The church was abuzz with activity. The worship service had just ended and people were engaging conversations, getting coffee from the coffee bar, and meeting in small groups planning lunch gatherings. Kids were running about looking for parents, or avoiding parents! The staff was making the most of the opportunity to have a few words with people before they left for the day and the busy week ahead. My wife and I greeted a couple of people we recognized but no one pursued more than a “hello-goodbye” conversation. It was clear that we were not the favored people with whom to engage conversation.
Marian and I arrived at the church building just as the service ended. We were there to clean the church. We were dressed in blue jeans, pullovers, and tennis shoes. Our clothes were clean, but clearly not “worship service clothing,” at least not according to the culture of this church! Marian and quickly disappeared into the caverns of the facility to find our way to the janitor’s closet to retrieve our cleaning aids and get to work. I take on the heavy stuff: collecting and transferring trash to the dumpster, vacuuming, and mopping. As I began my tasks I could not help thinking about our entrance to the facility. We had worshipped at this church previously but dressed differently. I thought about we had been greeted and treated on those occasions as compared with today.
I thought about how others might feel if they had not “dressed for the occasion.” What would they feel about this church? The Church? Christianity? God? They may not “feel the warmth” of fellowship! But, then I wondered about my own presence. Did I act differently? Was my presence different in any way excepting my dress? What kind of face did others see? How “engaging” did I appear? As Mary Kate Morse would say, “People notice presence” (Kindle Location 739). On that occasion and at that moment, I did not exude presence! I was not too defeated, however. As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I had visited previously and I can say our interaction was very different. We were dressed for the occasion. Did I carry myself differently on those occasions or was it our dress, or a combination of both? Mary Kate wrote, “Clothes broadcast a person’s self-perception and self-identity: (Kindle Location 964).
Mary Kate’s premise is “Power is constituted between persons in a group through myriads of little body cues and instinctual decisions” (Kindle Locations 82-83). This is surely one of the most practical and insightful books on the softer side of leadership that I have read. And make no mistake, thought it focuses on the subjective aspect of leadership, it is no less important than other critical issues like experience or skill. The message we send is one that is processed and sent back to us by others and mixed like music in a sound mixer in our brains and heart and then sent out by our mouth, yes, but also by our whole body! The twinkle in our eye (or lack of twinkle), facial expressions, hand positioning and movement, posture, speed of movement, and on goes the aspects that make up the message we send out that either says “I am present” or “I’m not sure I am where I am supposed to be.”
Some favorite quotes:
“authentic servant leadership involves stewardship of power, power used thoughtfully for God’s purposes as an exchange within a group” (Kindle Locations 1183-1184).
“The attitude that power in social space is unlimited rather than limited creates an isolating, consumerist spirit rather than a spirit of hospitality. When power is seen as unlimited, the conclusion is that a person’s power or lack thereof is an individual responsibility and not for the group to address. But when we adopt the model of Jesus, those with large amounts of social power have a primary responsibility to steward it-to monitor it, assess it and use it well for the benefit of the whole group” (Kindle Locations 1326-1330).
“When a meeting triggers strong feelings in you-such as anger, inadequacy, shame, embarrassment or frustration-it’s important to pull back and discern what is going on internally rather than get involved in the discussion” (Kindle Locations 1728-1729). (Thank you, Mary Kate, I personally needed this comment.)
“I honestly believe that learning how to use power is a core competency, second only to an authentic walk with God, that will have a catalytic impact on how we lead” (Kindle Locations 2046-2047). Yes! This is so important!
There is so much to be said for this book. I rarely read every word of a book. This one was an exception!
MaryKate Morse. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Kindle Location 739). Kindle Edition.