Dolores was driving a tractor by the time I was learning to ride a bike. My dad held the seat so I could balance while her dad stood off at a distance evaluating the rows of freshly mowed hay. If they weren’t straight enough, she had to start all over again.
Two examples of leading demonstrated by two different dads. One was focused on the task, the other on the person.
Dolores was my mom, a musician who led many ministries and started a performing arts school through her church. I was a dancer and still lead a nonprofit arts organization. I am able to do this because of those like my parents who have influenced me over my lifetime. Their style of leadership always put people first, which often makes success less obvious. Awards and fame can steal the spotlight over soul-saving. I’m thinking about these things these days. After seventeen years you want to try to pass on a thing or two.
My mom was always preparing for the next step in life and was often a step or two ahead of everyone else. She had a knack for getting others to follow. I didn’t realize at the time that she was teaching me how to lead, she would never have called that out, she was busy showing me how to get the job done. She never talked about leading, she taught me about serving. She was a servant leader after Jesus’s own heart before anyone had coined the term.
Not long before she died, she told me she didn’t think she had done anything of importance with her life. This was so far from the truth that I almost laughed. But when I saw she was serious, I cried. And I think this is a common feeling for many women, the caregivers of the world. Where would we be without our woman influencers, these servant leader role models, those shaping our hearts and values, pointing us to a purpose larger than ourselves, and teaching us that loving well is fundamental to living well?
Let’s face it. We are all responsible for leading something and we need strong leaders now more than ever. But often leading can feel like you’re in the wilderness.
Did you know that the book of Numbers is the Christian name for this fourth book of the Torah? The Hebrews most often chose among the first words of the text for a title for each book of the Bible. The Jews have called it Vayedabber, after the first words of the book which means ‘And He Spoke’. More popular is Bemidbar, the fifth word in the first verse. This means, ‘In the Wilderness’. It’s too bad that’s not the title of this book because then maybe more people would be excited about reading it. Everything you need to know to prepare for being a leader is covered.
Moses is leading the Israelites to the Promised Land and he counts the people in preparation for battle—when you are headed to the land of milk and honey, you can bet there will be battles. What should have taken two weeks took forty years. Leading people is not easy.
Moses had his hands full—the Levites plus twelve tribes. How many people are you responsible for? He had hundreds of thousands. There was a lot of grumbling and whining, not to mention undermining. Even his own brother and sister spoke poorly of him in front of all the people. Leading can be lonely.
But the beautiful thing is, there was always a greater plan going on. From Mt. Sinai to Paran to the plains of Moab, God was guiding them. The Tabernacle, the holy dwelling place of God, was set up in the center of their camp—a visual picture of God’s holiness in our lives, in our work. That’s what mom was always pointing to. When I was too busy working on my business plan, she gently guided me with her heart for others. When she saw a person, she really saw them. When they talked to her, she really listened.
It was easy for the Israelites to see what they didn’t have rather than all that God had provided—from food and water to victories. So instead of moving forward into the unknown territory with trust, they wanted to return to their slavery in Egypt. Change is never easy and it comes with a price: risk and courage. Faith. Trust. And these only grow through testing and trials.
But God also blesses. He allows us to make our own decisions apart from him and stands back. He watches what unfolds. And while the Israelites circled round and round on the plains of Moab, God was in the hills, blessing.
Moses was humbled when, even he got fed up and lost his temper. He struck that rock for water in anger and yelled at the thirsty people instead of thanking God for His provision. He never did enter the Promised Land.
Perhaps the most important thing to learn about leading from all of this is humility. And to put people and relationships first. This takes a heart full of love and the ability to see beyond yourself to a greater purpose. It takes turning your focus from self to mission.
At my work, we are called Danceworkers. We exist to bring joy, health, and creativity to Milwaukee. We exist to serve the community and each other. We exist for a greater purpose. And if there’s one thing dance teaches us all, it’s grace. Without grace the dance falls apart, and we do too.
So enter into each day as if in a slow waltz, a reflection of beauty—like a prayer—a meditation of joy. Then let your responsibilities flow. And with a watchful eye, bring others with you into the dance.