I am not an obviously dynamic leader…
I am not an immediately attractive (no reflection on my ageing looks) leader, I do not immediately win people to me, I am not an ostensibly charismatic leader, I am an average networker, I take time to commit and I can be hesitant. I am more Peter than Paul, more Moses than David, more tortoise than hare.
I am a slow leader.
Please understand me I am not putting myself down. I am okay with all those things. In fact I can now see them as strengths. And you know what, I can be dynamic, attractive (well maybe not), win people, charismatic, network well, commit and be decisive if needed, but I don’t feel I have to be those things (most of the time anyway).
I can remember a few months into to taking up my post as Director at Bath Youth for Christ, one staff member commenting to me at a youth café that we ran at the time, that they wondered how long I would last. I was a little taken aback by their boldness; they were after all, talking to their new boss!
I have at times found myself envying those leaders who seem immediately winsome, who draw a crowd, whose ideas seem to always be seen as revolutionary, who walk into a room and create a stir, who float around crowded room with charmed self-confidence are comfortable promoting whatever their latest idea might be and operate with clarity and decisiveness.
As with many things in our ever more transient world, it strikes me there exists a paradox. It goes a little something like this. Our world demands quick responses, constant decisiveness, a continuum of new ideas and the ability to adapt to every new cultural wave. I’m knackered! However, whilst our world demands leadership that is quick, decisive, constantly creative and adapting, that may not be what it needs.
I have now been Director at Bath YFC for 11 years. Other than be married I have not done anything for so long. Leadership is about people and ideas but more about people than ideas. New ideas may bring a following, but behind the new idea is a leader inviting people to follow. Whilst the world around us whirls in ever increasing velocity, people are still people. Trying to keep up but often just getting caught in strong cross winds of change. My experience tells me that people still fundamentally need the same things in a leader that they have always needed. In fact they possibly need these things more than ever before because of the busyness around them, even if they do not immediately appreciate this. Here are a few of those things that people look for but that only come through a slower approach to leadership. Leadership that pauses, that listens, reflects and acts. Leadership that has been nurtured, cajoled into the open and slowly grown.
The capacity of a leader to act as a ‘whole person’ with integrity (and consistency) of character, bringing a sense of peace to the chaos. Getting to this place is a journey of discovery, one that take time. Time that enables a leader to work out who they are and who they are not, what type of leader they are and what type they are not.
The willingness of a leader to serve those they lead. I was struck recently when reading the book of Joshua in the Bible. When most of the Promised Land had been conquered and dished out Joshua (it says) asked permission for a small plot of land. Asked permission?! From who? He was a great warrior leader, had lead the people for years was probably about eighty. He didn’t need to ask permission! But he did. Humility knows that I am accountable. Humility does not come naturally to many leaders. It takes the making of mistakes, the forgiveness and grace of others, the dusting oneself off and getting up and trying again (over and over again) to really grasp.
This does not mean that leaders do not occasionally have moments of letting off steam or going off on one, nor does it mean becoming yawningly boring. Quite the opposite. A leader who brings stability and security provides a foundation from which those they lead can grow, make mistakes, learn and flourish. If you are a leader of considerable time chances are, someone else provided the stability in which you could take risks, mess up, learn and flourish.
In a world obsessed with youthfulness we have devalued those of age and experience (I am not just saying this because I am 40 this year – honest)! This is not to say younger leaders can’t make wise decisions. However, there is a wisdom that only comes with age and experience. Those who are constantly flying from idea to idea and new initiative to new initiative, without slowing and reflecting on experiences do not tend to grow in wisdom. How many youth workers have I seen come and go; quickly setting up a new event, or project with a great website and flyers, only to leave within two years?
There will be other things that come with a slow approach to leadership. If you have been a leader for a while, perhaps you have some thoughts too.
I need to just tweak my claim to be a slow leader. I think better put I would say I am becoming a slower leader. I am after all still learning, still leaning on others of more wisdom and stability, still making mistakes and learning humility and integrity.
So how does one become a slower leader? Leaders need to be intentional about this and it is something I am working on. Bringing slowness is something I am ever more passionate about. As part of this quest I am trying to bring slowness into my life, and the experience of others. You can read more about this at www.lentement.org (lon-te-mon is French for ‘slowly’). This adventure is about developing a practice of slowing so that I can listen, reflect and then act. All vital ingredients in developing a slower leadership style that might bring about lasting change.
Leadership is about change. It may be that slow leadership is possibly more important than ever before in bringing transformation in the lives of those we are privileged to lead.
James is fascinated by leadership and its impact. He enjoys writing, the outdoors, reading, running, gardening, good coffee, journaling, writing poems, and the Sunday papers. He also runs a small project called Lentement which is all about practices for building slowness into busy lives.