadership, in which a pastor or church leader is a community member first and a leader second, is the best model. Yet I still believe strongly in the hierarchical structure of my church (Episcopal), where community members are called out to be leaders in gradually increasing responsibility: priests, bishops, and on up. We first choose these people, as a body, because they exhibit potential. Then we empower them with education and funding so they can devote their time to proclaiming God’s word, mediating the sacraments, and embodying God’s vision for the Church. The higher up the ecclesial ladder one goes, the more time, education, and experience we find, and therefore it is appropriate to have levels of leadership. It doesn’t mean these people are better than others, they are simply specialists.

I’ve come to believe this as I’ve been working with my church on discerning whether I should pursue ordination. The Episcopal/Anglican Church believes that leaders are called out by the entire congregation – no one can decide to pursue ordination on her own, no matter how strongly she feels called by God. So despite the fact that I am halfway through seminary and multiple people have confirmed my calling, I am very slowly going through the process of discernment with my church, jumping through their many hoops because I believe that the way they choose leaders is most appropriate. And if, God willing, I am ordained, it will be because the people of the Church chose me (along with God, of course!). It will be a decision made by the community at large, and that is something I will never have to question.

1 comment:

Susan Wright said...

I have to do this very same unneccessary assigmnent as i see it. after reading yours I thought about it , im gonna take the class for pass or fail.