I have taken up a new hobby over the past year. I am on the lookout for shining eyes. Like everyone else, Gary and I wear a mask whenever we are in a public setting. Masks have become a symbol of the seriousness of COVD-19. I enjoy the whimsy of masks and how they can symbolize our creativity, individuality, and perseverance. At the same time, I have moved beyond focusing solely on masks to the search for shining eyes.
Over this past year, I have adjusted to no longer being able to see people’s facial expressions. But I can look into their eyes. Sometimes the eyes are dim, and I sense depression, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. Other times, the eyes are shining with love, joy, peace, possibility, and hope for the future.
Did you see it during the inauguration ceremonies? No, we could not see the faces of members of Congress, dignitaries, and guests who were present. But from President Joe and First Lady Jill Biden, to National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, to singer Garth Brooks, the shining eyes were radiant.
One of my favorite books on leadership is The Art of Possibility; Transforming Professional and Personal Life, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, originally published in 2000. Leadership is an art of possibility, according to the Zanders, who draw on their experience as teachers, communicators, and as the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (Ben) and family therapist and consultant on conflict and transformation (Rosamund).
The Zanders are convinced that the conductor/leader is not a dominator but a conduit of possibility. We lead by making others powerful, by never doubting the capacity of the people we lead to fulfilling the dreams that we encourage and that they claim for themselves. The book is full of brilliant insights about how leaders empower others to become their truest and best selves. The following are some of the leadership lessons that the Zanders believe evoke the art of possibility in all of us.
- Step into a world of possibility. As leaders, we are called to set before people a vision and then become the possibility ourselves. “Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”[i] Great leaders create new pathways.
- Give everyone an “A.” We lead best by reminding those we lead that they are all “A” students. Giving others an “A” from the beginning is a possibility to live into rather than an expectation to live up to.
- We can lead from any chair. We need to communicate that every person has the power to make a difference from whatever chair they occupy in the orchestra/congregation. Every person can lead.
- Downward spiral talk excludes possibility. Negativity speaks of scarcity rather than abundance and creates a false picture of how things are going from bad to worse. We are called to inspire others to stretch beyond their known capacities.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously. When we lighten up our childish demands and entitlements and peel away our pride, we move away from our calculating self to our central self, which is focused on others. The Zanders call this rule #6 – it’s a rule I have to repeat to myself every morning!
- Give way to passion. Performance is not about perfection but passion. It’s about letting everyone’s unique voice sing. Passionate leaders take people beyond where they would normally go.
- Light a spark. When our hearts burn with faith and fervor, we light sparks of possibility in the lives of others.
- Take responsibility for all that happens in our life. Admitting mistakes keeps our spirits whole and frees us to choose again.
- And then there are the shining eyes. Zander asks the question in a brief video, “Have you ever noticed that the conductor of an orchestra never makes a sound?” The conductor depends for his or her power on the ability to make others powerful. How do we know when we, too, have awakened possibility in others, whether it’s our children, our students, or our colleagues in ministry, whether laity or clergy? By looking into their eyes. If their eyes are shining, they have become a vessel of the Holy Spirit.
As we continue to lead and learn during this time of COVID-19, the possibilities for experimenting, adapting, and imagination are endless! All I know is that everywhere I go, I see shining eyes.
- Knowing that the orchestra conductor does not make a sound but depends for power on making others powerful, how do you lead? Do you lead by controlling or by becoming a servant leader and empowering others to lead?
- Do you and the Committee on Lay Leadership in your church encourage people to lead from any chair in the orchestra (congregation)?
- What might happen if you gave everyone in your church an “A” before they “earned” it? Might this be what we call “grace”?
- Do you train and encourage others to be conduits of possibility: to identify gifts and equip others for ministry rather than do all the hands-on ministry yourself?
- Can you quiet the voice in the heart of individuals and congregations that says, “I can’t do this”?
- Do you minister out of an attitude of scarcity or abundance?
A final story. Last May, Benjamin Zander asked Velléda C. Miragias, the Boston Philharmonic’s Assistant principal cellist, if she would be interested in playing her cello in the driveway of the Zanders’ Boston home. Boston’s Symphony Hall had become completely silent since COVID.
Muragias played an hour of J.S. Bach’s solo Suites. Miraculously, people stopped and the outdoor concerts became a weekly event, with over 200 people sometimes and thousands of comments from live Facebook streams all over the world.
“When asked about his role in the concert series, Zander insists that he did very little. He has just gathered an audience of shining eyes, as he puts it. ‘The aim of all of this is to create shining eyes,’ Zander says. ‘My definition of success is not wealth, fame, or power, but how many shining eyes do I have around me?’”
I am convinced that each pastor and layperson in every church around the world gets an “A”. Congratulations! You and your congregation have so much more potential than you may realize. Go for it! Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The whole world is in your hands. Be the possibility and let your eyes shine!
[i] Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility; Transforming Professional and Personal Life, Penguin Books, 2000, p. 14.