True Leaders Are Replaced
By Seth Price
Many words leadership discussions fail identify this important truth: true leaders should be replaced.
Our world quite simply is bound in a never-ending swirl of leadership and the implications of it. The dance between leader, regime, servant, peasant, follower, subservient, growth, and loss is all wrapped up in the word “leader”. The concepts of faith and humility also intersect the definition—or at least one worth caring about—of the term; but why?
I will not define what a bad leader is and I will not say why I believe many end up failing. Why? That is a surprisingly simple answer. We need only turn on the television to realize why. Humanity is inherently bound to the emotional attachments to leaders. I believe we innately understand when we sit under the presence of a leader that is not worthy of that role.
What then is the purpose of leadership? What is a leader worth sitting under, worth supporting, and worth listening to? Let us start with that first point: “sitting under”.
When I think of sitting under someone so many emotions and stories come flooding back into my mind’s eye; many of them are quite beautiful but many are also tinged with fear. Why fear? The answer to that lies in a bit of my own story of leadership.
I came into my current profession just by a lucky draw, a random chance interaction. I am a banker at a bank you may have heard of and was recruited into banking by simply having a conversation with a person who recognized something in me I did not recognize in myself. I remember asking him, “Why did you choose me? I have no experience and little to offer?” His response, “you believe in yourself and because of that you bring others to an ease and this is needed as people deal with their finances; your confidence is needed here.”
This was foreign to me, I’m not certain I was confident, yet something I did seemed to manifest in confidence to him. With fear, I had to ask myself, new job or old job? Go with what I know or move to something new? I chose to push into the fear and begin a new career. However, I floundered at this place at first. I was listless. To compound the situation, my manager at the time seemed unclear why she was there and so as an extension of that, I had no clarity in my role. The confidence I brought with me from the prior interaction quickly evaporated. Eventually, that leader left and a new one was installed.
I can remember distinctly the confidence this new leader instilled in his introduction to the team. Giving clear direction of “here is why I am here,” he more importantly tasked each of us with that very valuable question, “why are you here?” He waited, as we each took a turn attempting to answer this loaded question; it seemed to take forever as we all languished. But in that moment we, all of us, found our purpose for being part of a team, any team, THAT team. And it showed in performance; we quickly rose in our jobs and all of us are to this day still in the field. Many have been promoted beyond that small branch and have gone on to realize further dreams. So why did his leadership make such a difference?
He taught us how to find a voice and once found, he didn’t try to change it. More than that, he reminded us of it when we needed it the most. What does this mean? Allow me to be more vulnerable; my development as a leader taught me to focus on my team around me, to hear what they’re not saying, to see what they don’t want me to see. Pride is a dragon we all need to slay, and that dragon keeps us from asking others for help. Partnered with attention and intention, as a leader, I have helped others identify what brings out the best in them—just as I was shown what the best of me is. Will I lose some of my team? Absolutely. In helping them find their voice and strength, they move on to better opportunities. A good leader must be willing to let go.
Here is the crux of the matter of leadership. A good leader learns to let go of power and it is in so doing they elevate the team, community, workplace, etc., around them. I know this sounds like the exact opposite of what you have been led to believe and the exact opposite of the culture that we all grew up in, or at least I grew up in. What does a leader do then upon letting go of tyrannical power? What does the job become? The answer: service. As a leader, your service, humility, and acceptance will elevate others around you to heights they never knew could be reached. They will then become good leaders who teach those under them and you then witness this beautiful manifestation of legacy.
Just as Jesus modeled for us, true power is gained and true leadership is displayed not through suffering, but through service. This means we get our hands dirty, we do all the jobs—especially the ones we feel are below us—modeling all the while what success looks like. Think of that: wash feet, model prayer, display healthy arguments, but most importantly, cede power to those that you are doing life with. There will come a day that you must step aside; your work has reached its climax and the test of a successful leader is this: how have you served those you lead in a way that allows them to surpass you?
The truth is there will be days when the confidence someone recognized in your own life wanes. You might feel lost. You might even feel like your “true North” in God is lost. You may feel like all that was once familiar is suddenly unrecognizable. When that day comes, remember this: when we run through the forest of faith, past the undergrowth that may or may not have burned long ago, when we meet not two but 802 forks in the road, when we wonder which way leads us back to ourselves, back to God, when we are so tired of running… just choose one.
When we are searching for that sweet spot of identity in God, there is no map; someone may try to convince you otherwise, but it’s a half-truth. The map they are referring to was “their map” with a different legend and a different starting point. Toss the map, open your heart and mind and your inner compass will hear the call of the Divine. You are right where you’re supposed to be. You are here. This intersection with Spirit is only the beginning of your path to great leadership.
Seth Price is the host of the Can I Say This at Church podcast. He lives with his family in Central Virginia and during the day earns a living by working at a bank. Find Seth and the podcast at canisaythisatchurch.com
To purchase the book from which this leadership essay comes, see Open and Relational Leadership: Leading with Love.