Mind the Gap

Photo by Soroush Karimi

In my varied international travels, I’ve ridden on numerous city rail systems from Chicago’s infamous “El” to London’s Tube and including the underground systems in Prague and Beijing (love the red and green lights that indicate which stop you have passed and which stop is next!)

One of the announcements that I hear frequently is, “Mind the gap.” What? Lest I fall between the concrete platform and the train car? Really? That small space . . . Then inevitably I hear a story about someone not paying attention and doing just what you least expect, falling into the gap.

How does that happen?

It happens because we assume that the gap is harmless and not worthy of our attention. And that’s where the danger is for us a leaders.

No one leader can do everything. There are gaps. Think of the leaders you know. I’ve worked for directors who have great people skills and use them to build strong alliances and partnerships, but their “gap” is in their lack of administrative or managerial skills. And vice versa.

The successful leaders acknowledge this, and gather other people into their circle who fill the gaps. Ultimately, as a group, this team makes each of them a better leader.

Unsuccessful leaders ignore the gaps at their peril.

Think. What are 3 areas where you are not gifted or strong, perhaps, areas that could threaten the very success of your ministry?

Take a look at the people that you have surrounded yourself with — other staff and volunteers. What gifts, assets, and strengths do they bring to the table? How do they fill in the gaps that you bring? Or do they reinforce what you already possess?

Good leaders are not afraid of their gaps, and they actively look for colleagues who fill them. They aren’t afraid or threatened by those who have strengths that differ from theirs. Rather, they welcome the challenge that others bring to their leadership.

 

 

Count to 10

As a child, I was restless and anxious, always looking ahead, anticipating what was to come, but wanting it now. And the repeated chorus that I heard from adults including my parents was, “Be patient.”

Patience became the centerpiece of my prayers throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I was told frequently to “count to 10” before saying something or acting. And as the joke goes, I counted “10.”

Leaders who practice patience have an edge over those of us who want to naturally rush ahead without pausing. The priest who hired me away from Chicago to Washington, DC, taught me a lesson about patience that we should remember as we look about us in our own personal as well as public “chaos.”

During my first week on the job, we were at the conference that I was to eventually manage, and he was introducing me to the leaders of the organization with whom I would be working. I met board members and icons in the field, and then he “tried” to introduce me to a long-standing leader from Iowa.

Before he could finish the sentence, “I’d like to introduce you to . . .,” I said, “You can’t.” And we both paused.

He had three options at this point. One was to plow ahead anyway. (How often have you done that? I have, mostly because I’m more concerned with what I need to get done, and not listening to the other person or paying attention to the situation.)

Two was to ask me questions. Which he didn’t do.

Three was to wait. Which he did.

I think he recognized–because he was paying attention–that there was something more than a simple introduction taking place. And he had the patience to let it play out. Which it did.

(The reason he couldn’t introduce this person to me is that we had known each other since I was a child. We just hadn’t seen each other in a very long time.)

As I look around me, the question I keep asking myself is this: How different would things be if our leaders had more patience, waited a little longer, and let things play out? How well do you cultivate the practices of listening and paying attention to the situation you are in before reacting?

Virtues and Leadership–Hope

electionIn the post-election analysis, one commentator reminded the panel and viewers that we don’t know what a President Trump will be like–and that could be good.

His contention is this.

When people rise to unfamiliar levels of authority and leadership, something often changes. We Catholics have seen this up-close-and-personal in some of our bishops, who in becoming a new bishop, moving from auxiliary to Ordinary or from one place to the next, have displayed characteristics and behaviors that no one had really anticipated. For the good, too.

It is that virtue of hope, actively seeking the perfection of the Divine, that we need to cultivate and nurture in ourselves and in our leaders. There is a smidgen of humility that reminds us that we are pilgrims on the journey, fed by a hope that–in our nation’s case–will bring us together to raise everyone up.

