When reading the poem “The Cross” by 17th century British poet John Donne, I was struck especially by the following lines….
“As perchance, carvers do not faces make,
But that away, which hid them there, do take” (lines 33-34)
As I think about leadership development (and discipleship if you will) this reflects vital truths about the spirituality of leadership and developing other leaders.
As leaders, we can often think ourselves as “carvers” or sculptors. And as such, we can think we are the ones who are shaping “faces.” This is a presumptuous assumption indeed!
Any theology of leadership must include a theology of personhood. Donne highlights the truth that God has made the “face” of each person. We are each “fearfully and wonderfully made” in His image and as a reflection of His creative love. True faces are not created by external artists. They are discovered.
As I think about our true faces though, it’s quite an appropriate metaphor to liken ourselves to blocks of rock from which a masterpiece is uncovered. For though our face is waiting to be discovered, we sure have a lot of stuff in the way from expressing that beauty to the world. Pain, cultural baggage, theological baggage, family baggage and societal issues all start building up pretty dense obstacles to the unveiling of the masterpiece.
As I think of servant leadership and developing leaders, we must start our thinking first and foremost with this conviction that “carvers do not faces make.” Today a more industrial approach to leadership development has been widely adopted – the perspective that you can mass produce leaders to execute your objectives on a larger scale through getting alignment to different programs or philosophies or strategies of leading or task management.
We often “train” with the result being that our trainees take on the face of our organization or our own face (sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not!).
There are always the basic skills or critical capacities people need to steward their responsibilities and place in a community. There are things that need to be learned, skills that need to be added. But in your context, are people’s faces —their true faces emerging and becoming more evident through the built up rock and debris that threaten to shield them off from becoming known?
I think this is an essential part of what it means to be a servant leader in the role of trainer or developer or team leader or culture shaper. We are indeed carvers. We are sculptors with various degrees of skill. But we are not creating or shaping faces. We are exercising our influence, power, and skill in consistently removing those barriers that keep those faces hidden.
While we also seek to pass on skills, if we confuse what is our greatest impact upon those we develop then we will have to live with the sad reality that we are leaving masterpieces embedded in rock…or worse – we are adding to the debris.
A key part of ethical and empowering leadership is taking away “that which hid them there.” To do that, we must be able to have eyes to look beyond just what people can do for us to see the greater story.
The hammer and chisel of a sculptor are akin to the power and influence of a leader. We can allow beauty to emerge or we can do damage to that beauty. And maybe worse, as beauty emerges we can take credit for it. But the carver remembers in his or her humility that while there is a part to play in removing debris, the face they did not make.
How are you working to create the space for true faces to emerge with greater clarity around you?