The season was a challenging one for the organization known for its innovative ideas and laid-back, “we have something for everybody” approach to welcoming its customers. Brand health was on the decline, and ideas to engage the customers which looked solid on white boards were floundering in real life. Senior leadership grew distant from the rest of the staff, and concerns mounted when it was announced that company was going in a “new direction” that seemed counter to its original vision. Some staffers resigned. Others defended the decision of leadership and chastised those who called it into question, citing a lack of submission to authority.
But one young leader did neither. Instead, he determined to set the example of how to lead when there is uncertainty about the leadership of others—including those in the highest positions of authority. He became an anchor in a stormy season, and his team continued to thrive and serve well in the midst of change.
You might be surprised to know that the leader was in his late 20s, and didn’t have decades of experience or a stack of “three easy ways” or “10 steps” books in his office written by leadership experts. Instead, he did twelve powerful things to rise above the storm of leadership gone wrong.
Serve with Intentionality
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT)
The leader focused on serving those in his charge, but he didn’t stop there. He made a point to spend time with others on staff, even those who had differing points of view. He was sincere in wanting to better understand the “why” behind both the support of and frustration with leadership. He became a trusted sounding board and prayer partner.
Shepherd with Integrity
His good heart made him a good shepherd; he guided the people wisely and well. (Psalm 78:72 MSG)
The leader gathered his team together and gave them permission to speak. Conversations were held in confidence, and each was bathed in prayer. He asked his team to hold him accountable, so that he would remain focused on serving effectively.
Observe with Objectivity
Don’t be nitpickers; use your head—and heart—to discern what is right, to test what is authentically right. (John 7:24, MSG)
The leader encouraged his staff to ask, “What might be learned from this? Where is the good that may be gleaned?” and to always be mindful of opportunities to demonstrate servant leadership. He asked the same questions as well.
He was careful not to pass judgment quickly, but rather asked clarifying questions to determine the best next right step to be taken when responding to decisions made by senior leadership.
He did his best to see things from multiple perspectives before making decisions that would affect his team and impact their work.
Listen with Intention
Tune your ears to wisdom and concentrate on understanding. (Proverbs 2:2 NLT)
The leader did simply ask questions; he took the time to listen with intention. He listened to the wants and needs of customers, listened to the challenges faced by both those customers and his employees. He listened to the marketplace, he even listened to his competitors. Before he spoke, he listened.
Speak with Dignity
Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29, VOICE)
The leader respectfully stood his ground when he felt decisions being made by senior leadership would have a negative impact on the work of his team, and he collaborated with senior leadership on changes that could be made effectively. And through it all, he was careful to hold everyone in high regard and protect the dignity of all involved. There was no place for demeaning comments, no room for fellow staffers to become targets.
Share with Simplicity
You need not swear an oath—any impulse to do so is of evil. Simply let your “yes” be “yes,” and let your “no” be “no.” (Matthew 5:37 VOICE)
Rarely are the challenges we face in organizations simple. Operational challenges mix with success goals and competitive landscapes, and are then wrapped in multi-faceted and often unspoken human need. The leader took note of it all, and then found ways to explain the complexity in language that knocked down walls of misunderstanding and helped facilitate dialogue. One of his favorite questions was, “In what ways might we…” when inviting others into conversations, so everyone had a sense of ownership.
Continue with Authenticity
Look, does it make sense to truly become successful, but then to hand over your very soul? What is your soul really worth? (Matthew 16:26 VOICE)
The leader could have taken advantage of a vulnerable season to elevate himself. But he knew that vulnerability and humility are the true hallmarks of servant leadership. He elevated those around him as he pledged himself to offering honest and sound wisdom and insight.
Reflect with Transparency
Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am. Put me to the test and watch how I
handle the strain. Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me and guide me down Your path forever. (Psalm 139:23-24 VOICE)
Secrets will eventually come to light, including attitudes and motivations. The leader knew that transparency–first with God and then with trusted confidants, both professionally and personally, would help him to remain focused on serving those who counted on him to lead with integrity and dignity.
Respond with Patience
Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him. Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top. (Psalm 37:7 MSG)
The leader reminded his team often to breathe and to remain focused on the good work they were doing. He asked them to remind him to do the same. Responding rather than reacting to circumstances within the organization, offering encouragement and support to focus and refocus staff and customers, gave space for good conversation and contemplation.
Work with Adaptability
Don’t be bossy to those people who are in your care but set an example for them. (1 Peter 5:3 CEV)
Greek philosopher Heraclitus coined the adage, “The only thing that Is constant Is change.” Remaining flexible in the midst of change, especially when that change may be called into question, is essential. The leader remained nimble enough to pivot, while remaining true to core values. He asked clarifying questions, and continued to communicate with his team through change, providing insight on how best to adapt to it with honor.
Strive for Unity
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind. Just as you, Father, are in Me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent Me. (John 17:21, MSG)
The leader knew unity was essential in order for growth, and so everything he modeled and encouraged—integrity, intentionality, objectivity, and dignity—had that unity as its goal.
Lead with Passion
If you are a counselor, use your gift to comfort and exhort; if you are someone who gives, do it simply and generously; if you are in a position of leadership, lead with diligence and zeal; if you are one who does acts of mercy, do them cheerfully. (Romans 12:8 CJB)
Throughout it all, the leader continued to lead with passion. There was no “work together only in good times,” asterisk attached to leadership, nor were there asterisks in the leadership principles used by the leader even as he traversed the most difficult of seasons. And his road-tested wisdom will help you and me, as we work together through times of uncertainty, doubt, triumph, joy, celebration, and even tragedy— and will have the power to impact both present and future generations. It’s in the most challenging seasons when we have the opportunity to lead well. Let’s do it.