The Gentle Leadership of Stories

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Last year at SXSW Interactive, I was listening to some of my favorite social media gurus share stories of their technical success. The guys from CommonCraft were there, for instance, some of the best educational video creators on the web in my opinion. (Exhibit A: their recent video explaining Social Media and the Workplace in just four minutes.)

After Lee LeFever finished talking, I bravely went to the mic so my online hero would get the chance to hear my voice. “You’ve shared about tons of successes,” I said. “But I’ve always heard that we learn more from mistakes than successes. Can you share a time when you really messed up?”

I don’t remember his answer, so much as the way he and the other presenters laughed and danced around the question. Clearly, they didn’t want to ride the donkey. I can’t blame them. I don’t either.

But Lee LeFever understands gentle leadership because CommonCraft demonstrates it through every product. They tell stories. They tell parables to use language that is a little more charged. What could be more gentle than that?

Everyone loves a good story. We get sucked in by the what-ifs. A man who can’t walk suddenly can walk again—but only in a big blue alien body. Because the story leads us along gently, we all happily sit through James Cameron’s environmental morality tale.

Last week, we challenged people to think about “gentle leadership.” The idea came to me from thinking about what leadership looks like if guided by the fruits of the Spirit. Prautes, gentleness, is a particularly counter-cultural way to think about leadership.

Jesus showed prautes when he rode the donkey into Jerusalem. That’s the kind of leader he was. That’s the kind of leader he calls each of us to be.

Then I challenged readers to write a poem exploring their own struggles, their own edges, their own places where they could stand a bit more gentleness. We had 14 entries, a good number for such a threatening prompt. Who likes to share their weaknesses after all? Many of us modeled vulnerability or shared powerful images of gentleness and fragility.

Midwestern Tea Girl writes, “I hear trains miles away,/ noise now/ later hides, muffled in day.”

Maureen (who has a book coming out!) writes about leadership and horses, "bearing weight, knowing to keep strength within/ bounds, knowing how to stop when hands let up."

Glynn Young writes, “no myelin sheath/ for exposed nerve endings/ any, all stimulation/ is surfeit.”

A Simple Country Girl compares herself to the Proverbs 31 woman and worries that she comes up short:

I hang
on a frozen
and watch

to noonday’s

But Milton won me over. First, I can’t resist a good sonnet. It’s such a hard form, and Milton dances through the requirements of rhyme and meter with so much ease and gentleness that I can’t resist it. And his enjambment between the second and third stanza is beautiful—building meaning upon meaning so that we are surprised when he extends a thought we thought was already complete.

But also, Milton reminded me that stories themselves are a form of gentleness. What does Jesus do when facing an angry crowd judging an act of healing on the Sabbath? He tells a story.

Gentle leaders tell stories. They don’t bark orders. They don’t control by fear. They woo us in with characters and settings and conflicts that we can’t resist, until the story is over and we have experienced the world as they see it.

Enough gab. Read Milton’s poem, then go to his site and tell him how wonderful it is!

Sunday Sonnet #2
By Milton Brasher-Cunningham

The parables of Jesus unfold in word and deed:
it’s the living, breathing stuff of Incarnation;
the healing of a blind man, the sower sowing seed
tell the story of the Spirit’s provocation.

He healed someone on the Sabbath and then told a simple tale
Of a banquet with the seating chart reversed.
In both dialogue and action he was determined to derail
all the roles and rules so carefully rehearsed

and intended to reminds us who is first and who is not,
for grace is not disposed to such an order.
We’re called to heal and feed with everything we’ve got,
No matter who they are, or how they crossed the border.

The Word becoming flesh was an act of insurrection;
open hearts and healing hands, our response to Resurrection.

In other entries this week:

Photograph "Goldfish" by Tim Miller used with permission via Flickr.