NOT FRANCIS: What I learned about leadership from Monday’s Gospel

I apologize to all three of this blog’s followers for writing a post that, ostensibly, is unrelated to Pope Francis and his apostolic exhortation. But I had more to say than would fit in a Facebook post and needed a place to store it.

Monday’s gospel was Mark 10:17-27, known as the story of the rich young man. Most reflections, including most of my reflections, on this gospel, focus on the guy who goes to Jesus, says he’s doing everything right, and gets told to give up everything he has and follow Jesus. And we reflect on whether we, like the guy, would have walked away from Jesus to stay with our stuff.

But this time, I was struck by another part of the story and whether it teaches us something about what leadership should be like. After the guy comes up to Jesus, asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, and says he has obeyed all the commandments since his youth, you get verse 21: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give it to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”

Stay with Jesus before he starts talking. Hold off on the “How could I possibly part with my Bon Jovi CD collection?” for a minute. Jesus does three things in this verse, and I’m wondering if this is a model for what leaders are called to do.

First, Jesus looks at him. He really looks at him and sees who he really is – his strengths, his weaknesses, his quirks, his joys, his sorrows.

Then, Jesus loves him. (In Greek, this is agape, the spiritual love. I checked.) Jesus doesn’t just take the measure of the man who is talking to him; he embraces the man (if not literally) and makes the conscious choice to love him and want the best for him.

THEN, Jesus challenges him. And while it turns out that the guy isn’t up to the challenge, I have little doubt that it was the right challenge for him to face if he was ever to accomplish his goal (“what must I do to inherit eternal life.”)

I’m thinking that, as a leader, this is what I’m called to do with the people in my charge. Truly see them, good and bad. Truly love them and commit to wanting their best. And truly challenge them to help them become better people.

Me personally? I tend to skip the last one. I try to know the people I work with and I want their best, but I don’t push them into the uncomfortable place of confronting their greatest weakness. I’ve had bosses who don’t truly see me and treat me as a generic employee. (And I’m sure I’ve been that boss.) I’ve had bosses who are quick to point out my weakness, but not with any sense of love. (I’ve been that boss, too, I bet.) But all three? That’s tough stuff.

One response to “NOT FRANCIS: What I learned about leadership from Monday’s Gospel”

  1. beth schwarzmueller Avatar
    beth schwarzmueller

    Excellent reflection. I had too few (maybe one) boss who would challenge me. In hindsight, I thought the others were afraid of upsetting the good work that I did to take the chance of making me better. I never thought about whether that person did it with love, but I believe she did “look at me” and I have always respected her for telling me the truth. Easier said than done, but I was a better boss after that experience … so good luck with this in your leadership adventures.

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