Leadership: Embracing the Uncomfortable
All of us strive to find the right tool, the right method, and the right resource to lead us to that next level of leadership. However, in the midst of our endless quest, we find ourselves more frustrated and more disjointed from our intended purpose. Why? Perhaps, it’s because “…studying leadership is way easier than leading.” Dr. Brené Brown, research professor at University of Houston and author of five #1 New York Times Bestsellers, challenges us to understand that leadership is paradoxical. In other words, “Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability.” This type of vulnerability is not tied to a false idea of victimization or clothed in false pride but a challenge to live bravely along our journey.
Vulnerability requires us to face the music, so to speak, and to understand how our personalities, assumptions, and expectations impact others, and ultimately ourselves. Dr. Brown recounts a story where she was brought on the carpet for her lack of time estimation. I couldn’t help but chuckle because I could easily identify. She starts by taking a stance of teachability and listening to the team, she then apologizes, and lastly, she seeks to understand. Brown explains:
Apologizing and backing that up with behavior change is normalized in our organization from onboarding. While some leaders consider apologizing to be a sign of weakness, we teach it as a skill and frame the willingness to apologize and make amends as brave leadership.
I’ve had to apologize more than once to my team for overestimating our time management expectations. However, I’ve learned that through these moments of vulnerability, I’ve come to embrace these fractures and implement better tactics for healthy balance within my own life and the lives of my team members. I realized that my desire for ‘project execution’ wasn’t conducive with my team’s schedule, ability, nor health. In other words, I was driving my team to perform under pressure because of my own fears of failure. In order to hold myself accountable, I’ve created a larger board, delegated more tasks, and put off launching our second summit until 2020. This has enabled me to live more balanced and not put undue pressure on my team.
Most leadership is driven by hierarchical structures, so the idea of cause and effect are not necessarily considered by most companies nor most ministries. However, I would venture to state, that the majority of leadership issues stem from a lack of understanding and perpetuation of assumption. Leadership begins with reflection and ends with formation. Leaders must enable all people the space to be vulnerable and transparent. If they don’t, then they create a company dependent on the leader’s portrayal of perfection, instead of the organization’s mission. This creates a false sense of inaccessibility and invincibility that sets organizations up to fail.
My whole thesis is centered on why Millennials and Generation Z are leaving the doors of the sanctuary; however, I don’t believe that the antidote lies within the pastor’s performance, but the pastor’s health. This is why fellowship is so important. We usually understand this term as a noun; however, when we see it as a verb, it takes on a new meaning. Koinoneo, simply means, “to become a sharer, be made a partner, to join one’s self to an associate.” What if we truly fellowshipped? What if we partnered and shared one another’s the burden? What if we created space for pastors and leaders to be vulnerable? This will require us to change our perception of leadership to horizontal and create our positions within the church as equal. In order to create strong churches, we must create strong leaders, which requires us to create strong spaces of vulnerability and transparency for both the congregants and the pastors. Hence, we need to acknowledge the humanity within leadership and stop placing the blame and/or sole responsibility on pastoral leadership.
According to Brené Brown, “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.” For years, the church has been a safe haven for congregants and a witch hunt for pastors. If we truly want the church to progress forward, then we must take a step back and give space and care to our pastoral leadership. When we force pastors to become the heart and soul of the church, we put the emphasis on their strengths and weaknesses, instead of Christ’s scars.
So, how do we change the narrative? How do we create an epidemic of vulnerability within leadership, especially within the Church? The first step is to embrace your reflection. This past year has been trying, to say the least. I’ve dealt with heart issues, worked tirelessly to secure LOUD’s 501c3 status, and be a caretaker to my incredible parents. My life is not my own. However, I believe that it’s only when we realize this that we can operate from a healthy stance of leadership. We’re not enough, we will fail, we will disappoint, and we will succeed. However, our effectiveness as a leader is not contingent upon our CV, but our willingness to be centered.
