I have always been intrigued by the story of Warren Harding. Some will recognize this name because he was the 29th President of the United States. The story I’m talking about is the one told by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink. Harding, a newspaper editor who later became an Ohio State Senator, is described as a person worth looking at. He was a tall, young man in his mid-30’s, who possessed very distinguishing features that attracted attention. He had a ‘Roman’ look about him. He was described as having the handsomeness of an Indian because of his large frame, his wide-set glowing eyes, his heavy black hair and his bronze complexion. His voice was resonant, masculine and warm. He was well-dressed. And he came across as generous, good natured, sincere and kindhearted. It was this sizing up of Harding that instantly raised a question for Harry Daugherty, a lawyer and lobbyist from the state capital of Columbus, Ohio: “Wouldn’t that man make great President?” Wait! Did I miss something? Did I blink too long? What qualified this tall, handsome man to become the President?
Warren Harding wasn’t particularly intelligent and as he rose from one political office to the next, he never really distinguished himself. Yet, the fact that Daugherty kept referring to him as “a great-looking President” and that he looked like a presidential candidate, made it possible for him to be elected as the 29th President of the United States. According to Malcolm Gladwell, most historians agree that he was one of the worst presidents in American history.
In her book, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence,” Marykate Morse writes that first impressions are powerful. People make decisions based on physical presentation. A person’s physical appearance can have powerful implications that can block the normal process of selecting someone for a leadership role. Think about it – how often have we met someone and just by their appearance we were either drawn to them or repulsed by them? Like it or not, we are a society of first impressions. As Christians we like to think that we’re different. We like to believe that we look beyond appearances. Yet, appearances are what we notice first.
In her book, MaryKate highlights visual markers that usually indicates who has more presence, influence and takes up more space in social setting. Gender, culture, age, physical features, economic status, education, marital status, and role authority are among those markers. As I look over this list and read the words on the pages of this book, I am again sad and disappointed by the markers that made me feel invisible—gender and marital status. My husband and I had served as co-pastors for over six years. Four months after the death of my husband I was told that I would not be considered as the pastor. I was told that the church was not comfortable having a woman senior pastor and their desire was to focus on family ministry. Therefore, having a single woman as their pastor would not help them to fulfill their desire.
I am aware that I am not alone in the “land of invisibility.” As I work with both men and women leaders many continue to experience the negative effects of these visual markers. However, today I am in a leadership position where I have gained power, influence and presence. Yes, I still have some of the markers that others used to make me feel invisible. I’m still a woman! I’m still Latina! My marital status hasn’t changed! But what has changed has been the power, influence and presence that I now have and the opportunity to make a difference and to “make room” for other leaders. The purpose of having power is not to enhance or secure one’s personal influence but to enhance the influence and well-being of others. There is no sense in having power if one is not going to use it to enhance the kingdom of God.
I often hear people say that power corrupts. Yes, I would agree. Or that they don’t want power because they’re afraid of losing themselves. Again, yes, I would agree there is that danger. But with great power comes great responsibility (Uncle Ben in Spiderman). And one of our responsibilities is to use power well. As Rollo May states in his book, Power and Innocence, power is the ability to cause or prevent change. MaryKate reminds us that Jesus’ use of power was all about the ability to cause or prevent change. Jesus’ use of power was guided by his perfect love and justice. And that same capacity is in us so that our presence in the world will have the same influencing potential. Jesus is our model for the space-serving use of power.”
MaryKate challenges everyone to take responsibility for God’s purposes by serving when you are called to serve and by leading when you are called to lead. It’s not about space-taking or space-hiding, it’s about “space-serving.” What space are you in?
 Malcolm Gladwell, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” (New York, NY: Time Warner Book Group, 2005) p. 72-73.
 Ibid., 75.
 MaryKate Morse, “Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence,” (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), p. 91.
 Ibid., p. 94.
 Ibid., p.136
 Rollo May, “Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence,” (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1972), p. 99.
 Ibid., p. 151
 Ibid., p. 156