Navigating the Potholes of Leadership (in the Year Ahead)

Posted on Posted in Academics & Vocation, Leadership Development, The Campus Minister

pothole

I recently ran across this quote while re-reading Parker Palmer’s, Let Your Life Speak:

We will become better teachers not by trying to fill the potholes in our souls but by knowing them so well that we can avoid falling into them. (Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, p. 52)

As I read and re-read those words, something resonated deep within me, and I was able to see how these wise words apply for beyond the scope of teaching — to touch most of life.

Given the work that we do with students, my first thought was to replace the word teachers in the aforementioned quote, with the word leaders (or pastors or equippers:

We will become better leaders not by trying to fill the potholes in our souls but by knowing them so well that we can avoid falling into them.

As I sat with that thought for a while, it struck me how much it differed from most leadership models we ascribe to.

Strengths-based Leadership

It seems to me that much of the leadership we see modeled, and hear high-lighted by Christian leaders in North America today, is almost solely focused on leading from our strengths.

Know your areas of greatest strength and lead from there.

And it makes sense — for the most part.

But what we often fail to see is that this kind of leadership can leave us vulnerable to our unknown and/or unmanaged weakness(es).

We could be cruising along, experiencing great success in our leadership, and wreck the car on an unseen pothole — simply because we were unaware of its existence.

This kind of leadership is insufficient — because we end up either living in fear of, or oblivious to, the inevitable potholes we will encounter.

Turning Our Weaknesses into Strengths

Another form of leadership we see and hear about (although much less often than the strengths-based leadership) is one where leaders are encouraged to identify their weaknesses, and then work to make them strengths.

And while this may seem noble in theory, in practice it seems to disregard the unique way(s) in which God has formed us.

Instead of living out of our God-given strengths — embracing the gifts, passions, and abilities that have been hard-wired within us — we opt to set those things aside and instead focus on all of the things that feel awkward, unfamiliar, and difficult.

Some might justify this focus, believing that they are becoming their very best “self.” But I think it shows a lack of stewardship to the thoughtful way(s) in which we’ve been designed.

This, too, seems insufficient and an unacceptable way to lead — and produce future leaders.

Learning to Live Out of Our Strengths, With Full Awareness of our Weaknesses

And this draws me back to Parker’s quote above:

We will become better teachers (leaders) not by trying to fill the potholes in our souls but by knowing them so well that we can avoid falling into them.

In many ways this seems to capture the best of the two approaches to leadership previously mentioned.

It invites us to lead from our strengths, while calling us to be mindful of our own weakness(es).

We don’t get to ignore our weakness, misleading ourselves to believe that we are without any.

Nor does it allow us to betray our strengths for the sake of becoming a jack-of-all-trades.

Instead — with full knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses — we are encouraged to be leaders who lead confidently out of their strengths because we are self-aware and know our own limitations.

 

What do you think?

How does this model of leadership fit with your current model of leadership?

Are you aware of your weaknesses? Are you obsessed with them?

How do you think this approach to leadership might impact your current role?