I can remember years ago when I was in children’s minstry having the experience of being greeted in the grocery store by a woman whose daughter was in my ministry. I have had football coaches and players come up to me at church functions to say hello because I was a referee for their games. Once I even found myself on the phone with a customer service representative who turned out to be the parent of a child in my ministry. Enough of these occurences have caused me to become more aware of the fact that I am part of a community. I do not lead in a vacuum and neither do you. No matter how much we might want to compartmentalize our lives, the vivid truth is that there is a greater connectedness between home and work and church and extracurriculuar than we might realize. Authenticity compels me to be the same person regardless of the context where I find myself.
As a leader, people are watching me for various reasons. Maybe they want to see how a follower of Christ responds to certain situations. Maybe they know that I am leading in one context and are observing my authenticity. Maybe I am just the loudest person in the group (which is very typical)!
So, what does leadership look like in my community? Going back to leadership as influence, community life is all about points of influence. Do I influence in a good and positive direction? Do I provide hope and stability? Am I seen as a healthy role model? Ultimately, do people see Christ or at least become curious about Christ as they watch my life?
In considering my community, there are four basic characteristics that I want to be known for. These apply at home, at church, in the mall or on the football field or anywhere else I might find myself.
First, I want to be known as trustworthy. I want my words to be credible and my actions to be authentic. It is easy to speak the truth when people are watching or I am engaged in a conversation. But what do I do when I am given incorrect change at the store? If, as a football official, I am supposed to uphold justice and fairness, but am seen in the community as a liar, my credibility is severely undermined. There is a great concept of truth that states if you always speak truth, you never have to remember the story. Being trustworthy is actually as simple as speaking truth and sticking to the single story that actually happened.
I also want to be known as a generous leader. While generosity is most often equated with finances, it also speaks to how I spend my time and how freely I share my story or advice. Leading in the community means that I do what I can to improve and enhance life. Maybe I volunteer at church, serve at a community event or look for ways to mentor upcoming generations. Nobody really wants to be around a stingy or selfish person, so I strive to choose generosity with what I have.
Effective community leadership also requires that I am caring and compassionate. This is as simple as making it easy for somebody to cross the street when I am driving. I don’t know about your city, but in mine, it has become an adventure to use the crosswalk because far too many drivers are self-absorbed and in a hurry. How would I respond if I arrived at the scene of an accident? What about the kid in line at Starbucks who comes up short for her venti quad super-sugar extra whipped cream drink? I need to slow down a bit, see the world around me, and look for ways to care for others.
Finally, I want to be seen in my community as a leader who stands for justice. I want to be on the side of the underdog and to speak on behalf of the marginalized. Whether this applies to people who have become homeless, families affected by special needs, or just a small child attempting to be noticed by a store clerk, great leadership looks for and acts upon opportunities to elevate the people nearby. I truly hope that I am seen as this type of a leader.
So, what about you? What does leadership look like in your community? What other characteristics would you add to my list and, more importantly, how are you doing in living up to these standards? Leadership is influence and our communities are a great place to exert the influence that we have – this is how to truly make a difference right where you are!