I recently had a discussion with one of my staff members about legitimacy in the context of leadership and ministry. I appreciate and look forward to those impromptu moments when I can hear the heart of one my staff members and speak into their lives.
Legitimacy is defined as “conforming to established standards of usage, behavior, etc; based on correct or acceptable principles of reasoning; reasonable, sensible, or valid: a legitimate question.”
I personally wrestled with this early on with my work in Oakwood as I heard compliments that amounted to the patting of the little child on the head and then sending him to play in the other room while the adults continued the “real” work. I was simultaneously frustrated and angry; doubting whether or not I was supposed to do this work because I was not meeting the common standard of ministry.
Leaders who are entrepreneurial with the mind and passion to create a new type of organization, system or strategy wrestle with the question of legitimacy. Inside the definition there is the assumption of an external criteria or group by which you will be judged to determine if what you are creating- with blood, sweat and tears- is in fact worth paying attention to.
What if leaders determined their validity not on the notion of size and peer opinions but on personal influence? I get it. Leaders must use some measurements and look at stats to determine if they are making some type of progress. I get it. We need to have objective eyes that will examine our processes to help us make improvements. But these should be secondary. Leaders of organizations-ministries, businesses, school classrooms-must rest in the notion that their legitimacy comes from lives that are transformed for the greater good.
Why should these serve as secondary categories for the validation of your leadership? Jesus’ leadership in size, moved from two individuals to thousands culminating in a post-resurrection number of one-hundred and twenty. Was such a dramatic decrease in the number of individuals indicative of poor leadership?
Jesus peers certainly were not slapping “atta boys” as he moved up and down the roads of Israel. Yes we have the triumphal entry but it can be strongly argued that that praise was in hopes of Jesus ushering in a type of kingdom that the people wanted and not the kingdom he was proclaiming. His rabbinic peers were constantly accusing his message and methods in hopes of discrediting the Galilean teacher who was gaining a “rock star” status throughout Israel. Did the opinions and rants of religious leaders give validation to the words of Christ?
The life of Jesus reveals to us that such categories are poor indicators of an effective leader.
Jerry White, International President Emeritus of The Navigators stated, “that leadership is a responsibility and privilege-not a right.” Leaders have to work hard at investing in the men and women that God brings around them. It is your responsibility to train your team, solicit their advice and suffer with them. The opportunity of a man or woman to shape the decision making skills, time management skills and learn to manage crisis is a blessing that is to be cherished and prayed over. The fact that you are in a position of “leadership” does not make you a leader. It makes you a servant.
The legitimacy of your leadership is much more about influence in the context of relationships requiring time spent with your team, endurance and integrity. Therefore, here are three quick exhortations for men and women who are leaders that serve by influencing lives.
1. Carve out time to say, “Hello.”
Your team is a beautiful assembly of flesh and blood persons made in the image of God. Each person brings to the organization experiences, emotions, family concerns and inadequacies that will shape your organization. When they walk in your office, when you see them hard at work, take time to simply say “Hello.” Ask how they are doing and extend a hand to let them know they actually matter as a person.
2. You must endure with them
If you lead long enough, you will have to take your team through some type of storm. It may be an organizational storm or a turbulent wind that is affecting one of your team members personally. When it happens, you need to be standing right there with them. They have to experience simultaneously strength and sympathy emanating from your voice and presence.
3. Have integrity
Fight for this! Paul told his disciple Timothy to watch both his life and doctrine. We as men and women validate our leadership when those around us believe what is coming out of our mouths. The doctrine-Scripture, mission, vision, philosophy-you are espousing must be spoken clearly and lived boldly to the best of your ability. Why? This communicates to those around you that your words matter and that you seek to have careful watch over your life and theirs.
Imagine leaders of organizations-ministries, businesses, school classrooms-who discover that legitimate leadership produces lives that are transformed for the greater good. Martin L. King said, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Work on your service to be a distinguishing mark that is left on your team. Step forward for the sake of the people that walk beside you, who execute your mission and who want to see vision become reality. Let the fruit of your work be the excellent meal that you as a group feast on as a blessed reminder of time spent, endurance and integrity.