My theatre had our weekly staff meeting over Zoom the other day, and everyone was grumpy. No one even had to say it - as their windows popped up on the screen, you could see it in their countenances, then you could hear it in their voices. Even before the meeting officially started, the conversation was subdued, reserved - and this is a bunch of theatre people.
Within a couple of minutes of the actual meeting, there was actual confrontation - people accusing others of throwing attitude, questioning and battling things that should have been simple conversations. Maybe it was Zoom fatigue, maybe it was the existential crisis that hangs over the arts nowadays, maybe it was the existential crisis that hangs over our country nowadays.
I was worried, not just because I normally try to set an upbeat and open atmosphere during our meetings, but also because I had to inform the staff of a procedural decision that was made - a decision to ensure we were in compliance with best practices regarding the security and availability of our data, but a decision that would also cause no little consternation, and a perceived increase in difficulty of some day-to-day tasks.
I told them what was going to happen, and I listened to their concerns, and I tried to address them, and I heard more grumbling, and what I said next was something along the lines of “Listen. This is a thing, and you’re going to have to deal with it.” There was silence (again, rare for theatre people), and we ungracefully moved on to the next topic. But I could tell that some people felt unheard, and felt unsupported, and I felt like I had failed in the management of my staff, and of the moment.
When the world seems to bring wave after wave of conflict and disaster and hopelessness, how can we be a messenger of peace and love and hopefulness? When people turn to us for support, how can we support them, even when we don’t always agree? When we’re asked to lead, can we do so with grace and compassion, even when the decisions are hard and unpopular?
David was not a perfect person, but in Psalm 78 it is said “with upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.” As a king, David tried to lead with integrity from a strong spiritual center. This doesn’t mean every decision will be embraced, nor will every action be immediately understood. But it does mean that a leader does their best to lead by example.
Today I will apologize to my staff, and even if the outcome does not change, I will listen with compassion and grace. I wish the same capacity for compassion and grace in all those who are called to lead.
Christ the Good Shepherd
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