Stepping Away from Leadership Voluntarily

Stepping Away from Leadership Voluntarily June 8, 2015

Photo of Lelanda Lee taken by a friend at the New Community Gathering at Kanuga in 2014.

I have had, over the years, some interesting and deeply thoughtful conversations with leaders, primarily in the church, on the subject of leadership. Prior to my engagement with church leadership, I had experienced leadership roles in community nonprofit organizations, professional associations, and my career as a commercial banker.

I believe that many leadership skills can be taught and enhanced through education and training, especially in workshop and seminar settings with other leaders seeking similar personal growth and enlightenment. However, it is clear to me that there are some innate leadership characteristics that one must possess as personal gifts on which to build the enhancements that leaders seek. It’s akin to athletes who undergo extensive coaching and training to improve their innate athleticism. There must be some natural ability to nurture into better, best, and great.

My list of required leadership attributes includes focus, attention, and concentration; investigative curiosity and analysis; interest in the world and how it works; identifying, naming, and framing (articulating and describing) people, things, and events; decisiveness, risk-taking, and trusting; proactiveness and doggedness; sharing credit; personal sacrifice; willingness to cause harm and take hits and blame; and restraint. Your list might be different, based on your experience and character.

Opportunities to ascend to leadership roles should not be like lining up for a ride at an amusement park, where the lines are interminably long and the waits sometimes surpass one’s interest and determination to take the ride, after all. [Photo by Lelanda Lee]

For me, and I’ve written about it before, restraint is a biggie. Without restraint, a leader could easily become an egomaniac, and with enough power, at worst, a megalomaniac. Since I believe that part of the territory covered by leaders always leads to causing harm to someone, even when the leader is well intentioned, moral, and principled, I value restraint as the mediating factor in the amount of harm that a leader causes. I think it goes without saying that an immoral and unprincipled leader who has bad intentions will also exercise no restraint.

Restraint is something that is practiced daily by a good leader, who is slow to be provoked and to respond in anger. Restraint is the fruit of constant self-reflection and deep thinking about how people behave and how the world turns. Restraint is like a self-imposed governor on one’s own thought processes and actions. Restraint is the discipline that keeps the ego from believing its own propaganda about one’s greatness. Greatness is ascribed to few and typically only posthumously. So, it’s pointless to aspire to greatness; better to aspire to wholeness and someone your grandchildren like.

From my perspective, one of the false conclusions that some leaders derive is that they are the keys to the solutions to the problems around them. I often wonder what those leaders are thinking and how they came to their conclusions. I wonder if it has ever occurred to them that they might be contributors to the causes of the problems around them. I wonder if they shouldn’t seek the opinions of those who are beholden to them for nothing.

When and how do we make room for new growth to happen? When do we voluntarily step aside so that new leaders will have a chance to spread their wings? [Photo by Lelanda Lee]

I’m working towards the end of my tenure as an elected church leader in The Episcopal Church, and I’m making plans to step away voluntarily. There are a few (very few) more jobs I’ve agreed to take on, but I plan to keep those jobs well circumscribed so that they don’t grow beyond their initial job descriptions. Each of those few jobs is a kind of a payback for the investment that others have made in me and my leadership development.

It is good stewardship not to waste what has been invested in me by using my training to pave the way for the next group of leaders, but I do see an end to my leadership roles in clear sight. I intend to reclaim some time to take care of my family, to read, to write, to do chores, to play with my youngest grandson, to sew, to bead, and to have coffee with friends.

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