I recently heard a pastor state the following: stress doesn’t change you, it reveals you. I don't know about you, but I have seen an awful lot of things revealed about people in recent years. You might say that we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of each other. Right now, I wonder if you would quickly think about what the stress of these past years has revealed about you? Which fruit of the spirit shone and which flickered? What have you learned, but most importantly, what are you going to do now that you’ve learned it? I ask these questions because the important thing about leading isn’t about thinking or planning—it’s about doing.
Through our recent shared experiences, the light of Christ has shone brightly and boldly across the world. Though pushed and stressed, God is moving deeply within the walls and across the network of Christian schools. Schools are reimagining, refocusing, and reconnecting in ways that reflect the body of Christ. Admittedly, there were dark days when the light was a dim flicker, but looking at the big picture, God has shined His face very brightly. It has taken a group effort at every school site to make this happen. Teachers, administrators, boards, and staff have dug in and done the hardest and most sacrificial work of their lives. God is honoring that. The school community has given more of itself than anyone thought possible, and it is standing at the finish line (mostly) intact. It’s time for a bit of reorientation, realizing that what is in front of us is very little like what was behind us.
Rex Miller, author of the books Humanizing the Educational Machine and The Healthy Workplace Nudge, once said, “We have begun to recover and reenter normal. But to complete this fully, it will require new levels of cooperation with, and care for, those around us. Our faith in God and our love for one another form the foundation from which to build resilience. St. Paul’s words read like they were written to us.” We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3–5 NLT)
Leadership is about being focused on what can and must be, not on what was or used to be. It is about reflecting on the past few years and putting the most important things into action. Leadership is a way of being. It mobilizes people to thrive and to do good hard work. Good leadership has the potential to be transformative for your team and the organization you lead. Your decisions impact every area of the organization, not just one.
Thoughtful leadership takes serious reflection. Leaders have the option to be everyone’s problem solver, but how does that build leadership capacity in others? Good leaders should guide and advise, not mandate and demand. Knowing that, what are some basic ground rules that inspire leadership development, confidence, and flourishing? Here are just a few hints that might inspire the growth of team members so that everyone is running at their maximum capacity. Take a look at the following short list and consider where you might want to develop more deeply:
- Know your team and back them up. Strong leaders allow team members to flourish in their positions. Good leaders surround themselves with a team that refines and positively challenges ideas. Collective ideas bring innovation, excellence, and unity.
- Be positive. If a team member struggles, be aware of the problem and ask for suggestions and possible solutions. Focus on helping, not changing the team member, and encourage them to talk it out with you or another team member.
- Develop sympathy and empathy. Understanding situations and understanding others takes both time and effort. Time is always in short order, but always make time for people. Listen alertly and with purpose to know and understand.
- Show appreciation. Make someone’s day. It goes a long way to be grateful for the little things. Celebrate effort. Thank people often.\
- Pay attention and listen. It’s not just the words that are said, but often it’s so much more. Observe what emotions, behavior, or body language is communicating in a conversation.
- Think about what is motivating your decisions. Leaders don’t only represent what the organization is but what it should be doing. Decisions must be based on organizational gain, not personal.
- Reproach respectfully. Sometimes a bad decision can be made by a team member. A public backing with a private conversation with that individual is the appropriate way to handle that situation.
- Be open to new ideas. No leader can know the best idea every time. If you don’t know what to do/how to do something, allow for corporate learning with your team. Quite often, good ideas and the next best step come from someone else at the table.
- Resist micromanagement. Some leaders struggle with having a narrow view of how things should be done. Do not let that be a stumbling block to creative ideas. Show flexibility in the process of how a project comes to fruition.
Expect and provide opportunities for those you lead. Hold them accountable, but don’t hold them captive to your ideas and only your ways. Sometimes the most impactful teachable moments will come when success is not necessarily the outcome. Those are moments that should not be missed. How are you developing your leadership and the leadership capacity of those around you? Organizations cannot grow, learn, transform, or thrive in the future unless there is a broad capacity of leadership.
Leaders, take a deep breath. Reflect on God’s goodness and on what you can celebrate each day. Reflect, learn, and then move forward. You are God’s instruments of kindness, peace, love, care, and witness to your community and the rest of the world. Remember, God called you and you get to do God’s good work. You get to sharpen all those you lead. You get to inspire. You get to share the character of Christ every moment of every day. May those truths and all of God’s truth shine forever so that each of our communities may know that God is in your school. As you lead well, enjoy God’s peace, celebrating His goodness and care for you and yours.
Thank you for your commitment to Christian education. CSI shares in that commitment and wants to support you in your leadership journey. We have professional learning programs as well as consultative services to provide support in your journey of school leadership.
Jennifer Thompson is the chief operating officer for Christian Schools International. Reach her at gro.enilnoisc@nospmohtj.
Good leadership has the potential to be transformative for your team and the organization you lead. Your decisions impact every area of the organization, not just one.