Dr. Brown, author of Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. challenges us to lead from a place of transparency in order to create structures of authenticity. She challenges us to understand that leadership begins with the willingness to fail, to face our fears, and to confront the person in the mirror. It begins and ends with vulnerability.
Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018),4.
“Brené Brown About,” https://brenebrown.com, accessed April 11, 2019, https://brenebrown.com/about/.
Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018), 11.
“The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon,” www.biblestudytools.com, accessed April 11, 2019, https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/koinoneo.html.
Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018),67.
7 responses to “Leadership: Embracing the Uncomfortable”
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I admit I knew nothing about this book and nothing about Brene Brown. I found this interesting sermon she preached at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
She reminds me of a previous author who said we need to create “safe to fail zones” but honestly I cannot remember who that author was. Do you?
Thanks so much for sharing such a powerful video, Jay! Like you, I had never heard of Brené Brown until this assignment.
One thing that she said in the video that stuck in my mind was, “It’s not a question of what side of politics you are on, it’s a question of what side of humanity you are on. There is nothing more unholy than stripping humanity from another person.” Wow! What would the church be like if we created space for vulnerable conversation – if we decided to approach each other from the stance of being made in the image of God?! How powerful would that be!?
Sadly, I can’t remember the author who wrote, “safe to fail zones.” If I come across it, I’ll email you and let you know.
You’re right, the Church is mostly just like every other organization it rises and falls on the ‘success’ of the leader or pastor. But we put them in untenable situations where not only are they tasked with keeping everyone happy but they have no time or room to develop genuine vulnerability in themselves. I am frustrated by what I see as the charade that represents much of church life. I also believe that this is the main reason emerging generations are abandoning the church. They have enough pretense in their social media lives that there is no need to add more in their spiritual lives as well. When this pretense is not only demonstrated from the front but encouraged in the pews they bail. We do have to get to the point where we expect and even demand vulnerability, not only to change the discussion with emerging generations, but also so that our leadership is more healthy and sustainable.
Exactly! The church is simply a Christian organization with the same checks and balances of a business. However, the church differs because it puts ALL the responsibility on the CEO/pastor and pushes men and women to uphold all facets of the church, instead of delegating and creating a healthy balance for those in leadership.
Social media has exacerbated this problem because it’s forced pastors to become celebrities and uphold the mission and vision of the church on their own shoulders. Their families have to look perfect, their weight has to be perfect, and their personal lives have to be on display 24/7 without blemish or any spark of reality.
It’s my belief that if more pastors and leaders were empowered and encouraged to concentrate on their spiritual and emotional health, we’d have more authentic churches operating from a Christ-centered place, instead of a pastor-dependent place.
You commented that “Leadership begins with reflection and ends with formation. Leaders must enable all people the space to be vulnerable and transparent. If they don’t, then they create a company dependent on the leader’s portrayal of perfection, instead of the organization’s mission.”
I found your comment very insightful. The idea of creating an ideal and aspiring to it is very Platonic, particularly when the ideal is perfectionist. But I feel it has burdened us with unrealistic and unattainable images that hinder us from cultivating vulnerable communities. My perception of millennials and Gen Z is that they are abandoning church partially because of the lack of vulnerability in church communities, and because we often have unrealistic ideals for our communities.
Colleen, you reminded me of a stunt I pulled at church a couple years back; we had been discussing the instruction to “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James 5:16. I got up in class the next week and said, “Okay…time to practice what we preach. We are going to go around the room and have everyone confess their sins from the week.” Let’s just say, you could have heard a pin drop! Amazingly…no volunteers to go first. LOL. I expressed that I was teasing, but then had a robust conversation on why we are so unable to drop our guard.
Colleen, great post. Such a true word about it being easier to study leadership than it is to lead. That is true for theology and ministry too. It would be awesome if I could just write about this stuff and not actually have to do it.