By Laurel Strasshofer
It’s the question that has stayed with me since I recently heard a snippet from a speech given by inspirational American conductor, Benjamin Zander in which he states:
“The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound…He depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful…I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people.” He continued, “If the eyes are shining, you know you are doing it…” 1
A few months ago, I was getting dinner for my grandchildren. I was tired and admittedly distracted and a little less-than-patient as I was focusing on “getting it done” (a flaw I will battle forever, I think). My grandson was excitedly prattling on about something when I reacted to him in harshness. I don’t remember his words. I don’t remember my words. I only remember how instantaneously his bright, joy-filled eyes were cast down and how he appeared almost shamed. It broke my heart to know I was responsible for that, and I have not forgotten how his eyes and spirit changed because of my voice.
In that moment, I remembered one of Zander’s challenges from that speech, “If the eyes are not shining, you’ve got to ask a question… ‘Who am I being that my children’s eyes are not shining?’” Ugh… I also thought of Proverbs 15:4: “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.” Double ugh!
But I am a slow learner. Apparently.
It was not too long ago in a staff meeting one of my own team members shared her “low” for the week had been that she felt she “failed two times” a few days earlier. She was attempting to make light of it, but it was easy to see she was still impacted by what had happened, most likely by my own part in how I handled the situation. I was glad for her honesty, and at the same time, her words genuinely pricked and grieved me. Many things could have contributed to her demeanor, and in my weakness I would have preferred to leave the blame there. Still, I knew in my heart that as her leader I was largely responsible for the state of her spirit at that moment, and I needed to work to mend it. I had to consider the possibility of my own role in the situation.
Isn’t it true? So often we will naturally lean into blaming those we lead – whether our children, our coworkers, or our ministry team members – for their low demeanor, lack of passion or mediocre performance. While we as individuals do have responsibility for our own attitudes and actions, I don’t believe the latter was necessarily Jesus’ focus when he spoke on things pertaining to what makes a great leader. He always made the shepherd responsible for the tender care of the sheep. He always emphasized humility in leadership. He always focused on the intentional pursuit of the lost one. He also basically said, “If you don’t like what you are seeing in those you lead, uh… check the mirror.”
Seriously. Check it:
“And He also spoke a parable to them: ‘A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.’” (Luke 6:39&40 NASB)
Is it possible that he meant the one who follows will reflect what he has seen demonstrated by the one he looks to for leadership? Or, that a student will only rise to the spiritual, professional and emotional heights that the leader allows or takes them? I believe he meant ALL of that, and then some.
I do believe as Christ-followers we are responsible to raise those we lead to new heights – to help them fulfill their potential. And, so when someone in my sphere of influence is cast down, I am compelled to ask myself what kind of leader I am being.
Actually, Benjamin Zander said best what I genuinely desire. Toward the end of his speech, he stated how he measures “success” in leadership. He said,
“For me, it’s very simple. It is not about wealth or fame or power, it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me.”
What a measure of success as we lead in the varied roles in which we are privileged to be serving!
Paul actually brings it home in his letter to the Philippians:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the for of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:3-7 NASB; emphasis mine)
In reading this, I am convicted that making those I lead 100% responsible for their passion, motivation and sense of security is not an attitude of humility or regarding them as more important than myself. It is one of pride and lacking in mercy – especially in light of all Christ has done and continues to do for me daily as I learn to walk with Him. I must become more introspective and humble myself to be willing to see what is in their eyes as a potential reflection of how they are being led. I must be brave enough to ask: