I had arrived in the Swiss Alps exhausted. Since I had recently moved my household and had been sleepless on the plane, train, and bus rides, the last thing in the world I thought I could do was hike the two hours to the chalet. To make things worse, my guide and host was thoroughly invigorated, forging up the steep path ahead of me.
Even after he relieved me of my heavy pack, my steps dragged. "Do come along," he called back. "We must get to the chalet before nightfall."
"Oh, Pierre," I cried, "please walk beside me." My tears mingled with perspiration. Instantly he fell back and measured his pace to mine. Somehow just having his presence nearer made the journey easier.
I have often thought about that experience of so many years ago, especially when I've felt impatient about someone's slowness to respond to a direction that seemed obvious to me. It has been helpful to ask: Am I forging ahead in a way that leaves other people behind? Or am I willing to support them as they take their steps forward?
It has been said that the best leaders are the best servants. A leader must serve in a way that educates others about the vision, valuing the contribution others have to make. This isn't possible if the leader is so far ahead on the path that he or she doesn't even notice the needs of those following.
What has helped me most in leadership positions is being very clear about where the highest saving power comes from. The divine Mind, God, which is the origin of every good idea, remains in charge of the idea as it gradually unfolds in life. The person who first sees the direction for an organization, a country, or a family must continue to humbly honor that divine source in order to see the widest implications of the idea going forward.
Several years ago, I served on the board of a nursing home where there were major issues of corruption in the administration. The board seemed hypnotized by inertia and unwilling to confront the issues at hand. I kept stumbling upon evidence of the dishonesty that needed to be corrected. Still, the board was unwilling to act, threatening the organization's future.
My frustration was compounded by the fact that I had to travel almost two hours to get to the board meetings. Making that kind of sacrifice when no action was being taken seemed like the greatest mockery of my goodwill and a fair reason to resign.
As I drove my little Plymouth Horizon over the hillsides, zipping through Midwestern farmland, a long freight train wound slowly through the towns I was bypassing on the highway. It became a metaphor for the contrast between my vision for the institution and the slowness of the board members' response. But the freight train was doing work that my little car couldn't do. The way the train stopped and unloaded and meandered to its final destination spoke to me of the board members' patient thoroughness. But my quickness of vision was like the compact car heading directly along the shortest possible route. I came to appreciate the train's pace, given all it had to do and the places it had to go.
I did resign from the board because of other demands, but not before I found love in my heart and respect for other board members. My farewell was poignant on both sides. Each of the reforms needed was implemented over the next few years, and the nursing home is still on solid ground over 20 years later.
One of the world's great models of leadership was the Founder of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Mary Baker Eddy. She wrote to encourage all reformers: "We are brethren in the fullest sense of that word; therefore no queries should arise as to 'who shall be greatest.' Let us serve instead of rule, knock instead of push at the door of human hearts, and allow to each and every one the same rights and privileges that we claim for ourselves" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 303).
Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
James 3:16, 17