Leadership: Explained to a Child
by Pablo A. Jiménez
In 1999, when my daughter Paola was 2 years old, I accepted an appointment to be the new National Pastor for Hispanic Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. For six years I served in a position that required me to travel for over 100 days a year and to be “on call” everyday.
My daughter, Paola, interrogated me after every trip. At the beginning, her typical questions were: “Where have you been?,” “What was the name of the hotel where you stayed?” & her favorite, “What was the color of your rental car?” However, soon her questions became tougher: “Why is our house always full of people I have never seen before?,” “Why do you have to travel so much?” and “Why are you always talking to large crowds?”
Given that Paola could not understand my title, I used common words to answer her tough questions. I told her: “I am a leader”. Taking this idea as a point of the departure, I explained to her that other pastors had asked me to be their leader, that I traveled to visit those pastors and that they asked me to speak to large crowds because they valued my leadership.
Of course, my answers only triggered more questions, such as: “Do people always do what you tell them to do?” My response was swift: “No, because leaders live to serve, not to boss people around.” My words shocked her. In her mind, leaders were like fairy tales’ kings and princesses who had to be obeyed at all costs. The idea that service is the purpose of leadership was totally new for her.
I explained to her that Jesus Christ, who lived to served others, is my model of leadership. I further explained her that leadership does not necessarily bring fame and fortune. And I taught her that leadership is not hereditary: “I am the leader now, but someday another person will take my place. Maybe one day you will become a leader, but you will have to earn it through hard word, commitment and dedication.”
Paola also learned that leadership can bring much pain. She often saw me sad, concerned and even angry. She soon understood that all my promises were conditioned to events out of our control, given that emergencies constantly forced me to travel on short notice.
It was precisely soon after failing to attend one of her school events that I decided to step down, seeking a new ministry that allowed me to spend more time at home. “I will no longer be the leader, Paola, it is someone else’s turn,” I told her. Surprisingly, her response was very mature. “Ok, I understand.” Our many conversations about leadership had bore fruit. She had learned that true leaders do not hold on to leadership.
Finally, she asked me about my core values: “What is your main goal in life, Dad?” I looked at her with much pride and responded: “My personal mission is to bless as many people as I can reach during my ministry”. My by then nine-year-old girl smiled and said: “That is a good philosophy for living”.
The process of explaining the meaning of leadership to my daughter helped me to clarify my own vision of Christian leadership. Through our dialogues, I became her student and she became my teacher. The process gave me much hope: If a child can learn the meaning of leadership, maybe church leaders, both lay and ordained, can learn it too.