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Leadership Lesson: Are you willing to be a follower in order to lead?

Leadership can sometimes be confused with lordship, but sadly this is not so. Some leaders believe that leadership means being above the people, but I offer a strong word of caution. Never ever be so much above the people that you can’t relate to them. When I was appointed to my first principalship, I was so excited about everything I was going to be able to do that upcoming school year. I remember getting that phone call telling me to report to my assigned school early that Monday morning, and then like a ton of bricks reality hit, school was to open in three weeks and we were no where ready. It dawned on me then that I couldn’t go in and conduct business as usual I had to be creative. When I walked in the office, I introduced myself as Mr. Brown, and I was greeted and welcomed by the secretary who told me that they were happy to have me as a new edition to their faculty. I was the principal, not a teacher had I let my ego get in the way I would have missed out on what was going to be one of the greatest and most rewarding experience in my development as a leader. I exchanged pleasantries with her and told her how much I was looking forward to the school year. She explained that they were a little disorganized due to staff changes and transitions with principals and teachers. I asked her if she knew who the principal was and she told me that all she knew was it was a man who she heard was very strict, I remember laughing to myself.

Because there was a lot of activity I was afforded the opportunity to walk around, meet people and get a lay of the land. One of the people I encountered who would later turn out to be one of my biggest allies was a cafeteria staff member. She greeted me with a warm smile and said you must be one of our new teachers, welcome we are glad to have you. I fondly remember her telling me you look kind of young to be a teacher, but you’ll be fine. I asked her was there anything I could do to help; she was taken back by that but said sure. I began to help her clean the kitchen and position new equipment. As we talked she filled me in on the school happenings and where all the bodies were buried. After I helped her she thanked me and said she looked forward to working with me. I continued on my journey throughout the building and met two teachers who were moving things out of a closet to set up their classrooms. We exchanged pleasantries and they asked me if I was one of the new teachers at the school but I was given the opportunity to respond.

I immediately began helping them move items out of the closet and into their individual classrooms, I even helped them decorate. They proceeded to describe the culture of the school and other bits and pieces of information they felt I needed to know. They even shared they heard the principal was someone with the last name Brown, I remember laughing and thinking to myself if they only knew. We had lunch together that same day and over the next several days, I continued to help decorating and I even did some basic decorating to classrooms for teachers that had not yet arrived. It was evident this was going to be an interesting leadership experience and I was surely glad that I didn’t come in with the mindset of being the “principal”, I just came in. Some may argue this might not have necessarily been the right approach, but for me it was and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Thursday morning of that same week my alias would come to an end because my line director officially introduced to the staff. That morning I wore a nice suit and tie, and all of my colleagues laughed and said I was trying to impress the principal. Once the announcement was made many of them laughed, except for my cafeteria friend who said “you lied to me”, I replied no I didn’t you never asked me my name.

After the initial shock things continued at a nice pace and I learned you get more from people when they see you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside them. That night I moved into the principal’s office. The Saturday prior to school I was pleasantly surprised to see how many teachers and staff showed up to make final preparations for the first day of school. I remember my friend from the cafeteria shared with me the day before Christmas break, we love you because you showed us you can be one of us.

Most pastors would agree a major component of our work is fundraising and I always make it a point to never ask my members to do something I am not willing to do. For example, we had a fundraising event at church and the participation fee Day was one hundred dollars, I was the first to pay so my parishioners would see that I am not asking them to do anything that I am not willing to do myself. Over the years there have been various saying and phrases highlighting that people don’t care how much you know until they first know how much you care. I would offer that people don’t care that you are the leader, until they first see that you can follow.

Don’t lord over the people, Lead them.