In my recent leadership reflections, I’ve become convinced that leaders get out of bed not to primarily further a cause, but to answer a question. While multiple questions persist and exist, there’s one that tends to hold the rest in orbit. It gnaws, focuses, and drives the leader.
For Frederick Douglass, the question began with five words: “Why am I a slave?” One can trace from this genesis the rest of Douglass’s maturation, understanding, and learning. He elaborates, “Why are some people slaves, and others masters?” (Blight, Frederick Douglass, 28). This existential question, “Why am I a slave?” begins innocently and youthful for Douglass, but uncovers personal and systemic darkness beyond which he could have originally imagined. These roots run deep. He draws from this question an answer of sub-humanity as he delved into the psyche and mentality of the oppressor. Treating others as subhuman, Douglass discovered, was the path to oneself also acting in subhuman ways. I end my semester’s reflection on Douglass here, with a driving question that marked the rest of his work, foreshadowed the rest of his life, and echoes beyond his legacy. “Why am I a slave?”
I abruptly transition my thinkings towards my organization, Cru, because it is at a crossroads. The simultaneous battles and need for clarity are beyond coincidental, and I must believe they are a pruning type of providentially. Cru begins its 70th year as a large institution this year. Tracing “normal” institutional life cycles and propensity towards inward focus and thus death, the organizational age is a large enough issue in and of itself. Furthermore, at this point, three semesters have been impacted by COVID-19. Internally, we are working out our priorities and understanding of two major topics: sexuality and racial equality. Lastly, we underwent a major reorganization where we have not come out the other side. This perfect storm is requiring the right questions to be asked from our leadership.
But what about me? What’s my response? What’s my question as a mid-level leader in a large organization? What should demand my time, energy, and prayers, as I personally extend my margins? I offer this question: How might God want to bring a freshness of Himself and His mission to and through Cru? The constellation of questions that arises, as a result, seems like this might be a generative question. What needs to be fresh? What is stale? What is the renewed mission? With what postures? Principles? Practices? What do we do with the stagnant ideas, or do I dare say, with stagnant people? The rapidity of generating those questions makes me think I might be close.
Our US director recently said, “Our role is to pray for, dream about, and innovate creative and relevant ways to connect with people and to intentionally and boldly share the message that alone enables a person to enter into a relationship with Jesus.” In response, I ask, “How might God want to bring a freshness of Himself and His mission to and through Cru?” That’s my current driving question.
Photo Credit: Fine Arts, Dan Sproul
David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018).