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“If your eyes are open, you will learn a lot during your time with me,” Dr Bradley B Bacon began during an impromptu meeting in his office. “I would like to think that I’ve learned to do most things well. Some, very well. And you will do wisely to take notice of these things and imitate them as you serve on staff and one day run your own. But no one is perfect, and I am no exception. You will also see in me and in my ministry some things that I don’t do so well, things to improve upon or to completely steer clear of altogether. The trick is having the discernment to look at my work and know what’s truly worth imitating and what’s not.”
Those words were spoken in the first weeks of an internship some 13 years ago, and they have served me well ever sense. Brad was right. I gained a wealth of understanding in the ways of organizational leadership and pastoral ministry from what I saw modeled in him. And though the vast majority of what I saw was strong, intelligent, and admirable, yes, a few mental notes were marked of elements to be improved upon. My internship extended into a seven-year stint as a part-time staff member, four of which were under the helm of Brad Bacon. And then, just as he had promised, one day I went on to lead my own staff.
Through it all, those opening words remained with me. Over the years, I would often repeat them to others, initially as an example of humility in leadership and eventually calling others to look at me and my work through the same lens. I would repeat this call as I mentored my own staff and developed my own board members. At first all those years ago, the words struck me so deeply because I had not expected someone leading an organization of several hundred people to be so open about his imperfections and, further, to call his interns to take note of them. But as the years meandered forth, I saw that these words draw us to consider more than just the leaders in our midst.
See, the truth is that, if our eyes are open, we will learn a lot from all humanity. Within each and every one of us dwells a unique matrix of strengths and weaknesses, of admirable qualities and those less so. Whether at work or play, whether with family or friends, enemies or strangers, whether confident or embarrassed, be they my superiors or my employees, I am convinced that each person has trainloads of lessons to be learned from them. Some examples constructive and to be emulated; others destructive and to be bypassed. The key — our task — is to be discerning enough to imitate the positive and produce something better from the negative.
Again, let that sink in. Every person I come across has something to teach me. Something positive to adopt as my own. And something negative to spur improvements. But will I slow down enough to look close enough to consider the examples of those around me???
And for those of us serving in various leadership capacities: Are we willing to admit that we are a complex combination of both strengths and weaknesses? Beyond this, are we willing to invite our staff and employees to consider how our own actions and decisions could be improved upon? To go a step further, are we willing to look to them with eyes to see what we can learn from them? And, yet one step further still, do we have a level of healthy respect for those around us that makes these attitudes possible? Do we have a measure of the confidence required to admit our failings and imperfections? Have we begun to realize that in all of this we are building strength into our organizations and a discerning vitality that will serve our people well into the future?
May we discover such attitudes and perspectives. And may we embody such hope. May our eyes truly be open…