By Sharon Gartland

The Perfect Boss

One of the phrases my children love to fling at each other when one tries to tell the other what to do is, “You aren’t the boss of me!” They will grudgingly admit that I am the boss of them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they willingly submit to me either. While I’d like to write the behavior off as young and immature, I have to admit they come by their suspicion of and reluctance to obey authority honestly. Their mother (that would be me) has had a lifetime of struggle submitting to people in authority, and particularly those whose authority is in question. Sure, I play nice at work and in church, but my inner child wants to shout, “You don’t deserve to be the boss of me!” or “Why should I do what you tell me?” This attitude does not grow the fruits of the spirit in my soul.

Once a leader has earned my respect and trust, I become a loyal follower. The problem is that my standards are pretty high (unreasonably so, some might say) and my judgmental attitude doesn’t shut down easily. I convince myself that I have a right to expect good leadership, and a right to withhold my trust and respect (if not my outward obedience) until the leader proves worthy. Wow, I’m glad I don’t work for myself! The rare times a boss or pastor or committee chair has passed muster in my mind, it isn’t long before they fall off that tiny, teetery pedestal I have put them on. Inevitably, I feel crushed and betrayed and the cycle continues. Oh, where are all the gifted leaders?

Could this be my problem? I am in the process of adjusting to an interim boss while waiting anxiously to see who will get the permanent position. I see in this situation an opportunity for God to continue his work in me of clearing out my unrealistic expectations for other humans, my rebellious spirit, and my judgmental attitudes towards leaders. Critiquing leadership is not hard. Following a flawed but sincere human leader in a way that gives honor to God and furthers his purposes is not so easy.

The first step in correcting my problem is the realization that I too am one of those flawed but sincere human leaders. God offers abundant grace to me in working through me despite my imperfections. Even more humbling is the grace shown me by my co-workers and staff. My leadership performance is variable at best, and I am grateful for those who forgive my flaws and fill in my gaps. I pray that the abundant grace offered to me can flow upwards to the leaders I work with.

The crux of the matter seems to be a deep longing in me to follow a worthy leader. I sometimes listen to those great megachurch preachers and fantasize what it would be like to be under their leadership in a church. Or I hear about another department’s director and twinge with a jealous desire to experience the visionary, collaborative, encouraging, organized, but not too micro-managing leadership described. And then I meet someone who works for them, or goes to that church, and my bubble bursts.

What Jesus is beginning to get through to me is his words to the disciples: “Follow me!” When I think of the way Jesus led his followers with love, wisdom, and challenge, letting them make mistakes and then processing it with them, all with a vision for the greater purpose at stake, I want to shout “Eureka!” That’s the kind of leader I’m looking for. That’s the kind of leader I want to be.

Pinning my high leadership hopes and expectations on Jesus is my only chance to not be disappointed in leadership. He is the only one who is supposed to be on my pedestal. When I said yes to Jesus, it was so much more than a guarantee of eternal life. It was a yes to a lifetime of following his leadership, and allowing him to form me into his likeness as both a follower and a leader. Jesus is the “boss of me,” and my learning to submit to that truth is what will enable me to accept and submit to the leadership of those God places over me. May it be so.

About the Author

Sharon Gartland, OTD, OTR, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at UW-Madison where her specialty is in developmental disabilities.  She enjoys the combination of teaching, administrative and clinical responsibilities that makes up her job. She is the former national director of Women in the Academy & Professions and continues to participate in the ministry as a volunteer and frequent contributor. She is married to Craig Gartland, a local church pastor and former long-term InterVarsity staff and leader. Together they have four children who are gradually getting launched into the world as functional adults but continue to store a lot of their stuff in the basement. She believes strong prayer practices and a supportive faith community are key to flourishing in career and family life. 

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