There is a high profile, private faith-based high school in our area; they will soon be celebrating their hundred year anniversary. Their fall semester began about three weeks ago and within these few weeks two students have committed suicide. A parent of another student was interviewed for the news and she said two things that Greenleaf offered us as deep currents. She said: ‘I have to take a look at my relationship with my daughter and I have to listen more to her; I talk and direct too much I think.’
Greenleaf invites us – challenges us – to ‘begin in here’ and to ‘listen-first.’ These two invitations – challenges – are, to say the least, daunting. How often do we – you and I gentle reader – begin ‘out there’? It is him, her, or them that we focus on; we say, ‘If it weren’t for. . . then. . .’ ‘If only he, she, or them would change or do it differently, then. . .’ If I believe in relationship then it makes sense to begin with a question: ‘How am I contributing to the relationship?’ If there is a conflict then, ‘How am I contributing to the conflict?’ becomes the ‘in here’ question (of course, I have to believe that I am in some way contributing to the conflict).
It is crucial, I think, for leaders (especially ‘role-defined’ leaders) to follow Greenleaf’s advice and ‘begin in here’ and not ‘out there.’ This is, I have experienced for many years, one of the most difficult things for leaders to do. An irony, as you might have noticed, is that leaders expect others to ‘begin in here.’ It is akin to the saying, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ statement that parents have spoken for generations (I have certainly thought and uttered these words to my children when they were young).
The corollary statement, ‘listen-first,’ also presents us with a daunting challenge. As Greenleaf noted, we listen-first in order to understand. Too often folks equate ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement.’ I can deeply understand you AND I can disagree with you. I am remembering the times when as an adolescent I said to one of my parents ‘You don’t understand me!’ – meaning, ‘If you really understood you would agree with me!’ I understood this ruse more fully when my adolescent children used it on me. It is crucial for us to listen-first during times of conflict or crisis (I am recalling James Burke taking many hours to listen to others before deciding what to do in response – not reaction – to the Tylenol poisonings in Chicago).
Choosing to ‘begin in here’ and to ‘listen-first’ requires discipline, commitment and time. These were challenging during Greenleaf’s life time and given our addiction to speed today they are even more of a challenge.