Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Leaders: Say Less

One of the double-edged swords with blogging is that it is a written form of communication in the public sphere, and it is simultaneously a fairly spontaneous form of communication.  We can all write whatever we want on our own blogs and any blog accepting comments, at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

On our own blogs, we can go back and edit, or if we object to editing, write lengthy follow-up posts clarifying or changing our positions.  On blogs that don't belong to us, once we make a comment, it is out of our hands and continues to live on the internet for as long as the blog author feels the blog should exist.  I say this is a double-edged sword because it is indeed both a "blessing and a curse."

On one hand, we can regret something we say and not have the control necessary to go back and make it right.  On the other hand, it can also be a record of our growth, our changing thoughts, and most importantly, *what was really said.*

Last spring, I walked into the center of a heated debate on a blog.  Though I tend to process information through conversation, I also often prefer to do so in small gatherings of company rather than in the public sphere.  For this reason, I am usually fairly careful about what I say out loud while trying to make sense of things.  I definitely didn't mean to end up in the center of the debate, to say the least.

Once I said what I said in this particular blog debate, however, the focus shifted to me and my arguments, and I couldn't extricate myself.  I was in the center.  The blogger wrote what I felt was a scathing post in response to my comments.  At the time, I was hurt.  I felt what I said had been misconstrued.  I felt false assumptions had been made about me.  I felt misunderstood, misrepresented, and humiliated.  I felt like I'd received a verbal lashing...and I still felt *right*!

I tried to respond, but my comment ended up being too long.  I hadn't saved it, so I couldn't paste it into my own blog and post a comment on the other blog with the link.  I thought about writing it again on my own blog, but my energy had been sapped, and I decided to just be done.

Some things really are best left unsaid.

Something a close friend mentioned to me today reminded me of the debate, and I had a tiny temptation to email her a link to my "lashing" to show her how terribly I'd been treated (Who me?  Licking wounds?!).  I knew that was something of a triangulation-type response to hurt feelings, though, so I decided not to give into temptation.  Instead, tonight I got online and pulled up my original comments and the response post.

You know what?  What had been said wasn't unfair.  It was super harsh, maybe even a tad unkind, but it wasn't unfair.  There was something I needed to learn from the rebuke that had been offered, and it wasn't until my feelings weren't so raw that I was able to see it.

When I read the response again, I found it a well-reasoned set of arguments.  I didn't agree with everything said, but I could understand why the blogger had come to the conclusions she had and why she felt so strongly about them.  In one or two cases, the arguments she made were in fact stronger than my own, and the points she made more important.  In other words, in at least a thing or two that I had said originally, I was wrong.

Thank goodness my response to the blogger's response was rejected by her blogging program as being too long.  It would have sounded defensive and fearful.  If I wanted to write a new response now (I don't!  I've moved on to other debates LOL), it would be a more knowledgeable, more thoughtful, more complete and better reasoned response because of the things the blogger had said. This is a good reminder for me in my relationship with my congregation.

Good leadership, to me, is in large part, deep listening.

In the church, there can be a lot at stake.  Liturgical issues, theological questions, budget decisions, staffing matters...the list goes on.  Religious leaders are bound to feel strongly about a thing or two!  We could, of course, through the sheer brilliance of our arguments demand the solidarity of others...win people over to our points of view.  Surely then, if everyone did things exactly our way, the church could be saved, the people of the congregation all the better for it.  Right?!


But that is not the kind of leadership to which we are called in the religious setting.  In the religious setting, leaders nourish discernment in people of faith.  Discernment is fostered through the thoughtful back and forth that occurs when a leader says, "what is so urgent that we cannot slow down and truly hear one another?"  Discernment is fostered by leaders who do not allow themselves to be seen as the "go-to answer people."

Leadership is not lawyership.  Winning people over isn't a sign of good ministry.  In fact, you don't have all the answers and nor should you.  Leaders: say less and less frequently.  God can't be heard when your own voice is doing all the talking.

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