Leadership is all around us, perhaps now even more than usual. Political campaigns help define what we might want in our leaders. In sports, coaches step up to lead their team in critical moments. There are multitudes of books, tapes and seminars – all on the topic of leadership. We want good leaders in our country and in our community, and we need them in our homes.
All this leadership buzz reminded me of lessons I have learned.
A speaker at the Willow Creek Church Leadership Summit asked a profound, and sobering question: “Do those who follow you know that you believe in them?”
I thought of my three sons, followed immediately by that bottom-dropping-out-of-my-stomach moment wondering if they knew. That’s when I knew I needed to ask them. The next day I gathered them together. Their rooms were relatively in order, they weren’t fighting, and they hadn’t broken anything that I knew of, so they were notably curious.
Then I asked them if they know I believe in them. I was surprised how quickly my oldest son answered “yes”, with full head-nodding from his younger brothers. Suspicious that this was a “give Dad the answer he wants so we can get back to our lives” response, I followed with “how do you know?”
My oldest son answered again, “because you don’t let us get away with stuff.” Then my sons spent the next few minutes touting examples of times I held the line, and how they felt believed in because I expected them to follow. I was blown away! I immediately grounded them to show just how much I believed in them. Not really, but I did learn that leaders make tough choices for their followers – when they believe in them.
Another experience reminded me that leaders sometimes need to follow. My wife Jan and I went to a corn maze where you walk through tall stalks of corn until you find your way out. As soon as we entered the maze, my oldest son and his fiancèe went in one direction, my two younger sons took another, and with a bag of kettle corn in one hand and a flashlight in the other, I walked off with Jan. She strode with such confidence and enthusiasm, I barely paid attention. I was a good follower. Besides, I had goodies in hand while enjoying the cool air and watching Jan bump through the maze ahead of me. Life was good!
Then, something happened. Jan hesitated – an ever-so-slight glance to the left as she turned right. Was that just shadows playing tricks on me, or was she beginning to doubt?! My hand discontinued its assault on the kettle corn as I reached in my pocket for my own map – where is that map? My breathing began to deepen, to become more deliberate. I resisted the temptation to sweat – not sure at all that I can resist. OK, it wasn’t that tense, but I did realize that Jan had no plan to get us out of the maze. Normally I would have charged in, stomped on her toes, made some rash decision, and complicated matters. This time, I just took a breath and continued to follow.
A few minutes later, Jan stopped and asked me where we were and how to get out. (So that’s what asking for directions looks like!) I made some suggestions and we worked together to figure out which turn was next, and stopped often to see if our plan needed some adjustments. It was a rewarding experience.
Leadership might be in the news, but it is also a big part of our lives. As husbands and wives, and as parents, I invite you to believe in the followers in your life, and to make tough choices to demonstrate your leadership. Also, take your turn being a follower, encouraging others to step up and lead. Let’s be a nation with good leaders for our country and in our community – and most importantly, let’s be good leaders in our homes.