As a type A, left-brained, Enneagram type 1 with a background in math, I am a natural problem solver. I enjoy working through teacher and student schedules for each new year and welcome the opportunity to help students work through peer conflict. I do my best to be available to help teachers as they work with a difficult parent or discipline situation, and while I wear many hats as the Dean of Students, it is my goal in all that I do to make the jobs of those around me easier.
I recently finished my third year in my current leadership role, and I have learned quickly that leading with this mindset is exhausting and defeating. No matter how hard I work, there are always more problems to solve and despite my best efforts, I am not always able to help everyone in the ways they need. I wish I could say that at least my heart was in the right place in serving those around me, but if I am being honest, I had made work my identity and had made an idol of productivity. (I am sure that there are some of you reading this that have learned this lesson long before me, but I hope this is a helpful reminder that we are not what we do, and we more than what we produce.) It was not until the spring of 2020, when the world came to a halt, that I realized what a fast-paced life I was living. I knew that in order to guard my heart against the idol of my work, something needed to shift. In my journey to better practice rest and work-life balance, I have learned two important lessons that I hope will both challenge and encourage you.
First, I have learned that it is crucial to know the people that I am leading. Not only do I need to know their problem, but I need to know them as a unique person created in God’s image. While it is impossible to help when we are not aware of the problem, I would argue that it is also impossible to help effectively when we have not invested time to know the person we are helping.
I have a sticky note on my desk that reads “Listening > Solving Problems” (once a math teacher, always a math teacher). I have to remind myself daily that genuinely listening is the best way for me to love and serve those around me. While quickly offering a solution may solve the problem, in doing so I lose the opportunity to better understand the person, the situation, and the opportunity to invite that person into the problem-solving process with me. I must take every opportunity to disciple my students into collaborative problem solvers, especially in a world of instant gratification and the rise of individualism. Taking the time to process a problem together with my coworkers allows me to best care for their needs as an individual and prevent division between leadership and teachers. While it is easy to see the benefits, we all know that this takes time and if we are honest, we often prioritize solutions over people. This is a struggle for me as I find great joy in checking off a task and moving to the next item on my to do list. Yet, God is graciously teaching me that people are not tasks and loving them well is the most important thing I can do each day.
This brings me to my second lesson: leaders must not lead in isolation. Not only is this a good leadership practice, it is also biblical. God has created us to live and flourish in community. In Romans 12:4-6, Paul encourages the church that even though we are individual members, we all make up the body of Christ. As Christian leaders, seeking to reflect Christ, we must lead with humility and honesty, recognizing the need to depend on others.
While attending the Converge 2022 conference this spring, I was introduced to the term “collective leadership” in one of the breakout sessions. Even though the term was new to me, as I listened to the presentation, I realized that I have had the opportunity to see this concept in practice over the last ten years of my career. Collective leadership intentionally builds up leaders within the school to both develop future leaders and create a culture of collaboration and trust. In order to lead well I, too, must depend on the gifts and skills of those around me instead of trying to accomplish everything on my own. When we create cultures of teamwork, not only do we empower those around us, but we also help to break down the lie that we are able to do anything on our own. Dependency on others is a wonderful reminder that we must remain fully dependent on God.
As we move toward summer and a change of pace from the busyness of the school year, it is my prayer that you are refreshed and renewed. I hope that like me, you would learn and be reminded that you are more than the work you did or did not accomplish this school year. I pray that you would find ways to build more opportunities to listen and build up others in your work week and, also, create opportunities for rest while you are not at work so that you can continue to lead with excellence as we serve God and others.