Archive for August 2012

Leadership is an action, not a position.

August 22, 2012

When I was in college, I served on the Student Senate one year. The Student Senate was selected by housing units, and each housing unit was represented. There were seven dorms, eight Greek houses, and a few small theme houses. Due to overflow in Greek housing being placed in other living units, we ended up with a Student Senate that had a majority of Greek students. (Since the majority of the student body was Greek, that was still fairly representative.) As a result, the Student Senate was largely a rubber-stamping group that gave the required approval for the Greek houses to have wet functions and parties outside their own houses. I represented one of the dorms.

Little else was done aside from filtering campus functions so the administration would not have to, and I honestly cannot remember a single worthwhile accomplishment of the Student Senate. Largely this is because the administration and trustees of the college did an excellent job. (While a lot of people have complaints about where they went to school, I have absolutely none, aside from maybe wishing they had a grad school.) They foresaw and addressed problems before they would come to the student government. The student body really had no significant complaints. On one hand, it made the job easy. On the other hand, it made the meetings feel unimportant, and the shirts seemed like a huge joke.

You see, we got t-shirts for being in the student government. The front said “Student Senate”. The back said “Leadership is an action, not a position.” While that might have been a joke to the Student Senate at my college and the shirt may have sat largely unworn in a drawer in my dresser, the statement on the back has been something that has stuck with me.

I pretty much blew it off as a joke for a number of years, until I was elected captain of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. At that point, I suddenly saw it differently. I was placed in a position, but that position required more than just sitting in a seat for meetings. I wasn’t just part of making decisions anymore. I was putting those decisions into action. My job was to help the company find a direction and make sure they got there. My job was to make sure that we didn’t get caught up in minute details or unimportant issues. My job was to get information and quickly act on it in the field and to make sure everyone else got the pertinent information and guide them through weighing it at meetings. How I conducted my leadership determined whether or not the company would create a schedule of events, work out transportation, form a unit in the field, etc, instead of falling apart in a squabble about who was going to cook or what we were going to eat, as I have seen happen to many organizations with positions and no leadership.

My Student Senate shirt is now my favorite t-shirt. I wear it to almost every meeting for the Western Federal Blues (as well as events when they ask me to command) as a reminder to myself that my position means nothing if my actions do not make anything of it. If I ever wear it out, I’m going to try to get a new one made.

Now I sit on the Session at my church. I approach every Session meeting with that motto: Leadership is an action, not a position. My role is to both prayerfully consider what is before the Session and the church, but my role is also to act in the best interest of the church. Right now, that means acting to make changes, even though change is unpopular, especially in the Presbyterian Church. Some changes are easier, like accommodating a staff office move to create a working environment that will better enable a staff member to do their job. Some changes are harder, like finding a way to significantly cut costs and/or increase revenue over a short amount of time. All of these changes are things that need to preserve and improve the operating of our congregation while keeping the larger mission of the Church foremost in what we do. Leadership means making changes when the status quo is unacceptable and not simply using a position to talk about rubber-stamping or denying things in order to keep people comfortable by doing the same thing in the same way. There are changes in store for First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, KY, and if we keep our eyes, minds, and hearts on the task of continuing God’s mission here on earth, I see great things in our congregation’s future.