Years ago I worked with the youth of a congregation as a seminary intern (yes, it was many years ago). One time as I was gathering my charges at the close of a fellowship outing to an amusement park, one of the young people came up and told me they had found the perfect souvenir just for me. It was a baseball cap, but it had two bills; emblazoned on the space between them were the words: “I’m Their Leader … Which Way Did They Go?”
I’ve thought of that cap frequently over the years as I have reflected on the needs for leadership in the church. Certainly its makers meant it as a joke. Yet recently I’ve come to see it as a metaphor not of a hopelessly confused and failed leader, but of precisely the traits of leadership required in times of rapid change like these. Multiplicity of vision, preservation through transformation, shared authority blurring the distinction between “leaders” and “followers”—that double-billed hat is just right for those kinds of leaders.
It is in that vein I recalled that cap as I read two books on the need for leaders to develop an ability for complex thinking (Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind and Kegan & Lahey’s Immunity to Change). We live in a digital age where in one sense everything is reduced to 1s and 0s, but it is also an age where binary “either/or” thinking is far too simplistic and limiting an approach for dealing with the world.
Most recently, however, I have been reminded of that hat as a positive metaphor for leadership in reading a brief statement that came out of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s “Six-Agency Leadership Initiative Consultation.” One section touches directly on the relationship between “leaders” and “followers”:
- Leaders who let go…
- giving up the need to control;
- sharing power;
- risking failure;
- …and leaders who take up:
- moving beyond the idea of being open to that of actively pursuing openness;
- starting with the gifts of the community rather than the needs of the institution;
- going out into the world instead of waiting for the world to come in.
Like that double-billed cap, this statement is a reminder that leaders must accept the responsibility of helping the community fulfill the calling inherent in its gifts ("I'm their leader ...") even as they are led by those whom they serve ("which way did they go").
You can find the full statement by clicking here, and you can join the widening discussion by searching on Facebook for “Presbyterian Church Agency Leadership Initiative Conversations.”