“Let’s roll.” “C’mon you guys!” “Hurry up!” “You guys are lagging behind.” “Keep up.” “Stay together.” “We’re going to miss our train!” These are phrases that I often find myself saying and repeating when leading a group—whether it’s on a missions trip in another country, in New York City, or even right here in Smithtown.
As a leader, I’m always seeking to move others forward to fulfill a goal, to achieve an objective, or toward a destination. To that end, knowledge and wisdom are absolutely essential. If I want to be a good, successful leader, among many other things, I need to know myself, and I need to know the people I am leading.
One thing I know about myself is that I’m a fast walker. One thing I know about a lot of people I lead is that they are not. Beyond being a fast walker, I’m also a missional walker—I walk with purpose. When Adriana and I go to the mall or a store I don’t want to lolly-gag and window shop and dream about buying things that we can’t afford or don’t need. I want to get in, get our stuff, and get out. The same is true when I’m leading a team. I want to get us from where we are to where we need to be as fast as we can so we can do what we need to do.
Not many places put one’s leadership abilities to the test as thoroughly as New York City. During a recent trip to NYC with a team from London, I was standing in a sea of people at the corner of 42nd & 7th, looking back at my straggling team, waving my hand in the air, calling the team to where I was, when I started to ponder leadership.
As leaders we move at a certain pace, and it’s natural to want others to keep up with us. But the truth of the matter is if everyone moved at the same pace as us, we wouldn’t be leaders. That’s knowledge. So what are we to do? That is the wisdom question. Are we to lower our expectations of others? Maybe so. A good look at our expectations is never a bad idea, but at the end of the day we still need to hold up high standards and challenge people to stretch beyond their comfort zones.
I believe, rather, that the answer lies in the tension that we as leaders are called to live in. The challenge is to be far enough in front that we are leading and calling people forward, but not so far in front that people can’t keep up with us. If we walk so fast that we lose people, we might personally get to our destination, but we’ll get there alone, and that, of course, is not the point of being a leader. As John Maxwell has said, “A leader without followers is not a leader, he’s just a guy out taking a walk.” As adult youth leaders, God hasn’t called us to simply go for a walk, he has entrusted us with the responsibility of taking students with us, leading them on a journey of faith.
This is the paradox: We must show restraint in order to move. Sometimes we must hold back personally for the sake of moving the group. This can be difficult but it so necessary. In addition to calling others to leave the comfort of their slower pace, sometimes we have to sacrifice the comfort of our quicker pace so that they can follow us. I believe that the best leaders have learned this secret. They have raised the bar of their leadership, embracing a higher leadership that is not always fast but is effective. It’s an agape leadership that is willing to sacrifice for the good of others.