Submission in Leadership
Posted on May 28, 2013
“Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”
Brene Brown shared this definition in her now famous TED talk on The Power Of Vulnerability . When I first listened to her share this a few years ago, it captured my attention and drew me in to wanting to see how this applied to my ministry within the Latino community.
But thinking about vulnerability in leadership is still a fairly new idea to me. As a woman and an ethnic minority that’s served in ministry for the last decade in a majority culture context, what I’ve noticed most is that ethnic minorities usually feel the need to prove themselves in leadership roles that are typically filled by majority culture people. Rather than lead out of vulnerability, there is a need to make sure others know they deserve to be in the positions their in and to make sure to not show any of their weaknesses to others.
Mark Charles, an influential Navajo writer and speaker, once shared that he often sees ethnic minorities fighting for “a piece of the pie of power” that majority culture are willing to give them. I would agree. And this kind of thinking doesn’t necessarily breed a vulnerability. I’ve mostly only seen it breed competitiveness.
As I’ve seen this dynamic among my ethnic minority community, I’ve grown convinced that this quality is important to leadership. And being a woman whose about raising up the next generation of Latino leaders, I’ve become aware that cultivating communities of vulnerability are significant to this goal.
But what exactly does vulnerability really require from us as leaders?
“To be vulnerable means to come under another’s influence.”
I read this quote recently in a book called The Ascent of a Leader. The whole of the book talks about leaders needing to focus not only on abilities and competencies but character in their ascent to leadership. One trait the authors focus on is vulnerability to grow that character. The authors address how vulnerability is more than just sharing your true self with others (your weaknesses, emotions, or overall inner world), but allowing those same people to influence you, giving them authority to step into your life and impact you at your core. That’s a way broader picture of vulnerability than I had before.
The authors also talk about vulnerability being closely tied to submission: “In part, this true vulnerability is what the Bible means when it speaks of submission. Submission is a love word, not a control word. Submission means letting someone love you, teach you, or influence you. ”
I’ve known vulnerability was important in the life of a leader, but I really had only thought of it in the context of being transparent with our struggles and faults. I do think that’s significant, but I had not taken it this step further to think of vulnerability as encompassing a level of submitting to others under your care by allowing them to change you. This marks something much more potent and transformational to me. It’s also harder than just letting people you lead see that you aren’t perfect.
Submission only seems to flow upward in leadership paradigms rather than downward. But isn’t the Kingdom different?
When I overlay this picture with power, I’m struck by how seldom people in positions of power seek to be influenced by anyone other than those in higher positions of authority than themselves. Submission only seems to flow upward in leadership paradigms rather than downward. But isn’t the Kingdom different? Aren’t we all called to be filled with the Spirit, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”? Could we as leaders need to practice vulnerability like this with those we serve too? Wouldn’t that encourage trust and greater influence? When I have felt truly listened to by my leadership, when they have spoken worth to me by giving weight to my perspectives and insights, submission to their leadership has been a joy even if they didn’t agree with me.
So, as leaders, are we allowing ourselves to be changed by those we lead? Or are we keeping our distance, staying on top of our leadership pedestals by not opening ourselves up to being influenced by people with less power than ourselves?
Whether we are majority culture or ethnic minority leaders, my hope is that we all would be leaders who practice vulnerability, allowing submission to flow down too. I think that’s how we can experience more of the Kingdom in our lives and in the world we so desperately want to impact for good.
photo courtesy: Gillie