Derek Webb and Robbie Seay were talking about The Man, The Myth, The Legend….Mr. Fred Rogers.
As a big Mr. Rogers fan (I feel obliged to say “when I was a kid” here, but who am I kidding, I’d watch him tomorrow if he was still on), I had to chime in as well.
I was making a sarcastic attempt at humor, but the truth is I really do remember that episode. Mr. Rogers was talking about “work” and the different kinds of jobs people have. He then proceeded to explain that this show was his job, and other people worked there too. I remember watching him walk straight out of his “living room” towards the camera and seeing the big secret revealed – it wasn’t a house at all…it was just a 3 sided wall made to look like a house in the middle of some warehouse type room. There were all the cameras and dudes holding microphones. I’m sure my breath shortened at this point. Then he showed us all how Mr. So-and-so played the piano for all his songs and for the Trolley’s entrance, and sure enough there he was – some guy sitting at a piano playing the Trolley theme song. What’s happening?!? Then he dropped the hammer. He sat down on his usual little bench with the empty trolley track winding behind him. He then casually explains that he controls Trolley via a little light switch looking thing just down by his foot. “See, when I flick the switch up, Trolly comes out like this. When I flick it down, he goes back.” If you listened closely, you could hear the grinding sound as the tectonic plates of my 6-year-old paradigm shifted involuntarily. “So what, Daniel Striped Tiger isn’t really a tiger? Lady Aberlin, if that is your real name, why are you letting this happen?”
Ok, I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Nor did it crush me that badly (though the level of detail with which I recall it might suggest otherwise). The little Twitter exchange I had did make me think a little though. I was trying to be funny, but it’s sort of true isn’t it? The fact that somebody like Mr. Rogers would be honest like that and show his little fans exactly how things worked…the way he was always clear to refer to that weird scene with all the puppets as “Make Believe”…looking back, it makes me think, “No wonder kids trusted the guy!” If he would be so honest as to show us all his secrets on tv, then he’s not going to lie to me about Mr. McFeely or cardigans and canvas sneakers, right? That’s probably why I remember seeing him on a pamphlet about dealing with death at funeral home years ago.
So what’s the point, Jeff…thanks for the walk down memory lane and insight into your childhood psychological wounds, and all, but really…
Ok, ok. Here’s what happened. As I smirked and typed those words about Mr. Rogers honesty making him trustworthy I thought to myself, “But it’s true, right?” I know that honesty is obviously one of the first things on the list when trying to define something like trustworthiness, but even more than that – I mean honesty in the sense of vulnerability…not putting on airs or hiding behind some sort of veneer. Don’t we inherently find ourselves connected to and comfortable with people who are able to be vulnerable with us?
At my men’s group this past week, we were talking about this idea of vulnerability and the male struggle with asking for help. One of the guys talked about an experience most of us have had with someone who refuses to concede that they don’t know how to do something even though everybody else in the room knows he doesn’t. It’s so awkward and polarizing. It’s frustrating to watch and nearly impossible to work alongside. It certainly doesn’t inspire the confidence to follow this guy for any reason, right?
Here’s a question – how vulnerable are you in your leadership? Are you willing to let your team see behind the curtain sometimes? Do you ever admit to them when you don’t know the answer? When you’re anxious, worried, frustrated, mad, or even apathetic? Are you always Mr. Sunshine n’ Skittles with them? If so, they know it. Don’t let yourself be fooled. They know it, and they’re likely cautious with you because of it.
What about your congregation, or whatever group you’re leading? Do they ever see an honest or “real” side of you, either on stage or off? If not, how accessible do you think you are to them? And how likely to feel connected to and compelled to follow you are they? I would conservatively suggest “not as much as they could be”. Besides, if you’re a leader and this is what you model, what can you logically expect to become the culture of your group? Uh huh.
The other problem with the lack of authenticity thing is what it costs you. It’s already a tough position to be in. I’ve blogged about the “higher standard for leaders” thing before, and there are certainly expectations placed on us (normally more by ourselves than others). It can be easy to allow ourselves to become slowly isolated from real and meaningful interaction with others. This will cost you dearly as a leader. My hypothesis based on observance and experience is that it will cost you in 2 main ways:
1. You’ll burn out. If you don’t have a support structure around you that sees what’s really going on and can hold up your arms like Moses in the desert, your arms will get tired and droop. Maybe not tomorrow, or next year, but eventually it will become too much to bear alone.
2. You’ll be snuffed out. If you’re like me, the time I hear the little voice in my head reminding me of all the dumb things I’ve done and all the reasons I shouldn’t be daring to lead people in worship is usually when I’m walking up on stage to do so. The truth of the matter is, if you’re the only person who ever knows about those struggles they have an awful lot of power to cripple you in shame. Sharing our imperfections and struggles sucks the wind out of them faster than a Dyson could ever dream – ball or no ball. Plus it reminds us of our dependence on God. Like my Pastor says, “We’re never any more or any less dependent on the Holy Spirit – just sometimes we’re more aware of it.”
Now I know there’s some discernment and old-fashioned tact required here. This is not about letting every emotion you have be vomited out onto anyone in your path like a flu-ridden 3 year old. Nor is it the impetus to start dropping sin-bombs from the mic every time you screw up or struggle. We’ll each have to use our own tools to navigate this one for ourselves. What I am saying is this: Take a lesson from Mr. Rogers and consider seriously the role of vulnerability and honesty in your leadership. You won’t regret it.
“Correct as usual, King Friday.”
“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5)
*Want to read more? Check out this great piece by Ron Merrell written for Shrink the Church.