When was the last time you did something for the first time?
It takes true courage to be the first. It requires a level of resolve and commitment. It is a choice, and a difficult one at that. To go where no one has gone and do what no one has done before is the path of the pioneer. We all respect and admire those who are the first, the first astronaut in space, the first black president, the first female prime minister. However, it can be so easy to compare our stories to theirs as we disqualify ourselves from the history books.
And yet, Jesus is inviting us into a lifestyle of leadership that looks like being the first in our everyday ordinary lives, on our campuses and in our halls of residence. Although it isn’t always easy, this is often a lot simpler than we think. How could our spheres of influence be transformed if we became willing to be the first? The first to forgive? The first to encourage and speak life? The first to say I’m sorry? The first to reach out to and love those on the fringes who no one else likes or talks to? The first to stand up and speak out against injustice when those around you remain complicit? This requires resolve. It requires commitment. This friends, is the pioneer path of leadership.
How could our spheres of influence be transformed if we became willing to be the first? The first to forgive? The first to encourage and speak life?
In 2015, Misty Copeland became the the first African-American principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. In a recent interview, she described her experience of being the first and all the challenges that came along with that. Despite the uphill battle, she said the challenges were worth it for all the young black ballerinas who would come after her. Leadership often looks like forging a new path, being willing to do the hard work before anyone else does, so that those who come after you can reap the benefits.
Pioneering is a mode of servant leadership. Servant leaders go first, they are the first to sacrifice, the first to serve, the first to do the hard things that no one else wants to do. Serving those you lead as a pioneer means ploughing the field, all the while knowing that you may not be the one who reaps the harvest. It acknowledges that the fruit may come after you, perhaps even many many years after you.
Leaders are the ones who are out in front of the culture. If you care about seeing more kindness amongst the people on your course, then choose to be out in front building a culture of kindness. If you want your sports team to be stronger and faster to perform better, then choose to be committed to developing your own strength and speed. To be clear, however, being out in front does not mean you have to be the team all-star.
In fact pretending that we are the team all-star and that we have everything all together, can result in us trying to carry a crippling amount of pressure. It strips us of authenticity and vulnerability, both of which are necessary in leading yourself and others well. Some of the best team captains hardly score any goals but they know how to empower, champion and challenge those they are leading.
Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all model. Not all the paths we pioneer will be the same. We often make the mistake of thinking leadership is a personality type rather than a heart posture, a tried and true formula rather than a commitment to growth and learning. We all want the answers as we begin leading, which is why pioneering is so scary – there are so many unknown variables! Yes, getting the right answer is important but perhaps what matters more is how we get there.
In the midst of pioneering a ground breaking path for all those who would follow Him, Jesus never lost sight of people. From the twelve disciples to the sending out of the seventy-two in Luke’s gospel, Jesus offers the chance to pioneer a new way of doing things. Leadership development happens on the job, it happens when people trust us enough to have a go. It’s in the problem solving that we become people of character, integrity and fortitude. It’s in our mistakes that we receive the opportunity to mature. It happens in the journey. It happens in the commitment to keep growing, keep learning and to keep forging the path in front of us.
The sooner we are willing to get out in front, the sooner we can clear the way for all those following behind us.
Pioneering is costly. It requires us to roll our sleeves up and be willing to choose the path of courage and be willing to face the challenges along the way. But the sooner we are willing to get out in front, the sooner we can clear the way for all those following behind us. Jesus came to be the way, the path for us to be reconciled to the Father as sons and daughters. Let us be leaders who are willing to forge that same path as ambassadors for God’s kingdom, that others would be reconciled to their loving Father.
This post is part of a three-part series of reflections from Lizete on leadership. You can see them all right here.