Leadership as Servitude

As I’ve mentioned once before, I help with a Writer’s Workshop for middle school students. It’s rewarding work. And I am blessed to be able to work with these young people so often. This past Friday we were finishing up our acrostic name poems. We work with them in the school’s library. The volunteers are waiting for the students as they come in and so we watch them group off to the several library tables. Most of the time, this is done down strict gender lines. This Friday was no different. The girls giggled into their respective corners. And the guys guffawed into theirs.

I like to change up who I work with so I can start to get a feel for tailoring instruction methods to different groups of students. This week, I targeted the boys’ table full of the class clowns. Two of them weren’t even finished with the rough drafts of their acrostics. The third was rather above and beyond where he needed to be. I sat down and introduced myself and then waited. I knew I wasn’t going to get anything out of these kids if I tried to force feed it. So I sat there and watched how they interacted, trying to catch on to their inside jokes and get a feel for their slang and junior high jargon.

After a couple of minutes, I had a rough sketch of how they interacted as a group, what made them tick as individuals and what was holding them back, and then I started instructing. Boy number one, the most creative of the group, was held back by his need to be the class clown, which he mostly achieved by self-deprecating humor. I know how that is. But when I showed him that his poetry could involve things like noises or slang, he immediately took a new liking to it.

Boy number two was mainly held back by his lack of will. All he needed was a few reminders to keep working, and he was fine. Boy number three needed someone to buffer the disruptions from the other two or else he got distracted.

As I have more interactions with people in which I am in some kind of position of authority, I am becoming more and more convinced that I cannot help them unless I actively work against the formality of that position. Leadership as servitude is a very powerful thing.

I’m interested; do you find that it is easier to lead when you are attempting to serve others?

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