“Mom, I like watching people and seeing who the generals are and who the soldiers are,” my eldest said one evening when he was around 10 years old. I asked what he meant, and he elaborated on his thoughts on leaders and followers. I was curious how he saw himself.
“Sometimes I’m a general and sometimes I’m a soldier,” he said. “I know when to lead and I know when to follow.”
As a lifetime follower, I was profoundly impacted. And thus began a significant shift in my life.
I had lived my life as a confident follower, believing in myself as a valuable asset to any leader needing someone to help work toward their vision. I also assumed that I was not capable of gaining the allegiance of my own followers. Being an introvert didn’t help my cause.
Over time, my love of people, being aware of my gifting and my ministry experience seemed to come together. I went back to school, was trained as a professional life coach and sought further training in spiritual direction. During the coaching classes with The Christian Coach Institute, I started wrestling with my false narrative about not being able to lead. One of our textbooks, Christian Coaching by Gary Collins, offered leadership illustrations that impacted me and addressed the shifts in our culture in how leadership is viewed. These illustrations were on the leadership styles of buffalo and those of geese.
Buffalo are loyal to one leader—the head of the herd. They follow where the leader goes and wait for his direction. For many years, we taught and followed that buffalo leadership style: Faithful followers rally behind one leader who casts all the vision and has all the power. I’m a product from one of the generations of buffalo leadership. Many of us are.
In contrast, geese reflect the shifts in our cultural approach to leadership. In flight, geese frequently change their leader at the front or point of their V formation. Leaders following the geese model equip and encourage everyone in the capacity to have a role in leadership. Change and creativity are welcomed. Teaching responsibility, ownership and character development are key. I believe my son has already grasped the concept of geese leadership. As Collins says, “Modern leadership is goose-style leadership.”
Collins continues: “Leadership is about building teams, encouraging innovation, thinking strategically, removing obstacles, creating vision and taking risks. Leadership has little to do with one’s title or position. It has everything to do with being trustworthy, supportive, sensitive, aware of trends, willing to try new things—and even cheering when your protégés and followers soar past you to leadership positions of their own.”
Leadership that lasts a lifetime
As we look at cultural shifts in leadership, I’ve heard some people say that if you’re over a certain age, it’s your responsibility to hand over the baton of leadership to the younger generation. While that sentiment begins to address calling out and equipping younger leaders, it doesn’t go far enough in building teams of leaders.
I am convinced that goose-style leadership lasts a lifetime. It’s a team effort. Leaders aren’t put out to pasture because of age and an expiration mark, and youth aren’t discredited for their age and lack of experience. God is bigger than either of these boxes, and he calls and invites a variety of individuals to cast vision for his kingdom and his glory.
I was inspired by Collins’ thoughts on buffalo and geese leadership and utilizing a professional life coach has helped my own development as a leader. My work with Amanda was pivotal. She asked me powerful questions and helped me identify areas in my life where I had in fact been leading.
One fruitful exercise I did was to ask several people to share areas of leadership they saw me having. Unaware of my internal struggles, everyone shared openly. I was greatly helped by the voices of others speaking life into me. I could confidently climb out of the false narrative that I was only a follower. I could embrace existing leadership roles with more boldness and step up in other areas. I found a road that connected my vision and my passions with fulfilling work.
Now I enthusiastically lead through my work as a life coach and spiritual director. I champion others in finding their authentic self, their confidence and voice and their own areas of leadership. In this work, we find ourselves dusting for the fingerprints of God and his involvement in our lives as we respond to the invitations and gifts he gives to us.
Understanding our gifts
James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
This ministry of identifying gifts is based on three words: identity, intimacy and impact. Identity is knowing who we are in our truest self as God created. We grow when we are confidently intimate in our relationship with God and others. And this allows us to enrich the impact we have in our spheres of influence. When we understand our gifts, we are able to better identify when to lead and when to follow.
Regardless of age, gender, profession and season of life, we as God’s children always have an invitation to be attentive to God’s work in our lives. A good place to begin is by asking ourselves some questions: How has God uniquely created and called me to lead? What impact does my life have on those around me? Who’s in my V formation and how do we take turns and develop one another?
As you contemplate these leadership questions, having a soul companion in the form of a life coach or spiritual director can be a valuable resource. Ultimately, leadership is all about relationship. A coach helps move you forward, helping to bridge the gap from where you are to where you want to go. A spiritual director offers a listening ministry, encouraging a deeper awareness as you sit with God and intentionally savor his Word and his work in your life.
Leadership development is a lifelong endeavor. Its significance ripples across the generations and produces transformation. Jesus equipped his disciples with leadership tools and responsibilities, and their lives and ministry were transformed. Like with the disciples, Jesus continues to equip and encourage us with the tools and responsibility of leadership in our homes, communities and churches. Jesus is alongside us in our V formations.
Chandelle Claassen is a certified professional life coach and a member of the USMB LEAD Coaching team. She is also a trained spiritual director through The Schools of Sustainable Faith. She lives in North Newton, Kan., with her husband, Russ, who is the youth pastor at Koerner Heights Church and also the Southern District Conference youth minister. They have two boys and enjoy being an active family in their community.
In the fall of 2017, Claassen will be working alongside trainers Marty and Sandy Boller to bring a Schools of Sustainable Faith spiritual direction training cohort to Wichita, Kan. This certificate program offers one and two year certificates in spiritual direction. Please visit bluestemlifecoaching.com for more information.