I have just returned from South Africa, where I led a team of six, including myself, through the journey. In many ways, this trip was easy because we went to a place that I had been many times before. My team was made up of two that had been before and four that had not. Our pre-trip planning was as much about sharing what they should expect as it was in training them about their task. I had one new team member tell me, while we were there, that I had done a good job preparing them for this journey. I will say that that statement has not been true for every team that I have ever led. These journeys have taught me to be more communicative than less, even when I do not have all of the answers. The old cliche is true, “Never let them see you sweat.” It does not mean to be something that you are not, but it is important that you maintain your composure, even when things are spinning out of control. Africa presents many challenges that must be dealt with. Here are some of them:
• A very long flight that will cause fatigue at a time when you need to be alert and decisive.
• Driving in South Africa, after the long flight. You are sitting on the opposite side of the vehicle, driving on the opposite side of the road, shifting gears with your left hand.
• Leading your team through the simple things like exchanging money, ordering a meal, learning to adapt to 220V instead of 110V, and overcoming the lack of creature comforts.
• Entering a culture where you do not speak the language and are dependent on interpreters to communicate with others on your behalf.
I am used to these things, but my team members are not. My ability to lead through these things has everything to do with the call of God on my life. I truly believe that the Lord directs our every step.
How have I learned to lead? Some believe that people are born leaders as oppose to people who are taught to lead. I tend to believe that both are necessary parts of leadership. The first important piece of leadership revolves around who is speaking into your life and whether you are listening? God has been speaking into my life since I was 16 years old. I have not always been a good listener, but I am thankful for my faith. I was taught a long time ago that God speaks through His word, through the church, through other people, through our circumstances, and through prayer. Each of these areas has allowed me to become a more attentive and compassionate servant-leader. I will be the first one to say that I do not have all of the answers, but I am willing to listen and learn.
In most cases, we do not get to choose the circumstances that we lead through, we are simply called upon to lead. People say that we should not be reactive to things, but must be proactive. I have spent my entire adult life reacting to situations that come about, whether reacting to a sinking vessel, reacting to a heart attack, reacting to a house fire, reacting to a question raised by an African team member, or reacting to pastoring through a pandemic. I do not believe that the majority of people are looking for perfection, but we do perform based upon our training. As a paramedic, I always told people “airway, breathing, and circulation.” There are times that I did not have the answer, so I focused on the basics, until the answer came. Leaders cannot be afraid to take risks or be afraid to fail. People need to be loved on, cared for, and encouraged, when life as we know it becomes radically different. Our pet peeves and preferences may have to go out the window. Real and authentic leaders think about others more than themselves. God, guide me to be the best leader that I can possibly be.