C://21 Leader Formation & “Hearing Under”
Forging 21st century leaders is not easy. It’s complex and can be encouraging and discouraging all within one breath. On one hand, I’ve never seen a generation of leaders more astute, more intuitive, more capable. AND they believe they actually can make a difference, change things and bring a better world. Simultaneously, they are a bit dour and a tad cynical. Funny how that exists within a generation of leaders…and I’m talking about the tiny percentage who are Christ followers. We’ve got a new generation of 20-30 year old leaders who can think, discern, often create amazing things. Simultaneously, all the “you get a trophy for merely having a breath” has created a touch of arrogance where they are a bit unteachable. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll invest in this mob the rest of my days, yet sometimes, I want to pull out my hair.
There are exceptions for sure. Beth, who leads our Audubon Community, used to live life according the cultural mores she was instilled with my our society: multiple-choice, commitment means commitment unless I change my mind, consumerism, experiencism, materialism. Yet, she’s so damned teachable. I can come to Beth, exhort her, rebuke her, challenge her framework of how she views and lives life and she consistently, without exception is teachable. That does not disregard conversation, clarification, dialogue and wrestling, but the gal is simply amazing to me BECAUSE she “hears”. There is a difference between hearing and “hearing”. In the New testament the word “obey” is literally “hear under”. Amazing concept isn’t it? If only all were like Beth.
I am not writing this because of one situation, or one leader. It’s the norm. These young leaders love when you “place your proverbial hand between their shoulders” to encourage, speak prophetically, believe in them, celebrate them, approve them – they so want older leaders, even older by 5-10 years, to “believe in them” and approve and affirm and celebrate and be proud of them. Yes, yes, no wonder with the family disintegration and the holes that leaves where dysfunctional relationships, including parental, is the freaking norm. And yes, other paternal type leaders are longed for more than ever. Many boomers have missed this…. they need spiritual fathers and mothers (whether you are a Christian or not, whether is it mission/ministry or not), but sorry ladies – especially mothers. Maybe it is congratulations mothers because they are not out looking for as many pseudo-moms, but there is a huge thirst and hunger for spiritual dads.
What happens with most younger leaders I mentor, and see mentored, (and I see a lot of young leaders) when confronted is an instant offense, hurt feelings, absolute astonishment that one is actually daring to indict them with some issue – be it behavior, discernment, character, style, cultural addiction, etc. I chose some strong words here, but they make the point. They are literally shocked – then defensive, hurt, offended and they buck back…. What’s going on? Literally, it’s not that you have the “mana” to do so, or the positional placement to do so. They give you “mana” and they can read the “food chain”. [By the way, “mana” is a Maori (New Zealand Polynesians) term that has not equivalent in English… it is a summation and more of gravitas, credibility, respect, deference, posture of “hearing under”, influence, and honor given to a person who has earned it in the trenches, not from pedigree or privilege. It is not respecter of social status or money. To have “mana” is HUGE. Every culture has it – we simply don’t have this great word for it… One can’t take “mana”, buy “mana”, influence “mana” or pretense “mana”. It is given, collectively, without solicitation from anyone. It is an honor that is earned over a long time, even a life time] Yes, you may have lots of “mana” in their life, but they are simply shocked that they are not doing, thinking, valuing, living, reasoning, acting or reacting right. They are dangerously insecure, as secure as they come across, and it is a threat to their identity.
Yes, I know, we all get defensive when accused or rebuked/exhorted. BUT this is an entire generational thing and beyond a human thing. I know few, with the exception of Beth and a select handful of young adults/leaders who stand humbly, open, without defensive posture – that’s it! It’s a posture… This small group is not defensive when approached by some one with “mana” in their life with an exhortation, even rebuke. They listen, weigh it and see the nuggets of truth, listen to the experience, wisdom that has come through time and miles, and KNOW that you say what you say because you love them and do this coaching because you actually believe and want them to be better at this than they are today – in whatever and everything. Most want to “dialogue” and defend, explain and tell you how you’re unreasonable, wrong and how they are right. …those damned trophies for having breath pee wee soccer trophies did this… Why does it always, always have to be a negative, fight, argument, heated discussion, defensiveness where you have to defend why and what you are saying to them? Why is it a threat that they may not be perfect, rather than recognizing there is some one older who sees and thinks about them and seeks to help them be better?
My counsel to any young leaders who not yet dismissed me – and that would be a normal response to this article, by the way, is this:
1. Before you respond defensively with a sentence that begins with “But…” stop and reflect. Consider these self questions & truths –
A. Is he/she right? Where are the nuggets of truth in what this leader is saying?
B. Don’t I not know he/ she is so for me – my fan, cheerleader and coach?
C. Do I not know that he/she believes in me and wants to see me excel even more?
D. Why am I so defensive? What’s behind my hostile & defensive posture? What’s the wound? Is not this person, even through this, acting to help heal that hurt?
E. Has this issue been raised to me before? Raised by others?
2. If you don’t understand, ask “unloaded” questions to clarify & understand, not mount a defense.
3. Remind yourself who this leader in your life is to you.
4. Step back and work to see the bigger picture, outside of yourself. This may require you accept it without any discussion, and go away and process it, allowing your emotions to come down, so you can see with perspective. Then, if you need to have further conversation, do so later without the emotion. I don’t know a leader who doesn’t want those reflection times – those are great learning moments, but when the emotion drives the conversation, we’ll miss something and it’ll hurt the relationship.
5. Leaders first my understand deeply how to follow and how to trust. Those are huge words. I’ve had my own issue with this very big topic of this blog, and with this understanding as well. We miss how our being a thorn in the rear (again, if anyone I’ve ever been guilty of this reads this – I know – I’m not exempt, BUT I am working on it) and rebellious in our posture is no different to those we are irked by when they are not teachable to our mentoring. Jan Hettinga wrote a book a good while ago now, called Follow Me. It’s a great exposé into leaders must be also able to follow and be under authority. He’s right. Starting with “hearing under” Christ, to hearing under an earthly authority, we must be humble teachable leaders who can receive exhortation well, in peace, and actually “hear”.
How do I end this? Beth! That’s how… A fellow under Beth, a great forming young 21 year old leader said this to me this week: “I can really respect and live under her leadership. You know she’s for you, that she’s thinking this through, that she’s bring us along in the journey, not just dictating.”. This says a lot about Beth, but there is a leadership of humility and empowerment there and she leads like this because she “hears under” well.