One of my earliest leadership roles was in the fourth grade. I started a Legion of Super Heroes club among my classmates, based on a popular comic book at the time. Each of us took on the identity of one of the heroes – there were about 25 of them, thus a “legion” – and played that character’s role during the meetings we held at recess. I was, no laughing please, the Invisible Kid. In the comics the Kid was the elected leader, had a pretty cool uniform – with a headband! – and it could have been worse, like being Matter-Eater Lad whose superpower was, correct, to eat all kinds of matter.
As with many things at that age, the club lasted about three weeks. On the other hand, no super-villains ever attacked our school.
I learned at that point some valuable lessons. One, girls who were not that interested in boys anyway at that age, were even less interested in boys pretending games. Different members need their own motivation for joining and staying in a group. Second, and most important, was that you can have a cool name, interesting mission and, in this case, all the logos you could ever want, but you better have something tangible do at the meetings.
Here we are today with almost the same challenges. We might even argue that super villains really do exist, but that’s for another column.
We meet every two weeks or so with a group of heroes – we call them Vincentians. We don’t have a Legion, but we do have a Society, and it’s even global. The group has a cool name, a very interesting and important mission and, somewhat unfortunately, even multiple logos!
When we invite new heroes to join us and save the world, or at least make our neighborhood better by caring for those within it, what do these recruits see? Do they see bickering current members, more focus on the snacks that day than the mission, or discussions not resulting in action, the main heroic purpose? Do they leave without an assignment, a mentorship, or even a member handbook?
Heroes need purpose, or else they hang up their capes.
How blessed I was to learn this at age nine! Through the years, I had plenty of other formal and informal leadership roles, as have most of us. We lead in our families, jobs, military, clubs, sports teams and even in our group of friends. Leadership decisions might range from formal goal setting to figuring out where to go tonight to have some fun. We set budgets, we organize and motivate the group for some purpose, and we evaluate our work for the next time. We might even do this without thinking about leadership concepts or lessons to carry forward.
It amazes me when someone is elected as a Conference President and act as if they have never led a group! Or worse, they did lead but apparently didn’t learn much from the experience. They act as if leadership is something new at the age of 60, or 70 or older.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has it own rules (and Rule!) for its leaders, tested and confirmed over decades. Every leadership experience has its unique set of rules of the game. If we choose to see it as such, it’s what makes it fun! Every rule set allows for different innovations and approaches, even when the basic leadership skills are more or less the same.
Please consider the various leadership roles you have experienced. You were thrust into some by circumstances, others you were elected into, and some you no doubt took on because no one else was willing to lead. However you got there, remember that God put you there. Just as He does with all aspects of our lives, God gave us these past opportunities to prepare for future opportunities. As we reflect on each of these experiences, let’s ask what we learned, or should have learned, and how that might help us in our Society leadership roles today. Also, how did these experiences help us to be better followers of other Society leaders?
We all know the saying of “live and learn” and appreciate its truth. To “lead and learn” as we approach new Society leadership opportunities allows us some confidence. We have the experience, maybe just not here. God has provided it for us if we just review the life He has blessed us to live. Everything He has given us prepares us for the moment before us!
Yours in Christ,
Dave, After I read a line or two of your column, I often click to continue! Our Conference is blessed with many new members. Your comments about involvement really hit home. It has been difficult the previous two years to make that happen. Now, we are having a chance to regroup and work together to help our neighbors and we are more than ready!