The Accidental Leader

Originally posted on The Presbyterian Leader on May 3, 2012

I call myself an accidental leader, not because I don’t feel that I possess the necessary skills, temperament, and experience, but because I came about being a leader quite on accident and not by choice. I think many of us have had that experience sitting in a meeting and it’s time to find a new chairperson. Everyone begins to chant the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” litany: this person is too new; this person is too old; this person is too busy; this person isn’t reliable . . . and then they look at you and say, “This person is just right.” The problem is it’s a slippery slope once you say “yes” to being chair. Before you know it, you are moderator of the presbytery.

Growing up in a Korean immigrant family, having a CHOICE to be a leader wasn’t really an option:

By Confuscian law, as a woman, I am to defer to the man; as a wife, I am to defer to my husband; as a daughter, I am to defer to my dad; as a young (ish) person, I am defer to anyone older than me. The line of people I am to defer to is so long that clearly a leader like me can only happen by accident.

Christian tradition is no better. As a woman, I am to defer to the man; as a wife, I am to defer to my husband; as a daughter, I am to defer to my parents.

Once I became Presbyterian, I at least found out that my status as a young person ends at the age of 40. So in a year or so, I can at least cross that off my list and venture into the land of older folk.

I get why laws and traditions like these are set. Without having to dive into issues of sexism, ageism, and all the other -isms, at some level, these structures puts in place order and puts boundaries on chaos. But for me, being a leader isn’t about the experience, age, gender, and ability to tame chaos and evoke order. It’s about knowing when to listen and when to talk; having the courage to make a decision even if it’s unpopular; being an agent of change; exposing people to a different way to do something; saying sorry when you’re wrong and extending grace when you are right; taking risks for the possibilities of what could be; and keeping a pulse on the movement of the spirit and the people you lead.

So maybe it’s okay that we may accidentally fall into places of leadership or that leaders are found by the one who is most willing. Some great leaders have been found that way. I, myself, am grateful for the mentors, teachers, pastors, friends, and acquaintances who saw something in me that hadn’t quite blossomed yet and gave me an image and an example to shape my leadership style around.

How did you become a leader? By accident? By acknowledgment?

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