19 September, Sunday — Being last

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 2:12,17-20
Jas 3:16-4:3
Mk 9:30-37

“If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.”

History is full of examples of those who have ‘led from the back’, of leaders who have supported their charges and led selflessly, caring about those in their charge rather than caring about being in charge. We, as Catholics, have the most well-known example of a servant leader, who gave up His life for all of us — the ultimate sacrifice of a leader.

I struggle constantly with being vulnerable to my charges at work. Having experienced betrayal before (in my previous workplace), it has taken me a while to get comfortable with opening up and sharing my thoughts with those around me who look to me for guidance. While I don’t wish to appear ‘weak’, I am also mindful that the team I now have is probably new to this form of leadership — where the ‘boss’ expects people to challenge, debate, express their opinions without fear of recrimination or any form of reprisal. For me, it just highlights how these professionals have been led before by bosses who expected servility and obedience; how then do you get the best out of these people who are hired for their expertise and experience?

My struggle has been finding the balance between when to ‘jump in’ to help make things work better, and when to hold back so that the staff can ‘venture into the deep’ and learn the ropes with some expected outcomes and failings. I think Jesus would have had a tough time with his ‘crew’ back in the day — yet, He trusted in the Father and built up a group of leaders who went to their deaths willingly for the cause. I’m pretty sure not many of us can confidently say that our charges would do the same for us. Perhaps it is because we know that no reward anyone can offer is worth any sacrifice we make.

And yet here we are leading others, expecting them to dance to our tune. Honestly, sometimes it seems much easier to just let go, let things be, and let the situation(s) develop on their own. I know of some ‘leaders’ who do that…and then blame everyone else when things go wrong; not exactly how I view leadership. I think we all need to realise that our ‘power’ (perceived or otherwise) is a fleeting thing that will disappear when we eventually retire/step down from our role or a new boss/someone younger comes along. Don’t get me wrong, brothers and sisters, I am not saying that we should never exercise authority or judgement should our roles require it — especially in ministry, where there are inevitably many ‘sensitivities’ that abound. Indeed, as leaders, we have a moral obligation to lead, guide and direct others. It is by no mean feat that we are able to strike the perfect balance between being empathetic yet firm, in charge yet giving others room to soar.

One thing I do believe is that by focussing on Christ, each of us will be able to call upon the innate gifts we have within our hearts to lead, guide, mentor, influence and appreciate those who struggle to find their identity and their footing in the world. In doing so, we may also begin to start appreciating what being a ‘servant leader’ means.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: We pray for all leaders worldwide — in government, in our Church, at work, at home and in ministry — that God continues to speak to all of them and to guide them with His infinite love and abounding wisdom.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks to all those who care enough to give of their time, their hearts and their experience to mentor and shape the next generation.

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