Optimism is a somewhat stereotypical American trait. We need to cling to that optimism as we reach out to all of those who feel left behind, are on the margins, are misunderstood, or have been left out. We as leaders in our own communities must embrace and embody the virtue of hope as we move forward. Let us be “road warriors” on the journey.

Who Will Reap the Harvest?

harvestChange, change, change, change, change.

It’s a key driver in this year’s elections. And the one challenge put before most of us as leaders at some point in time.

As much as we want to be the one out front, leading the way from what was to what will be, the reality is, in most cases, we only sow seeds.

Great leaders know this. They know that most of what they try to accomplish will only be evident years after they leave their position. Politicians take advantage of this sometimes, highlighting the changes that happen during their years in office when, in fact, their predecessor’s decisions were often the ones that forged the current path.

The truth is, the harvest is for others to reap.

Ministry with teens is one of the best examples of this. As I look back at my years of teaching in an all-girls’ Catholic high school and subsequently as a volunteer in my parish’s youth ministry program, we adults knew that we had four years–and in some cases, fewer–to sow the seeds of faith, hope, and love (ah, yes, the theological virtues!) in the hopes that there would be a harvest.

As each graduating class of seniors departed, there was an internal tug-of-war–what more can we do to keep them connected versus just letting them go free in the hope that the seeds would take root and they would find a “home” in their faith and the Church.

Social media has been the greatest friend to this “sower.” With it, I have been able to follow the lives of our “kids” (many of whom now have their own kids). And I’ve been able to share in their joys and sorrows, and watch how the seeds we planted have fared.

Some fell on rocky ground. Some fell among weeds. But some fell on good soil, took root, and have grown and flourished.

So, in a society that seems to grow more impatient and a culture that demands immediate gratification, what are we to do? Remember and practice the theological virtues so that we may teach them in both our words and deeds.

As Jesus shows us, faith is not something that we go from not having to having. It develops over time through prayer and action. While we are conditioned in our culture to connect hope with wanting things, hope is an attitude that looks to the future, but walks with others in the present (think the familiar poem, “Footsteps.”) And love comes through the care we take in the sowing and feeding so that there may be a harvest.

Being a sower is what we are called to. When you have the opportunity to harvest, thank God for those who came before you and tended the fertile ground and planted that seed. And ask God for support to those who will come after you to tend what you have planted.

 

 

Sitting in the Back Seat Means You’re Only a Rider

seatsI always know when I’m in the midst of a Catholic crowd.

The seats in the back are full, and the ones in the front are empty.

There is a more layered message in Sunday’s readings than just that of the virtue of humility.

For me, sitting in the back of the room is like keeping my faith private, my own, quietly settled. No loud shouts of acclamation or extended arms in praise. It’s “mine.” Or it’s “me and God.” But no one else needs to know or be part of it.

From the time I was a middle-schooler, I’ve watched televangelists on TV, and admired the energy and even euphoria that they inspire in their followers, so much so that their congregations are unafraid to embody what they believe in ways that might look very foreign in some Catholic churches.

The reading from Hebrews captured that for me.

No, you have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
— Hebrews 12:22-24A

In the presence of Glory, we should feel compelled to praise God with all our heart, mind, and body.

Sitting in the back of the room has no place in this faith of ours. Sitting in the back of the room is not being humble, but being cautious or private or scared. Or, as our associate pastor put it, selfish.

As leaders, we do not need to be at the head of the table in the seat of glory. But we need to be fully in the room, not on the periphery blending in with the wallpaper.

We should be and are compelled to approach the city of God with humility, recognizing that it is God’s action in us that began this relationship, and we cannot help but respond.

We need to be okay with sharing the highs and lows of our faith journey. We need to be comfortable talking about our prayer life. We need to engage with joy in conversations about Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

So the next time you aim for that back seat, think again, and move forward. Maybe not to the front (Jesus is pretty clear about the consequences there!) But forward. Be in the midst of the faithful and the pilgrim people on their way to city of God in the New Jerusalem.