Our RMCA staff read for 2019-20 is Marcus Warner's and Jim Wilder's Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead. Our teachers and staff started reading in May, and we invite all parents to join us this summer and fall. We together are arguably the most important leaders our children and students will ever have. What better reason to grow together even more in the new school year? Purchase the book (our front office also has several copies) and start reading about this insightful means of understanding how we as adults can grow so that we can help our 'younger brothers and sisters' flourish.
We’ve all lived in communities that are or can be toxic. It’s a tendency that is present in any family, church, or school. What we’ve probably been challenged to do is to articulate the what, how, and why a community gets there. Besides blaming others, defending ourselves, or eventually simply getting out, perhaps we’ve just not had the experience or discernment of how to be vulnerable and transparent without either hurting or being hurt.
One of the shortest chapters in the book, ch. 4 begins with the transformative story of Thomas Gerlach and his community begins this brief but insightful chapter. Here’s a paragraph on p. 78 that references their life together.
“It is hard to conceive of a family that became more relationally invested in leadership. Every day was a shared life. Family was both natural and spiritual. Weak and strong lived together. Tender responses to weak members were to rule their lives. Prayer, resolving strongholds, and strict adherence to bible study for all guidance were absolutes for life. Life was very hard but faced resolutely."
The authors continue on with the next two parts of the story, though: community breakdown and rediscovery of “God’s strength made perfect in our weakness.” Thomas’ admission of trying to be a leader under his own steam is telling. He also describes a God who was willing to pick up the pieces and bring him back into leadership with a servant-hearted mindset. He ends with this quote on 79:
“When I am there and I can rejoice in being close to God and those I love, work is easy, leadership is motivating to others, and fellowship is good even with very difficult people.”
I believe that Warner and Wilder start with this narrative because it clearly demonstrates the inherent blessings and risks that come with being a leader in a closely-knit spiritual community. While there are many aspects of those risks, the authors focus on those that involve how we deal with the inherent sin and emotional baggage that each of us brings to such a community -- family, church, or school. Whether it is avoiding the ‘negative’ emotions --a nger, fear, sadness, shame, disgust, and despair--or responding ineffectively to those emotions within us or ourselves, they are curious about what happens when a community’s leaders consistently deal poorly with them.
They catalog the warning signs that follow as a community heads down a toxic trajectory. These range from increasing isolation to the ultimate problem -- going predatory on one’s colleagues or family members. Thankfully, this short chapter moves quickly to what one can do for both one’s self as well as those around him or her.
All of the issues mentioned involved low-joy levels. The authors argue that the main issue--and I strongly agree--wasn’t that leaders or followers didn’t know enough or weren’t already doing good work for God and His people. The problem was somehow related to the necessity of having one’s mind-spirit connections healed and to restoring a leader’s ability to fast-track joy in every relationship, no matter what the circumstance. Simply put, the authors noted in the stories of recovery that the ability to quickly find/regain joy was the key predictor for leading and participating in a healthy community.
They contrast this, as they have in previous chapters, with what one’s mind-spirit looks like when it is running on fear. In their own words from p. 84:
“Instead of knowing we have other people we can call on, instead of remembering “how it is like me and my people to act” (as the best God created us), we are left to solve our problems on our own. Here is the nexus of most leadership problems. The hardest times to lead are precisely those times when each group member feels “on his or her own” and isolated. Everyone just wants to make the problem go away and just . . . stop.”
Ch. 4 ends as previous chapters have with a section on how recent neuroscience discoveries shed light on leadership. In this case, they look at how the brain functions differently as “manager” and “leader” and how much more challenging it is to cultivate a quick response based not on fear or one of the other negative emotions but of authentic love for the other person. Hard, but as the authors attest, not impossible.
As I was reading this, I was reminded several times of the verse that was included in the last chapter.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:11-13)
Christ said these words to us as much to his disciples gathered in the upper room. Christ has promised his joy. He is with us. He has put us into communities. We can grow. It will be hard, but we have the Holy Spirit, the experience of many generations of “the great cloud of witnesses,” Scripture, and each other. As we like to say around RMCA, “it is good to be me here with you.” And it is!
I encourage each of us to pray for each other over the summer, our new or old students returning in August, and their parents. Each of us can grow as leaders. None of us will arrive in 2019-20, but we can be that much more mature by next May. And the impact on our own children and students will be measurable.
Let’s keep growing together toward a rare and wonderful leadership and life!