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Looking for a Few Good Men – And Women

Posted on March 24th, 2004

-By Jim Bishop, from Bishop’s Mantle

There’s some things that I’ve never felt called to do.

That thought hit me again as I’ve worked behind-the-scenes – with many other people – on plans for ceremonies for Dr. Loren E. Swartzendruber who will be formally inaugurated today, Mar. 27, as 8th president of Eastern Mennonite University.

It’ll be a grand and glorious affair. I can say this with surety, as I’ve been involved with coronations for two previous EMU presidents – Joseph L. Lapp in 1987 and the late Richard C. Detweiler in 1981. These events were held outdoors; the weather tried its best, unsuccessfully, to put a damper on both.

The late John R. Mumaw was president during my first two years as an EMU student. His successor, Myron S. Augsburger, was inaugurated in 1965 during my junior year. What hits me now is that Myron was only 35 when he took office and age 50 when he completed his tenure, a lot younger than I am now.

This by way of prelude to my point of order: what prompts a person to aspire to positions of major responsibility, such as chief executive officer of a major corporation, or president of a university – a modest enterprise like EMU or a sprawling, multiple campus like Penn State or even president of the United States, for that matter?

Why subject oneself to an almost impossible role of keeping the ship of state afloat, trying to make many people happy and incurring the wrath of so many others? Surely one must possess a thick skin, a drive and a resiliency to rise above the maddening crowds.

I’ve been told than once that I should have been a minister or a teacher – I suppose because of my writing, radio work and occasional public speaking engagements. But platform appearances or standing in front of a classroom are but one aspect of what either role requires.

Teaching a Sunday school class, perhaps, or speaking in a class about writing – that I believe I can do. But shaping young minds while keeping their wiggly bodies in their seats or counseling parishioners, I don’t feel called to do that and salute those who do, day in, day out. I lack the needed skills and gifts needed to rally the troops.

Which raises the question: What is effective leadership? What attributes are required to step into positions where others look to that person for guidance, advice, direction and a long-range game plan?

Does everyone possess leadership skills innately and just need opportunities to cultivate them, or it this something only a select few have been endowed with?

There are people who are adept at telling others what to do, but they don’t command the respect that should go with it. Others can take charge, delegate responsibility and those being led gladly follow directives.

To me, a first-rate leader is one who respects others while also commanding respect, is a good listener, exudes self-confidence without coming across as arrogant or manipulative, shows compassion and has an amazing ability to affirm and draw forth others’ strengths. One must also believe firmly in the specific cause or mission enterprise.

Donald Trump may be a leader in the corporate world, but on the TV show “The Apprentice” he comes off to me as an abrasive mogul on a power trip who enjoys taking others for a ride, then abruptly announcing, “You’re fired.”

A leader I’ve long admired is Lee F. Snyder, former academic dean at EMU who left to accept the presidency of Bluffton College, a sister school in Bluffton, Ohio. At first blush, “Dr. Lee,” a diminutive, soft-spoken woman, doesn’t come across as a take-charge type, but she has an uncanny ability to remain calm amid the tumult, exudes confidence, is practical-minded and projects authority without running roughshod over others’ feelings.

The truly great leader is one who knows he or she is in a position of power and responsibility but doesn’t hold that over others like a mace. Rather, they artfully help subordinates to maximize their own gifts, to be all they are capable of becoming. In other words, by exercising servant-leadership. Extraordinary, almost ironic, but effective.

Perhaps not everyone should seek major leadership roles, for indeed, to whom much is given, much will be required. To talk the talk, one has to walk the walk, often a narrow path strewn with obstacles and snares on every side.

But for those who are called to lead and maybe bleed, I say go for it, but go ever so gently into that good fray.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishop@emu.edu

Story by Jim Bishop (from Bishop's Mantle)
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