Monday, February 25, 2008

Servant Leadership

In my former life, I spent most of my days with executives and leaders. The more time I spent in their company the more accustomed I became to the expectations of their lifestyle and work environment. In general, at the executive level your time becomes the most valuable commodity. It simply becomes more efficient to pay someone else to do the lower level or menial tasks than for an executive to do it themselves.

Over the years, I witnessed countless examples of how the pampering of executives can get wildly out of whack. In my life, I've known leaders who couldn't read their own email and had to have it screened for them. I've known many executives who refused to drive themselves anywhere, would never answer their own phones, and didn't track their own calendars.

Now this might be one end of the spectrum, but when I look at how those people behaved day to day as well, the same tendencies applied. They would throw out decisions and directives, fire missives, craft ultimatums, and arbitrarily fix schedules. It was just expected that the people who worked for them would just figure out the details as needed. If plans had to change, the workers would adapt. The servants react to the leader and his wishes as fluidly as those wishes might change.

In my present life, I've been striving for servanthood. It took me abandoning my old life to even begin to make strides towards becoming a new man.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. -- 1 Peter 4:10

In my journey towards becoming a servant, I have endeavored to put my full mind and attention towards embracing the menial and mundane. A significant change in my world view has been a willingness to give up my time to the schedules of others. Being willing to perform the simplest tasks, to move at the speed of the slowest person, to support the difficult and dysfunctional people with an uplifting demeanor and countenance. For someone who worked his entire life towards efficiency, expertise, and excellence, you can imagine this is a challenge.

Even as I craft my own true heart of servitude I find a challenge in my roles as a leader. How can I continue as a servant when called to leadership? Can you be a servant leader? My reflection and meditation has led me to think that a servant leader is the only true leader. All others are only shadows. Without a servant heart, a leader too quickly becomes only a traffic cop, a figure-head, or a dictator. This is a trap I've found myself in from time-to-time and one I wish sincerely to avoid in the future.
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -- Mark 10:42-45

The only way I know to be a servant leader is to focus on the first word first: servant. Being willing to roll-up the sleeves and do the menial and mundane. Assuming firstly that no work is beneath me. Being personal and transparent and allowing for the style and speed of others. Walk softly and lean lightly on the shoulders of others, speak the positive more often than the critical. These are principles I seek to follow.

If you've got insight and guidance, my mind is open.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Men and Marriage. Argh.

I read quite a few blogs and thanks to my incredible father keep up with quite a swath of the writing in theological arena of the day. I am a voracious reader, but he puts me to shame. I'm sure the fact that he has more time on his hands (he's earned it!) counts for something but still, I wish I could keep up with him.

Recently, seemingly by coincidence, I've read quite a bit on the topic of marriage and family and relationships. Almost without exception, there is a tendency to bash the role of men in the breakdown of the family. If you go back to the widely cited National Marriage Project, a study from Rutgers, you see that in general people think that it is men that don't want to be married. They attribute this inability to commit to several reasons including:
  • It is easier to get sex outside of marriage.
  • Living together already gives them the benefits of marriage.
  • The likelihood of divorce is high and carries significant financial risk.
This is hardly the exhaustive list, but it's pretty representative. Most of my reading has been offline, but you can easily find lots more examples of writers here and here and here and here and here and here and here who are basically saying the same things.

Now the issue I have with this is simply that it takes two to tango.

This one-sided view of state of family today is completely horrendous. It's is like we are simply ignoring that women want easy access to sex and will manipulate to get what they want. That women aren't also wanting to hold off the responsibility of children until later in life. That men haven't been taken to the cleaners for years by women in our grossly prejudiced legal system. Check out the 2004 National Scruples and Lies Survey for more fun facts.

If women want sex as much as men, they are delaying children as much as men, and they are scared of divorce as much as men, don't they have an equal incentive to avoid a marriage commitment? After all, for those who do want children, we've removed any single mother stigma and it's now elevated to a status position. We've removed the divorcee stigma and have certainly weighted the divorce courts significantly in favor of the woman, especially if children are involved.

So let's do the math. They have equal disincentive to get married, more incentives to not get married, less risk and more reward in the unfortunate event of divorce. Yet this whole deterioration of family values and the decline in marriage rate is solely due to men being selfish. Puh-leez.

Don't get me wrong, I think men are generally selfish (I know I am!) and many may find themselves guilty of some of the reasons cited for why they avoid marriage. I just think that's only half (less than, actually!) the story.

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.
-- 1 Corinthians 7:1,2

I guess my decision to rant about this, even in light of the possibility for it to be misinterpreted, stemmed from recent reading where my experiences and experiences of people I know were poorly represented. In the past few years, I've personally had to break off more relationships because of sexual or cohabitational pressure from the woman, then for any other reason. In this day and age, I know it can be shocking to find someone who just isn't that interested in sex. My personal experience is that I've known way more women who were using men, than men who were using women. Of course, that's just my life. Your mileage will vary.

I didn't intend this to sound specifically disparaging towards women, if that's how you take it, I don't really care to hear about it. From my point of view, there isn't just one answer or one story. There are lots of perspectives and angles. It just really bothers me to be painted (along with my friends) with the brush of villainy while we are busy dodging victimization by women whose selfishness goes unchallenged. Maybe later I'll bash all the men I see doing stupidly selfish things and taking advantage of women, just to keep the posts balanced.

Wow. That was pretty raw for me. Let the flames begin.