Good leadership: What does it take?
Originally published in The Christian Science Journal
Wanting to get more involved in my community, I accepted the job of vice-president of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) for my son's elementary school. It promised to be an exciting year, and an enriching one for the children. Because of budget cuts in the school district, we hoped to raise money for programs that had been lost.
The PTA president was a fifth-grade teacher full of creative ideas. The school's principal who attended our board meetings tried to keep us realistic about the costs.
But right from the start, these two individuals butted heads. Our first few meetings were disasters of frustration and accusation. I found out later that the teacher had been agitating for the principal's resignation, and was on the brink of dismissal for insubordination.
Serving on this board didn't feel like community service. It felt like warfare. I wanted to resign. But before I did, I prayed. And this is what happened.
Although I didn't know what was going on behind the scenes with these two individuals, I felt instinctively that we had the right to stand up to anything that would thwart the school's progress. Even though the teacher and principal seemed to have leadership styles that clashed, I knew that God had to be the source of their individual talents. And I recognized that His divine power, governing all of creation, was also holding everyone in right relationship to one another. I saw that anything trying to undermine constructive relationships had to be powerless in the face of God's control.
Right in the middle of this prayer, a thought came to me: The school families could have a T-shirt sale to raise the money we needed. This idea didn't seem especially exciting to me. But I went ahead and proposed it at our PTA meeting the next day, anyway. As it turned out, the school principal had been to a Chamber of Commerce meeting that very morning in which a group of outside consultants had been promoting T-shirt sales as a good way to build support for our city's downtown redevelopment project.
We all realized that this was the perfect fundraising idea for the PTA. Both the teacher and principal immediately jumped into the details of planning the sale. It was the first time I had ever seen the principal and the teacher smile at each other.
Our little group was off and running, and it turned out to be a very happy year. Every project on the school's wish list was completed and paid for. The principal and teacher worked compatibly from then on. And, in the end, both of them kept their jobs.
That experience taught me a couple of important things about leadership. A good leader's primary job is to keep things moving forward. But two qualities are needed: enough mental independence to hear a new idea that will promote progress, and an ability to get people working together to implement that idea. If emotions get in the way of either one of these qualities, progress doesn't happen. And that's often the problem.
What I've found helpful is to realize that God is really behind both of these components of good leadership. He's the infinite source of all necessary ideas and the irresistible glue that binds people together for the common good. Mary Baker Eddy wrote about this in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Creation is ever appearing, and must ever continue to appear from the nature of its inexhaustible source." She went on to say: "The only intelligence or substance of a thought, a seed, or a flower is God, the creator of it. Mind is the Soul of all. Mind is Life, Truth, and Love which governs all" (pages 507-508).
This passage points to the fact that God not only creates all good ideas, but knows how to use them. Nothing has the power to stop the forward motion of God's government. And realizing this, I truly believe, can help a person let go of the difficulties and complexities that may come with leadership and rely on the divine.
For those who are leaders and for those who care about how their communities are led, these ideas give hope.