Have you ever been hurried or bullied into making a decision? Had your hand forced by someone who called your ability or authority into question in front of others? Made a snap judgement under pressure that you later regretted? Unfortunately, this is not uncommon among leaders. We often find ourselves in situations where everyone is looking to us (and at us) for an answer and watching to see what we will do.
This very thing happened to Jesus once. He was teaching a large crowd of people in the temple one day when some local leaders burst into the place and put a very difficult situation on the table. They brought a woman with them who had been caught in adultery, which was, at that time, a crime punishable by being stoned to death. They pushed her into the middle of the room and demanded that Jesus tell them what he would do with her.
This is where the story gets interesting. Jesus didn’t answer. He did the equivalent of doodling on a notepad by stooping down and drawing in the dirt with his finger. We don’t know what he was drawing, but the men who were questioning him got more insistent and continued to press him for an answer. Eventually, he stood up and looked at them. When he spoke, he didn’t answer the question at all; rather, he put the problem back on them. He said, “Let the one of you who has no sin throw the first stone.”
What happened next is amazing. One by one, the accusers slipped away until there was no one left to condemn the woman or question Jesus.
There are many great points we can take away from this story, but I want to focus on that wonderful pause Jesus takes between the demand for an answer and his response. It is in that moment that Jesus establishes his leadership. Choosing when and how to react or respond communicates a calm strength.
Lyman Abbott said, “Patience is passion tamed.” What keeps us from being patient? What forces us as leaders to hurry ourselves or let others push us into hasty responses and quick answers? We have passion for what we do and for the people we serve, but what causes us to misuse that passion?
“Our insecurities drive us. Our fears control us. We try to hide the first and deny the second and it is exhausting us.”David Amerland
The answer is we are afraid. We are afraid that people will think we are unfit to lead if we are not quick and ready to respond. We are afraid that if someone challenges us and we don’t react quickly, people will see us as weak. We are afraid that if we don’t solve the problem fast and first that someone else will, and this will lessen our leadership. We are not patient; in part, because we are afraid.
Several things happened in the period of non-response we see in the story above that I can benefit from if I’m willing to be patient.
Slowing things down gives me time to consider what is actually going on. Often the presenting problem is a symptom, not the disease. We might treat the symptom and make things look good for a time, but if we don’t deal with the underlying cause, we are not really making a difference. I need to take time to discern what else is happening.
People tend to work themselves up to a point where they are willing to make a claim or demand a response. This state is hard to maintain, and putting a little distance between the presentation and the response lets the emotional energy dissipate. Pausing also gives me time to measure my response and make sure I’m not acting in emotion.
Practicing a measured and timed response helps those around me learn to be patient when asking for answers, not just from me but from everyone else. Slowing things down lowers the stress levels of everyone on the team and leads to making fewer mistakes. Additionally, if my response is often to ask for their ideas, it helps people learn to bring solutions along with the problem.
Leadership that is controlled by fear and anxiety is not healthy. The ability to tame the impulse to answer quickly or defend myself when I’m attacked by a problem gives me the time I need to provide the right response. As a leader, I should model the behavior I want to see in my team. Having measured and reasoned responses to one another leads to a healthy community, and it is The Kimray Way.