The Common Good

COMMENTARY: Leaders Who Can Act like Grown Ups

I just spent a wonderful and encouraging weekend with a church leadership team from Reisterstown, Md. I came away filled with hope for this congregation and with admiration for their clergy and lay leaders.

I wish our weak and tiresome political leaders in Washington and state capitals could visit this church in northern Baltimore County and see how mature adults of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints manage to put the congregation first.

They listened, spoke without barbed words and without aggression garbed in niceness.

They voiced their dreams, heard their differences, and then allowed a consensus dream to emerge. They understood the need to move on from yesterday. They were like two healthy parents trying to work a family problem. They seemed to trust each other.

A decade ago, leaders of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Glyndon, were mired in distrust and frustration. Even the smallest decisions required labored deliberation. What changed? They called a rector who understood family systems theory and modeled trustworthiness, transparency, and shared authority.

They allowed new and younger leaders to step into key positions. They vowed no shaming, no blaming. No rushing to action, and yet no delaying. Discernment has been their norm, not up-or-down votes.

None of this had to do with political leanings, doctrinal preferences, stances on hot-button church issues, liturgical style, or any of the other supposed markers of probity. Their progress has stemmed from character, open process, and trust.

Government by the immature is proving to be a disaster. Sen. Rand Paul’s one-man filibuster to prove a point at the expense of frightening the American public, is just the latest example of abuse-the-people as a political strategy. The U.S. economy teeters on the brink solely because immature partisans resist collaboration.

Immature leaders put off important decisions and get lost in small concerns. They take sides like schoolchildren rather than seeing the needs of the whole. They turn serious systemic problems into opportunities for personal gain.

They strut grandly through the halls of Congress, speaking only to microphones, when they should be working together for the good of the nation.

Rather than work together, they consult unelected lobbyists and special interest groups who come bearing gifts. Keeping their jobs matters more to them than getting ahead of the nation’s serious problems. They show no interest in or capacity for addressing the nation’s needs.

What I saw in Maryland was a truth that politicians should see: leaders lead. While others see small slivers, real leaders see the whole. While others worry about self-preservation, real leaders see the many passions and preferences and seek ways to preserve a nation, a society, a commonweal of good will and mutual acceptance.

When our officeholders abandon leadership and stoke the fires of partisan wrangling in order to hold on to their offices, they do a great disservice to the people who elected them. We elected them to work with each other. When that basic assignment is jettisoned, we are in dangerous waters.

Mature people value compromise, because they know that the other person matters too.

Mature people value shared sacrifice because they know injustice, unfairness, and isolated pockets of privilege will never work.

Mature people listen as much as they talk, and they listen to opponents because only in listening to other views will they ever find the path forward.

It is time for the children running Washington to take a field trip to northern Maryland, to see how grown-ups do it.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

Image: Leadership illustration, 3DProfi / Shutterstock.com

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