A life changing moment for me…
As I walked into the church on my first day, I was filled with excitement for my first gig as a full time clergy. Spotting this senior woman who was busily working on preparing for Sunday morning, I walked up to her and proclaimed with all sorts of youthful bravado, “I’m Brian, a new priest here!” A wry smile came across her face and in a measured tone she said, “Hi, I’m a B parishioner here.” My freshly minted theological brain began swirling as I tried to discern if I had ever heard of a B parishioner. She continued, “I be here before you, I be here while you’re here…and I’ll be here after you’re gone.”
Her point was not lost on me and has been the topic of hundreds of conversations with leaders who are new to an organization. Most leaders are stepping into a system with a history and a culture already in place. It’s like getting into a river that has been flowing long before we arrived on its shores – and that river will continue to flow long after we have moved on.
Yet time and time again I run into leaders who believe they are at the headwaters of the river. Worst case scenario they believe either they are the source of the river or claim to have a proprietary right to the river.
Unfortunately, too many leaders new to a community do not take the time to get to know the water. They start splashing around attempting to use their position to shape the community into their likeness. This undue influence has serious implications not just on the community but the culture it is embedded in.
There are two “golden rules” that I often coach leaders on. First is the importance of just getting in the water and spending time with others in the water to learn the water’s origins, history, rhythms and impact on individuals and the community. Second, being the present leader does not mean that your perspective is superior to others in the community. Leading in this way creates a space that values what has gone before while also welcoming a fresh perspective and vision.
The river flows whether we’re in it or not. The invitation is to join others in its currents.