Who You Are Is How You Lead

How are you doing today? Since I last checked, you have celebrated the hope of Advent and the joy Christmas. You ended the unbelievable year of 2020 and started a new year with expectation and resolve. I am assuming the events of the past week were not part of your plan for the new year. So, I am checking on you. How are you doing? 

With the COVID pandemic and racial unrest as present realities, I don’t need to go over all the events of the past week. But from the funeral service for Andre Hill, to the Stand Your Ground bill that was passed by the state legislature, to the domestic terrorism at the Capitol in Washington, it has been one emotional roller coaster.  

How Do You Lead in Times Like These?

I understand if you are feeling angry, disappointed, afraid, frustrated, and weary.  I say I understand because those are the emotions I felt last week and continue to wrestle with today. I have talked with colleagues and friends who are feeling the same. With all this stuff, piled onto what you were already navigating, enough is enough. There is even a penalty in football for piling on.

So, how do you lead in the midst of the times in which we are living? Last week I asked the question, “wouldn’t it feel good to be in your sweet spot, to be in the groove where you are your most effective and are making your greatest impact, and at the same time living a joy filled life?” 

Sure, we all want that. Well, it starts with becoming who you are created to be. Who you are is how you lead.  Even in the middle of pandemics, racial unrest, and political violence.  Who you are is how you lead.

Check In on Emotions, Voice Your Grief

Last week, when I was getting angry and feeling helpless and weary, I called a few friends to talk about what was happening and to voice my grief.  I have found that a few good friends, who love and accept me for who I am, help me think clearly and to speak responsibly. 

At the time I was feeling that my writing in response to racial injustice, the pandemic, and the political climate, was not making much difference. But through those conversations, prayer, and reflection, I have decided I needed to share what I am learning regarding courageous leadership. It is my hope these insights will assist you as a leader at this point and time in history. 

Who Are You?

The big question for me is, do you know at your core who you are? This is a question of values. As a follower of Jesus, how do you differentiate yourself when you encounter people of different values?  Your answer is revealed in the way you lead when you either respond or react to people with whom you disagree. 

Who you are is the way you lead.

When you know and honor your values, life is good. Even in the midst of uncertainty and turmoil, you have a place to stand. But if you don’t know and understand your values, you will be shaped by the values of others. 

I’m going out on a limb here to say, part of what you have experienced over the past several days and weeks are values contrary to your own. So, how do you lead in such conflict? 

Know your values. 

As an example, as a follower of Jesus, one of your core values might be love (I certainly hope it is). Now, I’m not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings centered on romance or friendship. Although both are important, I’m talking about love, regardless of feelings, that is centered in the well-being of others  

It is the love that takes others seriously. It is centered in action. It works for the good of others even in the midst of disagreement and misunderstanding. It is vulnerable, empathetic, and listens.  It provides a caring and safe place for all people to develop relationships and to become who God created them to be. (For more on the value of love in leadership, read “Lead With Love” October 13, 2020 at www.transformingmission.org/blog or listen to Episodes 131 and 132 of LeaderCast, “Love as You  Have Been Love” August 3, 2020 and “God’s Love for the World” August 5, 2020 at www.transformingmission.org/podcast). 

Know current reality. 

In other words, be truthful about your context. Over the past several weeks, we have experienced different expressions of hatred. From the shooting of an unarmed black man to the acts of violence at the Capitol, hatred is at the root of such actions. I know that is a strong word, but what I have learned is hatred is a value expressed by some people today. 

As a follower of Jesus, hatred is not on your radar. You don’t even like talking about hatred. But hatred is part of our current reality. So, how do you lead in the midst of hatred?

Leading Amid Hatred

Hatred is a sustained feeling of intense dislike for another person or a group of persons. It is shown in an ongoing hostility that uses up emotional energy. When someone has hatred for another person, they often spend much of their time fixated on their anger, contempt, or dislike of the other person.

Some researchers believe we all have the capacity to hate, while other researchers believe true hatred is uncommon. What is clear is that hatred tends to emerge as a learned emotion that flourishes in the absence of compassion. 

As we have discussed in the past, compassion is one of the characteristics people look for in their leaders. If hatred flourishes in the absence of compassion, then hatred as little to do with courageous leadership. Who you are is how you lead.

Don’t Allow Hatred to Take Over

When you let hatred in, hatred takes over. For example, on September 11, 2001, our culture normalized hatred when we collectively said, “someone has to pay for what has happened.” I don’t disagree. But what we did was to set our sights upon everyone related to the Islamic religion. Instead of holding a few extremists responsible, we placed our hatred toward all Moslems.  

As a country, we were unified in our resolve to bring to justice the perpetrator of the events. We invaded other countries. We became suspicious of anyone who dressed differently and talked with an accent, especially on airplanes. When we found and killed Osama Bin Laden, our hatred did not go away. We redirected our hatred toward persons around us. To maintain such feelings, we put people, objects of our hatred, into categories like immigrants, blacks, Mexicans, etc. Without even realizing it, we placed ourselves in positions of supremacy and privilege.  To maintain such positions, we could not let go of our hatred. Or maybe a better way to say it is, we let our hatred hang onto us. Once you let hatred in, hatred doesn’t care.

So, out of our hatred, we have given normalcy to standing your ground, getting back what is rightfully yours, and making sure no one gets anything you don’t get first. The words “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are words on a page. There is little courageous leadership without vulnerability and empathy. Who you are is how you lead. 

Continue the Exploration

Know your values and be honest about your current reality. I’ll pick up at this point next week. Until then, look deep within yourself and discover what value motivates you.  

Make an honest assessment of your current reality. To navigate the waters of conflicting values, you need to know yourself and know your context. Who you are is how you lead.  

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out our LeaderCast podcast. This month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about purpose. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

1 reply
  1. Amy Graham
    Amy Graham says:

    Thanks for this blog.

    I can relate to acknowledging emotions. I used to find it challenging to honor emotions in time like these. Now, I am challenged with how to respond to those who have a hard time understanding my anger in these times. I have learned to honor emotions. When we feel, we are able to move forward, respond in a Christlike manor, honoring self and being truthful.

    Thank you again!


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