Answering the Call to Leadership, Especially Christian Leadership
By Prof. Juliet V. Padernal, Director of Instruction
“Answering the Call to Leadership, Especially Christian Leadership” is one of the topics my batch of United Board Fellows (2005-2007) was asked to essay. The original essay, fromwhich this reflection is culled, was my first documented one. Reflective moments are good: most are consciously done; some come unbidden; others are triggered by unsettling moments. Whichever reflection mode one engages in, a reflective leader can exercise continuing quality improvement (CQI, borrowed from OBE), I suppose.
I have always been a reluctant leader, but when the push becomes a shove, I try to do my best to fulfill the role and the responsibility. Perhaps that is due to my upbringing. So when I became chair of the English and Literature departmentin the middle of my predecessor’s term, who had to take a leave of absence from the Universitysometime in early 2000, I was reluctant and afraid for a number of reasons: I was reluctant because I did not aspire to be one, and I was afraid because a handful of my colleagues were my much older former teachers!
Immediately upon assuming administrative and managerial responsibilities, I noticed differences between teaching and being head of a department. Below are some of them:
While I used the terms ‘advantages’ and ‘disadvantages,’ this is not to say one is better than the other. Being department chair is not a light responsibility, but neither is teaching. Both are big responsibilities; they’re just different cups of tea.
Going back to my being a reluctant leader. Fortunately for me, and for all of us, God is good—all the time. He is Omniscient. He has plans for me. He knows what is best for me. And I believe that. So I took it as God’s will for me at the time. With my mixed feelings, I know as much that I cannot please everybody. And so, in my first department meeting, I prepared a little speech for my colleagues: “I am placed in this position I did not aspire for, but I will try to do my best to serve as chair of our department. To do this, however, I need your support and cooperation. But in the outset, I want you to know that I won’t aim to please anybody or everybody, because that would be the most difficult, frustrating, and exhausting thing for me to attempt doing. So I won’t bother trying. But I aim only to please my God. And I hope you’ll be pleased too.” They laughed, and I took that as a forthcoming reaction.
Before I became department chairperson, I had heard of Servant-Leadership from my Pastor when one Sunday he preached on the topic: “Servant-Leadership as exemplified by Jesus Christ Himself.”And I could only aspire and pray to become a Servant-Leader of a department chairperson, asking God to show me the way.
Christian Leadership, I believe, is essentially Servant-Leadership. According to Nelson (1996), “Servant leadership is about a group of people mutually submitting to each other for the purpose of achieving something they could not achieve alone.” Larry Spears, CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership (cited in Quincy University, 1997-2005) provided a sentence summary of the basic position of servant-leadership: ‘[It] seeks to involve others in decision making, is strongly based in ethical and caring behavior, and . . . enhances the personal growth of workers while improving the caring [atmosphere] and quality of organizational life.’ Nelson strongly posited that first and foremost, the type of motivation a leader has is what makes one a servant-leader, not temperament, strength, or energy. The motivation of the servant-leader is to . . . “unleash the potential of the [group members] and primarily benefit the organization.”
I have noted that the underlying principles of servant-leadership are highly in sync with Covey’s seven habits (in Hall and Murray, 2003; National Center for English, 2003) that emphasize personal development to obtain effectiveness in an organization. There is also a very strong match between Servant-Leadership ideas and Goleman’s emotional intelligence concepts (cited in Quincy University, 1997-2005).
Spears (in Barbuto, Jr. and Wheeler, 2002; Hampton House 2003; Quincy University, 1997-2005) viewed the following features to be at the core of Servant-Leadership: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. Barbuto, Jr. and Wheeler added one characteristic, and that is “calling.” This characteristic has to do with willingness to “. . . sacrifice self-interest for the good of the group.”
Let me share a checklist of questions that I adapted from Barbuto, Jr. and Wheeler (2002). In my original essay, I used these questions to see if I have the basic requirements and qualifications of a Servant-Leader,relating them to my own experience and my ideas about Christian Leadership in a Christian Institution, that is, Silliman University. You might want to use this checklist, too.
Do you notice how the questions in the checklist are worded? They are answerable by “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” I think it is so because just like Humility—about which is said that once you say you are, you cease to be—Servant-Leadership qualities can only be aspired for and worked out on a day-to-day basis. One may practice or exercise Servant-Leadership, but it may not be proper to trumpet and proclaim that he or she does. Doing so seems to be going against the grain.
I did not rate myself in the process of relating my experience and my ideas in the light of these characteristics or principles of Servant-Leadership, which I equated to Christian leadership. Nevertheless, I am certain that the room for improvement is too huge for me to ever fill up. I can only commit myself to an on-going, life-long learning process as I answer the call to leadership, especially Christian leadership.