A friend of mine who is in the job market just shared a bit of frustration with me: almost every position that is advertised, he said, is requiring 3-5 years of experience. My friend looked me in the eye and asked, point blank with a bit of despair, “how am I supposed to get any experience if I can’t get hired in the first place?”
A good question.
My friend’s experience brought back my own memories of job hunting over the years. I had faced the same problem. Thankfully, at various times, people took a risk on me and I was able to get that precious on-the-job experience.
Requiring 3-5 years of experience seems like those who are hiring are really looking for candidates who won’t require a lot of hand-holding, on-the-job training, or a significant amount of oversight. In other words, it sounds like the those who are in leadership—the ones to whom the employee would directly report— are aiming for some level of certainty and control. After all, were they to hire someone who couldn’t hack it, their own position might be threatened due to a failure of leadership.
But what if leadership of the best sort is just the kind that leaves a lot of space for failure? What if leadership means leaders take on a significant amount of responsibility for raising up those around them to meet the demands of the job? What if “a job well done” in this context is the job that is accomplished collaboratively, by people who are relying on each other because they form a network of gifts, talents, and skills that are shared amongst everyone, even if everyone does not possess the same ones as all the others?
Leadership in this sense would be a kind of weak leadership. The leader, whoever that person is, would know what needs to get done and what it takes to do it. He or she would know they are incapable of doing the job alone. Perhaps this leader could only do just a facet of the necessary tasks to complete the job. That makes him or her vulnerable, putting them in need of others. It seems to me that this would prompt a different approach to leadership—something like leading weakly.
Leading weakly is just a name for what I think good leaders really do. Good leaders know their weaknesses, deficiencies, gaps in their learning, understanding, and abilities. They also know that they need others to make up for these things. Furthermore, as leaders, they know the abilities that others have and they encourage, promote, upbuild, and direct those they lead so that, as a network or team, whatever challenge is set before them can be accomplished.
I’m struck here by a unique story about Jesus. He was a leader of a band of disciples. He knew full well that what the future held for him, so he commissioned those disciples to carry on his work. But the striking thing is that he commissioned a bunch of inexperienced, untrained, feeble, and mistake-prone humans to do something that it seems like only a God could do. Interestingly enough, however, he did it without worry or concern. He was not some kind of micro-manager who interfered at every level of the process to be sure things got done his way. Rather, he was really quite hands-off.
I’m reminded in this sense of a quote my wife likes to use, the origins of which I’m unaware: “God does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called.” It strikes me that this perspective offers a leadership principle that pictures leadership from a weak, rather than strong and confident, perspective.
What if, as we find ourselves in positions of leadership, we reflectively spend time knowing our weaknesses and our needs, hiring those who have the potential to supplement our deficiencies, and build teams that are made up of people who have complementary gifts, skills, and talents? Then we could spend our time as leaders supporting them, investing in them, caring more about their success than our own, and working together with all of them to achieve mutually beneficial goals.
I’m astonished when I’m reminded of it, but it seems as if this is exactly what Jesus did. If you believe he’s Lord of the Universe and Creator of all things, well then, he doesn’t need any help getting his mission accomplished. Yet he chose to involve others, none of whom had 3-5 years of experience. And they changed the world.
Can we learn something from his approach?
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on leadership from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.