Follower, the Leader

Here at Port City Community Church, I hear people talk about leadership all the time, so much so, in fact, that it almost became one of those buzzword targets of disdain for me.  That’s because I’m not a leader.  At my best, I’m a leader by example only.  I will show you how to do something, but teaching isn’t my forte, mostly because it takes more time.  I value efficiency, so to me, it’s better to do a job quickly, myself, than to take the time to teach someone else to do it.  At most, one other person to help me with the task is sufficient; I don’t need a team.  I’m not good at delegating tasks, so managing even two more people is too much to think about.  I’m task-oriented.  I’m a planner.  I streamline where I can, and simplify where I can’t. I don’t necessarily think I take “the easy way out” as much as I simply strive make things easier.  There is a difference.

I’ve been given a lot of liberties with my job here at PC3.  My direct report, Chris Kuhne, has worked with me one-on-one over the last few years to really dig into what fuels me, both creatively and personally.  If I have an idea, he’s supportive in helping experiment enough with it to deem it a failure or a success.  The important thing is that I get the opportunity to discover the outcome.  When I first started with the Production Staff, my official title was - and still is - Lighting Coordinator.  That’s all I was responsible for.  Maintaining and programming the lighting for services and programs in our Main Auditorium at the Wilmington campus.  The first two years of doing it was tiresome, but since then, I’ve streamlined the process to where it takes less than half the time it did in the beginning.  If you had asked me three years ago, I was excellent at my job.

I wasn’t.  I wasn’t good at communicating with others, and especially bad at leading them.  Leading people was messy, and I ran from opportunities because I came to the table with preconceived notions about what leadership meant.  When I thought of leadership, I thought of the executive with the tie, leaning against the car that everyone else in his company worked so hard to help him “earn.”  I’m not wired that way, and for many years, I fought against the idea of being a leader.  I was more inclined to believe that everyone must lead him/herself well first, and only lead others when you got your own act together.  People shouldn’t be assigned to your leadership, but should instead be drawn to it based on what you know and who you are.

A lot of people say, if you’re not a leader, you must be a follower.  You’re either a shepherd or a sheep.  I think that’s an oversimplification, and leaves no middle ground.  To me, leadership is like water: it’s necessary, and everywhere.  But, it takes many forms, and even water in its purest form is unhealthy.  Ultra-pure water, without any impurities, will strip the minerals from your body.  Look it up.  Even if you take the science away, we all know that no one can survive indefinitely in the middle of the ocean.  On the opposite end of the argument, no one can survive without water for very long,either.  The same can be said for leadership.  We all need inspiration and guidance, but it can come in many different forms.

My spiritual gifts are the gifts of Helps and Service.  My Meyer’s-Briggs personality type is the ISFJ (Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging) Defender.  God formed me to be helpful, methodical, and practical, to the point of being self reliant in many cases.  This goes against the popular idea of leadership, which stereotypically involves leading other people in a task or in pursuit of a goal.   Every book I read, every retreat I went on, and every staff meeting I attended seemed to reinforce something I kept repeating in my head: “I’m not a leader.  But I’m in a position where I’m forced to be, despite the way I’m wired.  Am I in the wrong spot?  Has God put me here to change the way I’ve lived my entire life, the way that just works for me?”

This idea challenged me.  While it was certainly possible, I didn’t believe God would put me in a role in order to change everything about myself that he’d spent years developing.  It didn’t make sense in my soul.  I was more inclined to believe that God developed those qualities in me in order to use them where he put me.  What if I wasn’t the thing that needed to change, but the concept of leadership that needed to change?  What if there was a way for a self-proclaimed follower to discover a new way to lead people that was outside of the cultural norm?  What if there was a way to lead people by helping them reach their goals, instead of them helping me reach mine?  A few years ago, I started referring to this new style of leadership as “followship.”  Since that time, I think the more popular term is “servant leadership.”  And it just works. 

If a given idea or project requires a skill I don’t have, I’m able to take the time to learn about and carefully develop that skill, on my own time, without outside distractions.  I’m aware that the whole process, so far, makes me sound like a self-absorbed hermit, but it’s what I can do with those learned skills that really makes it worthwhile. When someone has a project, I feel empowered and free to offer advice or technical skill.  My position here at PC3 has evolved over the years from being the official Lighting Coordinator.  I’m a wall to bounce ideas off of.  I’m a design consultant.  I’m an extra set of hands to complete projects that no one else seems to know how to help with.  Most recently, I’m learning to become a part-time carpenter.  When I feel proficient in my skills, I’m more apt to pass that knowledge on to others.  Proficiency not only breeds confidence, it also creates a desire to influence the way others pursue their own goals, a better way to do something that they feel is important.  And that’s where servant leadership really comes into its own.  If something is important to you, it doesn’t have to be important to me for me to be willing to help you.  I’m able to help others when I feel able to do something they can’t.  I’m able to encourage people by showing them an easier or more efficient way to complete their task.  I’m able to lead people because I want to serve them first.  And that feels a lot like something a part-time carpenter did 2000 years ago.