“No organization that exists simply for itself is worth leading. Leaders what to lead organizations and movements that make a difference–that fill a need and solve real problems. That story frames the mission and identity of the organization, and explains why you give your life to it.The excellent leader is the steward-in-chief of that story, and the leader’s chief responsibilities flow from this stewardship. Leadership comes down to protecting the story, bringing others into the story, and keeping the organization accountable to the story. The leader tells the story over and over again, refining it, updating it, and driving it home.”Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead, 38
Every year, my alma mater would have a Founders Day chapel. We’d spend the better part of an hour hearing about the founding of the university–why the first leaders thought that it was important to have a new school. We heard about it’s troubled times and miraculous rescues. We were told which buildings were first, and how the campus grew over the decades. Presidential tenures were highlighted until we came up to the present. Then our president would tell us that we were a part of a huge family. That we had held the same commitments to the core values of our founders. Then we’d sing the alma mater song and head off to lunch.
As a freshman I found it all rather boring. Really? A black and white slideshow of dead folks? What’s this old song about our university? What’s the point of rehearsing our past?
Something changed, gradually, over the four years. By the time I was a senior I was looking more closely at the pictures. Faced with leaving the school I loved, I was becoming nostalgic about the alma mater song that I had mocked. I considered that I was about to join the hoards of alumni that far outnumbered the current students, and instead of thinking of them as “has beens,” I wondered where they lived, what their lives were like, and what they thought of the school now.
Now I have children. One of them in particular regularly says, “Tell us a story about your childhood.” (Though I notice that the other three lean in when I begin.)
I suspect that it’s hard for them to believe that I ever was a child. I also suspect that my childhood stories build a bridge of relatability that makes me seem more human. It puts their hopes and dreams, failures and fears onto the larger vista of “their Daddy’s life.” This brings not only giggles, but a deep sense of satisfaction that they belong, and that they are on the right path.
So, tell your stories. Take care not to be a bore. But don’t let your fear of being a bore stop you. The things they laugh at now, they’ll cry with nostalgia about later.
Be sure to include your failures. Your longings. Your disappointments. Throughout, you’ll be weaving in your cherished values–hopefully with the revisions appropriate to a life lived wisely.
And put your story into a bigger narrative than yourself–for our landscapes belong best in the Grand Narrative of God’s Story.