Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lessons In Leadership

What is your relational style?  Are you the active, assertive type who is not afraid to make your thoughts and feelings known and to let people know when lines are not to be crossed?  Are you a people-pleaser who tends to be passive about setting boundaries and tries to avoid the displeasure of others at all costs?  Or perhaps you are somewhere in the middle?
Well, I will admit that I fall strongly on the passive end of the scale.  I can be a pushover at times, because I strongly dislike challenging the status quo or disappointing people.  Having the approval of others has always been too important to me, and God is working plenty on this area.  I'm slowly learning to be more decisive and bold.  Noah is helping me with this.

Noah is our three year old thouroughbred/quarter colt.  He has been started under saddle, but he isn't ready to be ridden by kids.  He has plenty of spirit and a goofball personality.  He is very curious and just likes to play around.  This can be perceived as misbehaving, but he's only being a young horse.  He needs firm, consistent training with people he has learned to respect.  Noah and I have not worked a lot together, and he did not have much respect for me at first.  My personality is gentle and soft-spoken, so even when I think I am correcting a horse, it does not always come across strongly enough to get his attention.  This is the problem I was having with Noah.  I had him in the round pen a few times recently, and boy did we get into it!  He quickly figured out that he could "run over me". When I asked him to move around the pen, he would simply turn in towards me.  All the horses know that when we are driving them around the pen and we allow them to stop, they come into the middle where the trainer is and find rest.  So Noah figures he is going to get out of work by coming in to me right away.  But he didn't just come in and stop.  He was coming at me head on, pushing me around with his body, tossing his head and whacking me with it, getting all worked up.  As this went on and I could not get him under control with the correction I was trying, I became exceedingly frustrated.  It felt like having a wrestling match with a three year old!  Which is basically what it was, only this three year old is a ton bigger and stronger than me, and it was getting to the point where I didn't feel safe in there with him.  He knocked me pretty hard in the head several times, and if he had caught me just right, he could have broken my nose or jaw or knocked me unconscious!  Again, Noah was not trying to be mean or hurt me; he was just playing around with me like he does his buddies, the other horses, in the pasture.  He was seeing me as a friend, an equal, rather than a leader to be respected and obeyed.  He doesn't realize that his playing around could easily injure me.  However, to me in my limited experience and skill, it felt like he was being aggressive and bratty.  I was not willing to quit on Noah and end our session with him getting his way.  But I was getting nowhere.  Thankfully, Shannon was willing to come out and give me some excellent coaching to show Noah that he must respect me.  With help, I began to get bolder in my approach and teach Noah to respect my space.  I let him know that I am in charge and he will not get away with pushing me around.  Soon Noah responded by submitting to my leadership and paying attention to what I was asking him to do.  Before this, we were both wasting a lot of time and energy, and Noah could have finished his work and gone back to his friends and his hay much sooner, if he had been cooperating with me.  When I learned to better communicate my authority to him and he yielded to that authority, we were able to wrap up our session, and our relationship was in a better place than when we started!

This has several different applications to life.  Many of you have experienced relationships where another person tries to dominate and manipulate you.  You end up feeling trapped, used, or angry.  You cannot enjoy that kind of relationship and will most likely try to distance yourself from that person.  Both of you end up losing. 

If you are a parent or have spent time in charge of children, you know how often they will test the boundaries of your authority.  I've done my share of babysitting and have been greatly challenged at times in where to set my limits and how to take charge.  It can be fun to just be buddies with the kids and let them do whatever makes them happy, especially if they are not your children!  But when things get out of hand, and you have not established a clear sense of authority that they can respect, you find yourself fighting for sanity and maybe losing control of your own emotions. 

Or you might be a people-pleaser type like me, who easily allows friends and family to manipulate you, although this is not their intention.  We do it by failing to express our beliefs, opinions, and feelings when we think that they will cause people to get upset or think badly of us.  Though we may not be moved on moral issues that we see as black and white, we are willing to compromise in many other situations, because going along with something you don't fully approve of is easier than challenging your friends on what they accept.  For example, I have struggled to be clear with my personal convictions about a topic of conversation in a group, or the music being played, or a movie choice.  And while we understand that it is not right to indiscriminately unload our emotions on others, it is important to be open and honest about our thoughts and feelings; otherwise, people assume you agree with what they are saying or feeling, what they like, or what they want to do.

God calls children to submit to their parents and to those who are in authority over them.  He also calls everyone in the body of Christ to submit to one another in humility.
"Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."  Ephesians 6:1
"Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.  Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"
1 Peter 5:5
Don't misunderstand, these are not commands to be a doormat so everyone can walk all over you.  Rather, as each of us submit ourselves to God, we have the grace to lay aside our own will, to put others first, and to be considerate in areas where a brother or sister is weak or takes a different stand.
"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time."
1 Peter 5:6
Children especially need a lot of training and correction to go the right way in life, just like Noah.  It is not only our right as parents or guardians, but our God-given responsibility to teach them what is right and to establish strong boundaries in the relationhip.  We can save ourselves and them a lot of useless struggle by doing this.

In adult relationships, whether you are the one who tends to manipulate, or the one who is easily manipulated, you need to remember that God is your ultimate authority.  If He gives you a personal conviction in some area that is different than your friends' convictions, be lovingly honest with them about it.  This may be hard or scary for you, but pray for the courage to stand alone.  Pray that your fear of God will overcome your fear of man.  If you realize that you are unintentionally manipulating others, humble yourself before God and ask for grace to look after the interests of others before your own.

I'm not claiming to be an authority on the subject.  I need this message more than anybody!  Which is why I'm grateful that God allowed me to have these experiences with Noah, even though it's been more of a challenge than I wanted.  He knows just how to pin me down when I'm working with these horses.  I really enjoy sharing these nuggets of truth with you and hope that they speak to your heart as well.  Most of all, I pray that it gives you something to think about and prompts you to seek the Lord and search deeper for yourself.  May you be hungering after Him today!