As of this past Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) we have officially entered into the spiritual season of Lent. You may or may not come from a faith or personal tradition that observes Lent, but let me invite you to think about the season in relationship to the ways and places where you are asked to provide leadership.
Lent, a word derived from an old Anglo-Saxon term “lencten” means “spring” – a time of lengthening of days. Most of us are probably ready to see the tangible signs of spring about now as we are mired in the grip of winter.
In the church we have patterned our Lenten observances after the 40 days of temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness following his baptism. Through a period of fasting and prayer we see Jesus facing the temptations of the Evil One to live and lead in a way that is inconsistent with his identity and God’s will. Jesus manages his response to Satan through his faith, his knowledge and application of the Scriptures, and the strength he finds in communion with God.
Maybe there’s something here to take note of as leaders? The tradition of “giving up” something for Lent is also rooted in this biblical story of Jesus’ temptation. We, like Christ, are invited to give up those things we may rely on, and depend instead on our faith in God for strength. But rather than “giving up” I’ve always preferred to look at the Lenten season as a time of “taking on”. Taking on a challenge to live in a different way, to reorient my practices toward health, to focus on a spiritual practice and take it on for a season for growth and learning.
What are you prepared to “take on” as a leader during the Lenten season? I’m not so much talking here about a task or objective that you want to lead your group or team through, but what you, as leader, need to “take on” in order to grow, develop and lead from a dependence on God and faith rather than self and savvy.
In her book Leaders Who Last Margaret Marcuson consistently comes back to a major point of leadership – managing yourself. This is not a new thought, but it is a very important one. So much of the work in leadership is beyond our control. We can’t control how people react to a challenge or crisis. We can’t control what someone says or does when change is introduced. But we can control how we respond, what we say, how we lead.
In the work of emotional intelligence (EQ) there are four primary quadrants of awareness and management: Self Awareness, Self-Management, Social (Group) Awareness, and Social (Group) Management. The titles are somewhat misleading in that it may appear in that latter two that we are trying to manage or manipulate the group. The reality of all four quadrants is that we are first and foremost becoming aware of our own response and then managing that response for the good of self and group. We are “taking on” the responsibility of being a mature, well grounded, reflective leader who is in and under control (non-anxious) as we respond to, engage with, and lead others.
The source of that reflective work in leadership, from a Christian faith perspective, is our engagement with the practices of our faith in Christ. Prayer, study, meditation, Scripture reflection . . . the very things we see Jesus practicing during his “lengthy” challenge in the wilderness. Just as he “took on” that challenge; as leaders – no matter where we lead – we are faced with “taking on” similar challenges through the engagement of these same tried and true practices of self-management and self-care.
So, what might you do well to “take on” as a leader during this season of Lent? You cannot control what people throw at you. How they want you to think or act, vote or lead. Those outside expectations of others will continually be projected on to you. They, like the temptations Jesus faced, will come daily. But you can manage how and from where you respond.
How will you manage yourself? Your response to others? What will you “take on” as a leader during Lent?