If you could have one leadership quality, that would remain constant throughout your everyday life and work, what would it be?
As you know, there are many qualities that are necessary for effective leadership. The list is long: trust, compassion, vulnerability, authenticity, integrity, stability, hope, accountability, just to name a few. But there is one leadership quality that lies at the heart of effective leadership. That one quality is self-reflection.
As a Jesus follower, reflection upon the scripture, everyday life, and current events is a given. Being a person of reflection is who we are. So, why do we find it so difficult and painful?
Begin with Your Purpose
As a leader you know that everything begins with your purpose. Why do you do what you do? Related to your purpose, you then decide what you are going to do to fulfill your purpose and then you plan on how you are going to make it all come about. When you don’t take time to reflect regularly upon who you are and why you do what you do, you continually run the risk of either “blowing in the wind” without direction or bumping into tensions and failures that could have been avoided.
The Power of Self-Reflection
Self-reflection is a humbling, yet powerful skill that helps you improve who you are as a person as well as your effectiveness as a leader. It is a practice that assists you in taking an honest look at yourself: your strengths, your weaknesses, and areas for improvement. It allows you the time and space to decide how you want to live and work in the days, weeks, months, even years ahead. It is not easy to admit you could have done something better, but it is in your own self-reflection that you can decide how you will live and lead differently from this moment forward.
To say it another way, self-reflection is taking time to think, contemplate, examine and review yourself as part of increasing your self-awareness.
Permit me to use a personal illustration. This week I am celebrating my 67th birthday. Over the years, I have developed the practice of reflecting upon my life and work as my birthday approaches. I believe God has created me to make a difference in the places I live, work, and associate with people. This past week, during my time of reflection, I asked myself, “Am I giving myself in the ways God has created me to give?”
In reflection of the scriptures, the stories of Holy Week were fresh in my mind. Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Simon Peter denying that he knew Jesus. Judas betraying Jesus and feeling guilty. Pilate washing his hands of responsibility. The soldiers and the crowd taunted Jesus and cried out for his death. Jesus hanging on a cross, crucified.
Thinking about current events, I reflected upon the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The 53rd anniversary of his assassination was on Easter Sunday. I reflected on the life of George Floyd and upon the life of the police officer who is on trial for killing him. I reflected upon the multiple mass shooting events over the past two weeks, the acts of violence toward Asian Americans, the continued politicization of wearing masks in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and the children and teenagers being detained at the border.
Pausing at a Question
More than once, I caught myself thinking, “Would I have treated Jesus the way the people treated Jesus in these stories? I caught myself being judgmental and blaming others for the current misjustice and treatment of people in our culture.
So, I confess, I have basically kept my faith private. I have a lot of knowledge about Jesus and his radical message of love. I have an abundance of information about the current events in the world in which I live, but I express my faith in safe and sterile ways. To put it another way, I do a lot of talking but not a lot of walking regarding my faith as a Jesus follower.
Another Look at the Cross
So, I took another look at Luke’s story of Jesus on the cross. In Luke 24:34, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer was in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He was praying for forgiveness for those who were violating him because they did not know what they were doing. In Luke, the primary problem is ignorance. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” They have killed the Lord of glory in ignorance.
Forgiven for Ignorance?
I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the different kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes their eyes when they have every opportunity to see the truth, our hope is “Father, forgive them…”
When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand. When we remain silent and do nothing. When we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem.” That is intentional ignorance.
The crowds walked by Jesus on the cross, their only words were insults, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. Could that work for us?
Father, Forgive Us…
When we are filled with prejudice and we target and kill innocent people because of cultural differences or the color of their skin… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”
When we use our power, position, or privilege as harassment, to keep others in their place… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”
When we know that women are paid less for the same work, not promoted with the same skills, overlooked for being different…” Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”
When children and adults, bystanders, are killed by gun violence in schools, in parks, in clubs, in churches… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”
When medications are not available or too expensive because our health care is inadequate…” Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”
When any one of us remains silent when we know we should speak up and step out… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”
Can we be forgiven for our ignorance? “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
The Love of God
These words were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God. Whose only crime was being different. Who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, he called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers.
I have made peace with the fact that I may not see the full result of any ministry I have been graced to participate in. But I understand that I honor God by offering myself in living this way. I don’t want to deny it or work against it. I don’t want to turn away from the work God has for me to do.
So, I am, again, committing myself to hold back evil, in all the forms it presents itself. I am committing to repair systems and structures, especially the church that has helped make me who I am. And I commit to be a healing agent for people who are broken and suffering. I am committing myself to be about the business of peacemaking. I will constantly be about the work of disrupting the façade of peace so the authentic peace of Christ can take root and grow.
Please pray with me and for me as I grow into this stage of my life and ministry. Pray that I am who God intends for me to be at this point and time in history. Pray that I will make the difference God has created me to make.
Now, what about you?
Self-reflection is not spending hours contemplating your navel. It is focusing upon what and who you value and deciding on what you are going to do about it. It is not some intellectual exercise. It is about being self-aware and becoming more who God created you to be.
Four Questions for Self-Reflection
Here are four questions to ask yourself and to reflect upon:
- Am I being true to myself? It is easy to lose sight of what you value and why you are doing what you are doing. Your identity can become quickly lost in the paperwork, meetings, preparation, care, etc. These are all good and necessary aspects of being a leader. This question helps realign yourself with what’s going on around you.
- Am I allowing the things I can’t control to stress me out? It is tough not to worry about the things of which you are responsible. Environments, factors and conditions outside your control all affect the eventual outcome of what you are trying to do. Live in the grace given in the moment. There will be grace for what you face tomorrow. So, place your energy on what you can influence. In other words, don’t use up so much mental energy in focusing on what we can’t influence.
- Do I make time for those closest to me? What you do is important. But so are the people closest to you. They are your inspiration and your constant reminders of what you value most. By making time for those closest to you, you keep yourself in touch with everything that truly matters.
- Am I achieving the goals I have set for myself? When you don’t know where you are going you usually end up there. This is one of the biggest shortcomings of leadership, you get so caught up in activity, which might be good, but it is not taking you where you want to go. Stopping and changing direction is not a sign of failure. On the contrary, it is a sign of courageous leadership, no matter how far you’ve travelled in the other direction.
Your leadership starts with you. So, what one thing will you do this week that will help you reflect upon your life and work. What one step will you take to become more the leader God has created you to be?
Remember, who you are is how you lead.
When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, we talk about Accountability. If your eyes just rolled or your heart rate started to speed up, join us as we reframe accountability as a way to grow, succeed, and innovate in life, leadership and the local church. Check out Episode 172 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead.