One of the responsibilities of a leader is to make space for all the wisdom in the room.
Leadership is about more than the capacity to motivate and direct groups of people; it’s also about creating environments where everyone feels valued and encouraged to contribute. In corporations, nonprofit organizations and churches, there are many benefits of leadership styles that acknowledge and uplift the insights and experiences of all people.
There were nine of us in the room on a recent Tuesday evening at the Assisi Heights Spirituality Center in Rochester. The chairs were placed in a circle with a projector and screen at the front of the space. My role was to present a workshop on the theme of “Spiritual Practices for Daily Life.” I’d practiced and prepared the content assuming that what most people wanted was a typical presentation-style format with me doing the majority of the talking.
As we got started, I looked around the room and had an overwhelming sense that there was wisdom among the participants that needed to be voiced. I suddenly understood that my role was less to present rote information and more to facilitate a time of collective learning. As a plan-oriented person, impromptu agenda shifts run counter to my natural inclination. Yet nearly every time I’m willing to consciously soften my expectations, I’m amazed by the possibilities created through a greater openness to the Spirit’s unexpected movements.
The time we shared that evening at Assisi was holy. The contributions of every person in the circle created a space of gratitude and contemplation. I drove home reflecting on what feels like a divine, collective assignment: create opportunities and environments where people experience a deep sense of their inherent, eternal worth. If we can all respond to this assignment, perhaps love, acceptance and inclusion will grow. Everyone can contribute to the healing of our planet and its inhabitants.
Religious leaders, I have some additional thoughts to share with you on this theme of creating space for the wisdom of others. Much of our religious and theological formation has led us to assume we have a lot of special knowledge. We spend our days talking about God. We stand at the center of sanctuaries proclaiming what we believe to be God’s will and God’s word. This all leads to the reality that many of us have a complicated relationship with our own power, voice and influence. We don’t always know when and how to widen the table so more people have a seat.
It’s critical to remember as religious leaders that it’s not our job to be perfect or to perform or to prove our specialized knowledge. Instead, we get the role of creating space for holy wisdom to enter in through all those in our midst.
A note for anyone with leadership responsibilities: share the microphone. Make more spots on the stage. Empower the people you serve to trust that they, too, have so much to share. Remind them that their experiences matter and they’ve got insights worth expressing. Keep creating space for the wisdom of the people around you (those within your organization and those beyond it, too). Be willing to be transformed.
We all get to learn from one another. This is a tremendously confounding, glorious gift, so create opportunities to receive it.