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Leading from Within

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on October 10, 2013
Leading from Within
Kathleen O'Brien

When I was still active as a minister in the Catholic Church, I did not enjoy very much presiding at weddings. I had an inkling of the reason at the time, but now I can admit clearly that I was jealous. I didn’t want to bless someone else’s sacramental union as much as I wanted to be in a sacramental union.

I had another, similar insight while participating in an Emerge workshop last weekend. Emerge is a leadership program created by Kathleen O’Brien. After many years as a writer, teacher, and consultant in the sustainable building field, she and her partners devote their time, energy, and considerable talents helping others in the building field find a new way of leading—a sustainable way of leading—leading from within. Or as Kathleen says, “leading from any chair”. 
 
The insight came during the part of the Emerge workshop where we form teams and work out how to solve a sticky problem. I won’t go into the details. You have to experience it. But I realized something very important about myself.
 
I recently helped my family prepare for the funeral of my father. I talked with the priest/presider for two hours. He knew my Dad pretty well from serving in Dad’s parish for many years. But I wanted to fill in some details, like my Dad’s connection to the Navy, and his use of Navy lingo when talking about family. “Every time one of you went through the front door,” he told me once, “I worried about you. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to you under my watch.” (He felt the same way after my brothers and sisters and I moved out of the house too, like he was always “on watch.”)
 
It was, in my opinion, the best funeral ever. It was a celebration of my father’s life, and the beginning of letting go his physical presence in the life of our family. We were held gently by the ritual that we all know so well, and the music put sound to how we were feeling—a mixture of joy and a deep sense of loss.
 
Did I say I didn’t enjoy weddings? I didn’t enjoy presiding at baptisms and other celebrations with my family either. Not as much as I enjoyed serving my family through my knowledge and skills as a former minister, from within the family, and not from outside of it. When I was the presider I worried about the details of the liturgy. I wanted everyone to feel welcome and included. I was nervous about my homily. And I missed being a part of the congregation outside the sanctuary, outside the formal language and liturgical vestments.
 
Some people love serving their families as a sacramental minister, and they are wonderful at it. I wasn’t one of them. There are lots of ways to lead. I know that my leadership will have more to do with talking with people one on one, or sharing my stories in writing, and in front of a group, than being a leader in a more traditional sense. I doubt I will ever have a “CEO” after my name, but one never knows. 
 
I do want to teach some of you some time how to write poetry! I think it would help you bring life to the imagination of your customers and clients; technology is not enough. We have to offer a vision of a more sustainable life, and more sustainable buildings, before we can ask people to take the risk in letting go of the way they have always done things. But there are many ways to tell our stories, to lead by changing how people view their homes and businesses. Maybe your story is about the first post-retrofit utility bill for your customers; the light bulb going off over the heads of your clients when they finally get the house as a system; or your contribution to a discussion among your peers about the future of home performance. It would be great if you could share some of the ways you “lead from within” in this forum.

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