Because of my career path, I have spent quite a bit of time in management and leadership training workshops, and reading books on leadership. I am not a born leader, and what skills I have gained in this area have been hard won.
One of my favorite authors in this area is Mr. Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller Inc., a manufacturer of office furniture headquartered in Zeeland, Michigan near the Lake Michigan shoreline. Leadership is an Art and Leadership Jazz are two of his bestselling books, which look at leadership in the business world from a unique perspective. I highly recommend both books.
Some of us truly are “born leaders,” with an innate understanding of how to lead, inspire, and bring out the best in others. However, I firmly believe that everyone has the ability to develop leadership skills, to grow their understanding of leadership, and to serve in leadership roles when called upon to do so. Let’s call these people “prepared leaders.”
Recently, I witnessed an excellent example of “prepared leadership” in action at church on Sunday morning.
Our church has a lay leadership. What that means is that members of our “ward” (our local branch of the church) are “called” (invited/asked) by the leadership of the church to serve as leaders in various positions, including the ward Bishop, Relief Society President, and the leadership of auxiliaries for youth and children. Such “callings” are extended by church leaders after much prayer and pondering by the church leader who extends the call, and are considered to be invitations to serve extended by the Lord.
I have served in leadership positions, and have also witnessed the growth and increase in wisdom, compassion, and understanding that can come to a man or woman who accepts such an invitation to serve. Typically, members are called for periods of a few years, so most local congregations have a depth of trained and experienced leaders in their ranks.
However, despite the church’s penchant for organization, sometimes “things happen.” One of those moments came on Sunday during a special Sunday School meeting taught by our Stake President.
A “stake” in our church is akin to a “diocese” in the Catholic Church – the “stake president” is the leader over a group of a dozen or so local congregations. He, like the leaders of the local congregation, is an unpaid volunteer called to the position for a period of five to eight years or so.
The typical Sunday School meeting starts with the “Sunday School President” (another lay leader) or one of his two assistants opening the meeting, making announcements, inviting a member to give the opening prayer, and then turning the meeting over to the teacher. Due to a miscommunication, none of the Sunday School leaders were in the room when the meeting was scheduled to start.
Upon determining this, the Stake President simply turned to a member of the congregation and asked if he would step in as the “acting” Sunday School President for the meeting. The person agreed, and promptly led the meeting smoothly, as if he had done so many times. A quiet moment of “prepared leadership” if there ever was one.
Interestingly enough, this person also happens to be another designated conservative, a fact I just now recalled – and one that may or may not be pertinent to this story. I will leave that for you, the reader, to decide for yourself.
“As my own career progressed, I realized that preparation…was the single most important key to success, no matter what the field. Leaders may possess brilliance, extraordinary vision, fate, even luck. Those help; but no one, no matter how gifted, can perform without careful preparation, thoughtful experiment, and determined follow through.”
“Creating reasons for those who work for you to establish their own culture of preparedness is part of being a good leader.”
Was this Sunday School experience any sort of mighty miracle? – No. Was it even a minor miracle? – No. It was an example of how a culture of leadership, stewardship, and service prepares people to be able to rise above themselves in the service of others. This is the way Jesus Christ established His church in the Holy Land, and the way he called His apostles and prepared them to be leaders in the Kingdom.
The person who stood up and served as the impromptu Sunday School leader had been prepared though past callings and church experiences to step up and lead that morning. I am grateful to belong to a church that values this culture of leadership, stewardship, and service; and I try to bring that same spirit into my work.
As managers and leaders in our organizations, we should always be on the lookout for opportunities to serve those around us – and to provide opportunities for those that work for us to lead. Everyone in the organization benefits when we do these things.