Leadership Lesson #1: Be Gentle

I’ve been working on a series of leadership lessons I’m learning and am going to post them regularly.  Feel free to post comments, feedback and your stories. 

I just witnessed a powerful moment.

While attending a recent pastors conference, there was an opportunity for people to share publicly regarding a proposal.  It’s always risky to open up the mic anytime – even with leaders.  A very elderly retired pastor decided to take the long walk to the front and share – for a long time.  His interruption made people uncomfortable.  Initially, you could feel the tension build.  15 minutes into the man’s monologue, it became more than an interruption.  In moments like these, everyone wants the person to stop.  People are nervously looking around for a solution.  Nobody wants to be the person who would come up and restore order.

But there was one.

Some additional context for the story:  I work for an evangelical denomination called Free Methodists.  The leadership structure in the US has three bishops who oversee regions of the country.  I work for these men.  I love these men.  One of them stood up and did something amazing.

 

As it was apparent that the man who was sharing wasn’t going to stop or go quietly, Bishop David Kendall rose from his seat and walked slowly forward.  All eyes were on the pastor and the Bishop converging.  What was he going to do?  What would he say?  Bishop David took about three minutes to walk slowly to the front and to the man’s side.  It seemed like an eternity as we watched

 

As Bishop David gently came to the pastor’s side, the man realized what was happening.  He bristled.  He asked the bishop if he was there to end this sharing time.  There was a pause.  This is where all eyes were watching.  Nobody heard the words that were exchanged between the pastor and the bishop – they were whispered.  The man didn’t know it was the bishop who was speaking to him.  He asked Bishop David, “Who are you?”  His reply, I’m David.  David Kendall.  Notice he didn’t say, “Bishop Kendall”.  Just David.  I like that.

Wow.  Humility.

Someone nearby identified him as the bishop.  The man relented.  Bishop David gently put his hand on the man’s shoulder and slowly walked him to his seat.  It was a quiet moment.  This entire exchange lasted nearly five minutes. It felt like 30.  While it took place, time stood still.  You could hear a pin drop.  As Bishop David  slowly and gently helped the man to his seat.  Order was restored.  The conference continued.

 

What I learned

  1. Take action.  As it was evident someone needed to intervene, Bishop David took initiative.  He knew someone needed to do something.  He took action.
  2. Be gentle and respectful.  The man sharing was the oldest and longest-tenured pastor in the group.  He was genuinely hurting, but his expression was not in the right context.  Bishop David calmly, respectfully, and gently diffused the situation in a way that kept the pastor’s dignity.
  3. Don’t bully with position.  99% of the people in the room knew that there was a bishop in the room and who that man was.  As he introduced himself to the hurting pastor, he didn’t throw his title around.  He came alongside the pastor as a gentle brother, kind and respectful.
As a leader, I’m reminded that I need to take action.  I do this naturally.  However, in this critical moment, I watched action take a back seat to gentleness.  Good leaders use their titles and plans to take action. Great leaders take action with gentleness and respect and don’t need a title to lead. They just do.  I was reminded of this truth as I watched a great leader balance action with gentleness and respect.

 

Question

How do you balance gentleness with action?  Does action trump gentleness at some point?  What would you have done in that situation??

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.