April 26, 2016

There's No "i" in Team

There’s no "i" in team.

But I sort of expected there was one in leader. As I have risen in my career and in leadership positions at my church, I confess that there has been a lot of “i” in my expression as leader. All of those personality inventories (even the fake Facebook ones) reveal that I value praise and reward for a job well done. That I’m motivated, in part, by the possibility of atta girls. And to be honest, I didn’t really need a personality inventory to know that. I’m an oldest child who spent years as an earnest people pleaser, and though I have mellowed, some of those traits are deeply (genetically?) engrained.

But wisdom (coupled with hard-learned lessons and frankly, age) is helping me to re-evaluate the characteristics of a true leader. For me, perhaps the biggest shift is truly embracing the value of the team. In my work with Forward Movement and in my participation at my church, I increasingly experience the strength and promise of teamwork. Our congregation hosts an annual fundraiser, and I volunteered again to head up the raffle component. But a big part of the work fell when I was traveling, so I had to count on the team. And they were amazing! I needn’t have worried, and although I felt badly for not being able to participate while I was away, the team did a yeoman’s job of preparing the raffle items. They were a model of the promise and possibility of teamwork.

The shift from I to we has been subtle but some signs are more obvious than others. This spring, I prepared the editorial report for the board, and instead of signing my name as I had in past years, I put the entire team. It just felt like the right thing to do. The work we complete together is a true composite of the gifts from each team member.

Last week the president of Episcopal Communicators bestowed a new award honoring excellence in the ministry of communication. While I was stunned (and proud) to be one of the recipients, the thing that gave me the most joy was that it listed the staff (the team) of Forward Movement. I’m not sure I could have said that a few years ago, but today, honestly, I’m so honored to be recognized as part of a team, all working for common cause to inspire disciples and empower evangelists.

The concept of servant leadership has ancient roots, and Jesus is the perfect model of this. But the challenges of being a servant leader – and of finding joy in the team rather than seeking individual glory – are also deeply rooted in me and perhaps in others as well.

In a church system built on hierarchy but aching desperately for team, how can we move toward a richer, more robust model of full inclusion – noting that this word has both i and us. 

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