The power to “drive someone out” – to dismiss, to denigrate and undermine what a person brings, in one way or another – is a power that we as leaders have. We can use that power irresponsibly when we are faced with truth that is unpleasant, inconvenient or challenges us in some way. Because of our place in the system, we can shut someone down or drive a person out without even being conscious of what we are doing or why we are doing it.
Ruth Haley Barton in Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.
Yes, we are back round to Haley Barton again. I do love her writing on spirituality and was reading and blogging about her words extensively a couple of years back. This one is her most recent and I have just managed to source a free copy. Which, as you know, makes me very happy!
The excerpt above captivated me this morning as I was working my way into the first chapter. It hit me hard actually, with the force which truth often has. I have more power as a leader than I think I do.
I have more power than I think I do. Even if I perceive myself figuratively as hiding in a corner where no one will notice me – and I actually do, so please don’t laugh! – the mere fact of a leadership role within a system denies the truth of that self-perception. I am powerful and I can use that power for good or ill. In fact, until I can own that power and subvert it into something more Christ-shaped, I probably will use it for ill even if I do not intend that.
If I cannot accept the truth about my power within the various systems in which I operate as a leader, I am unlikely to be conscious of how I may be shutting people down or driving them out. Sometimes all it takes to silence a critic is one word, spoken out of frustration. Sometimes all it takes to shut down that trying person is a look of disbelief. Sometimes all it takes to dismiss their significance is a failure to let them finish their sentences.
I’m working on the latter, by the way. I am absolutely terrible at letting people finish their sentences! If I don’t let you finish, it’s actually more a sign of my identification with what you are sharing and my enthusiasm and personal engagement with it, encouraging you rather than dismissing you. It’s because I get excited in the speedy exchange of ideas and enthusiasm that I subconsciously act as if there’s more value in keeping the ideas flowing rather than each of us needing to dot every i and cross every t in the finishing of our sentences. In fact, those who know me will notice now I’ve bared my soul that not only do I have this bad habit of interrupting in my enthusiasm but I also tend to get lazy about finishing my own sentences when I am truly engaged in conversation! Speed truly becomes of the essence in my joy in the intensity of this ideas exchange.
But sometimes all it takes to dismiss someone’s significance is a failure to let them finish their sentences. So I’m working on it. Because as a leader I do have power. Power to dismiss. Power to shut someone down. Power to drive them out. All because of my place in the system. And, as Haley Barton says, I may not even be conscious of what I am doing or why I am doing it.
Anyone else aware of this dynamic in their lives? Or are you going to leave me out here all alone in this extremity of self-disclosure?!