There he was, a twenty-three year old young man at a very important, four day gathering. The elder of the gathering, a ninety-one year old man called the young man over and let him know that he was going to be placed in a leadership position for the four day gathering. The young man insisted that this not happen because he knew he wasn’t experienced enough, and that there were many, many people at the gathering who were twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years older than he, some of whom were combat veterans, and all with impressive backgrounds in various types of leadership. But the elder refused to change his mind and the twenty-three year old young man conceded to the elder’s wishes out of his deep respect for the elder.
The day before the gathering began, the elder made the announcement to the group that the twenty-three year old young man will be in a leadership role for the next four days. The young man glance over the crowd and could see the expressions on the faces of the many highly experienced people. It was obvious that many of the people were not happy with the elder’s decision, but didn’t protest the decision while they were in the presence of the elder, yet the group had much to say about the decision among themselves when they were not in the elder’s presence.
The twenty-three year old young man knew many of the people at the gathering. The previous year at the gathering he was embraced by all with love and compassion, but as soon as the elder announced his decision to make the young man a leader, he found himself the target of hurtful comments and backhanded criticisms that were never said directly to him, but near him, which made him feel isolated, hurt, and confused. Although the young man felt extremely uncomfortable, he asked God for help and guidance so that the four days be a beautiful blessing to all the people, and that everyone receive the miracles they need.
Over the next four days the young man found himself being supported by four older men, men who didn’t mock him for the things he didn’t know or understand, they corrected him, encouraged him, and guided him. With the support of the four older men, the young man began to ignore the negativity and completely focused on the Creator – on love. With the loving guidance and support from the four older men, the young man prayed and supported all those who were trying to hurt and discourage him, because he learned that they must be suffering more than the others. The four older men’s loving and supportive guidance helped the young man to understand that when we are in positions in life that seem unfair, difficult, and even painful, we must focus on the Creator of our understanding, pray through it, stay in love, keep calm, trust the process, focus on meeting the needs of others, rid ourselves of ego and foolish pride, stay teachable, stay humble, complete the task entrusted to us to the best of our ability, never quit, and keep making better and better mistakes with perfection never being the goal, but connection being the constant – our connection to God, our own hearts, and each other.
At the conclusion of the four day gathering, the elder stood in front of all the people and had the young man stand alongside of him. The elder looked at the young man, and in front of everyone, the elder shared, “There is a reason that most leaders have gray hair. Experience matters and it’s something you can share, but you can’t teach it. It has to be lived. It has to be experienced. You’re not ready for this type of leadership position yet, but with much more experience, someday you will be.”
When the elder said those words the young man shuttered inside himself, feeling he had failed God, the people, the elder who trusted him, his family, and himself. He looked upon the people and saw that some in the crowd took great pleasure in the words the elder had spoken, and perhaps even more pleasure in the obvious pain of perceived failure that the young man was feeling. But the elder continued speaking as he looked upon the people and divulged, “I didn’t place this young man in a leadership position to see if he’s ready, I placed him in a leadership position to see who among you are ready. It’s true that most of you have many more years of experience than this young man, both in life and in leadership, but what good is the amount of years you’ve lived or the number of experiences you’ve had if all your years and experiences haven’t developed a profound depth of humility, compassion, and service?”
The elder called upon the four men who supported and guided the young man for the four days to the front, and had them stand with him and the young man. The elder motioned to the four men and said to the group, “These four men are leaders. They’re leaders because they understand how to serve – to be servants to others. They didn’t just comfort, encourage, guide and support this young man, they taught him to comfort, encourage, support, and pray for each of you, no matter how you treated him, and he did. And when we all do what these four men did for this young man, for each other and everyone we meet, the only necessary leader will be the vision of healing given by the Creator God as we support and encourage everyone to contribute their beautiful and necessary piece to achieve it.”
This happened a little over twenty-three years ago. I was that young twenty-three year old man. As uncomfortable as that experience was, to this day that experience remains as the most significant lesson about leadership I have ever experienced.