Leadership begins with listening. But our fears take us the other way. They tell us that leadership is about having something to say, about having followers, about having control. But our fears lie. Leadership begins with listening.
Leadership begins with listening – listening to God. The Christian life begins when we listen to the generous and costly invitation of Jesus to “Come, follow me.” My fears tell me that leadership is about plans and control and bending the world to my way. But I cannot control anything. All a leader can do is to take the next faithful step. And then she pauses to listen again to God, before taking the next faithful step after that. I want to preserve my illusion of control by thinking that leadership begins with planning. But one faithful step at a time, leadership begins with listening to God.
Leadership begins with listening – listening to the people entrusted to our care. We Christian leaders don’t have followers; we have people entrusted to our care. My fears tell me that I am not a leader unless I can command authority. And my pride tells me that leadership is a calling defined by my gifts and my passions. But vocation is not about me. To have a vocation is to have a group of people entrusted to your care – even a tiny one. Leaders are like mothers entrusted with the care of an infant. We pretend that mothers are in control. But any mother will tell you that she spends her days listening to the baby. The child tells her what he needs. He has one cry when he needs food and another when he needs changing – and one cry when he is just fussing. The mother listens not for what the child wants, but for what he needs. And the wisdom of motherhood is knowing the difference. Motherhood is not about the mother’s gifts and passions. It is about the child entrusted to her care. Leadership begins with listening to the people entrusted to our care.
Leadership begins with listening – listening to longings and losses. We know that the people entrusted to our care are not infants. They have the hopes and fears — the dreams and disappointments — that come with being human. My pride tells me that I can use my own hopes and fears to know what others experience. But leadership is not about me. I cannot lead a people unless I know where they begin. And, at the most basic level, every person experiences longings and losses. If I don’t absorb those hopes and fears, my leading will never present the grace of the God who became flesh to share my people’s dreams and disappointments. Leadership begins with listening to the longings and losses of the people entrusted to my care.
Leadership begins with listening – listening to my own fears. Only after I have listened to God and to the people entrusted to my care can I examine my own emotions. If I start with myself, I see the world through my self-justifying agenda. But when I listen to myself in light of my world, I see my pride, my fear – my sin – for the impediment that it is. I also see my hopes, my gifts, and my dreams in light of the people God has given to my care. I see how my own longings and losses frame my world. Only after all this listening is it time for me to speak. What do I have to say? I take my hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments, plans and pride, and I hand them over to God. I speak them aloud in the confidence that he will work through my weakness. Leadership begins with listening, because God listened first to me.
Scott Cormode, PhD, is a senior fellow at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and is the Hugh De Pree Associate Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Seminary. The Hugh De Pree faculty chair was established by the family of the late Hugh De Pree, an accomplished leader and former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc., and brother of Max De Pree.
Scott brings significant leadership and teaching experience to this position. Scott has served as convener for numerous leadership conferences, presented numerous papers, chaired various boards and led training events. He is also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).