I certainly don’t claim to know everything about being a woman in leadership (in fact, there are many days when I wonder if I know anything at all). Yet, even on my most frustrated days I know that I was very blessed to learn one leadership lesson very early in my life. Whether I’ve been serving from the platform or behind the scenes, this lesson has always been in the back of my mind reminding me that my character had better match my teaching.
What is the lesson?
Simply this: The maids talk. (And so does everyone else)
Okay, this is going to take a little more explanation.
It was the summer between my Junior and Senior year in Bible College and I was working at a Christian retreat. Like all burgeoning Bible college students, I had big ideas about the dynamic, successful ministry I was destined to begin immediately after graduation. After 3 years of taking classes and studying theories of ministry I thought I knew it all. All the church world needed was for me to hit the scene and show them how things should be done. (Please understand that this paragraph was written with as much sarcasm as possible realizing that my 40 year old self realizes the ridiculousness of my young adult attitude.)
Much to my surprise, neither God nor the directors of the retreat saw my potential as the next great women’s speaker and allowed me to be a speaker. Instead, I was hired as a children’s worker and a housekeeper.
Yep, I cleaned hotel rooms during the week and helped in the children’s department on the weekends. I also filled in from time to time behind the counter at the snack shop. That’s where I learned this very, very important lesson.
You see, as a housekeeper, I got to see all of the speakers that came into the conference from a very unique perspective---a very different perspective than the people sitting in the congregation. From this vantage point, I learned that there were two types of speakers: those who practiced what they preached and those who thought they were above the common rules and courtesies that most of us live by.
There were speakers who were kind to the retreat workers, and there were speakers who treated us like servants.
Some were very grateful for the retreat’s accommodations and all the work that went into making them comfortable and helping them minister most effectively; others absolutely trashed their hotel room and the facilities.
From my inside perspective, I saw minister’s take time out of their busy schedules to listen to a hurting heart or even speak to a child who was wandering into rebellion (BTW, the young man felt so special that the speaker spent the afternoon talking to him that he accepted Jesus as his Savior). Of course, there were other speakers who couldn’t be bothered---they were just too busy doing God’s work to associate with ordinary people.
As a worker, I saw and heard it all—mostly from the perspective of the other workers who’d served many more years than I had. I clearly remember hearing them groan when they heard certain people were on the schedule because they knew that no matter how gifted they were on the platform, behind the scenes they were a nightmare. Everyone just held their breath (and their tongues) until these Hollywood style leaders left the premises and everyone was free to say, “What a jerk!”
No matter what those speakers said from the pulpit during their stay, it couldn’t overcome the statement they’d made with their lives. Unfortunately, it also couldn’t shut the mouths of the maids, the handymen, the sound team, the cafeteria workers, and every other staff member who said during the staff meetings, “Let’s not have them back.”
That’s how I learned the very important lessons that the maids talk.
So does every other person that a leader treats with disrespect.
No matter how much talent, or dare I even say ‘anointing’ that you have as a leader, if you don’t treat people right and behave in a decent respectful manner, any success that you have will be short-lived.
Simply put: People won’t follow a leader who treats them badly.
People won’t follow someone who acts one way in public and another way behind the scenes.
Given a choice, people want to feel like they are part of a team and like they are important. They want to work for someone who treats THEM with respect no matter how menial a job they are doing.
The truth is that being a leader is only 20% what happens on the platform. The other 80% is what happens behind the scenes with the people you serve and the people who are serving alongside of you.
If you want to be a successful, godly leader, the first lessons you need to learn are common courtesy and how to treat people with love and respect.
This is true whether you’re leading a family, in a secular job, at a church, in your community, or as a minister.
What happens behind the scenes matters.
Whether or not you show people appreciation counts.
How you take care of things and whether or not you clean up after yourself leaves a huge impression.
Whether or not you follow the Golden Rule and treat people the way you want to be treated could make or break your efforts as a leader.
I remembered this lesson that I learned early on in life as I was watching the Netflix documentary “Mitt” a few months ago. The documentary followed Mitt Romney and his family through the 2008-2012 Presidential campaign. I found the documentary fascinating.
One thing the things that I picked up on while watching the movie was a habit that this United States Presidential candidate had of cleaning up after himself and his family. There were several scenes where his whole family would be together in a hotel room. The grandkids would be running around, making a mess, forgetting to pick things up. Even though it was obviously not his job, throughout the movie, you could see this great man---running for the highest office in the world---making sure that everything was cleaned up and all the garbage was thrown away before he’d leave the room. When he was asked about it he just nonchalantly said, “We don’t want to leave our mess for someone else to clean up.”
Honestly, I don’t know what my impressions of this man and his family were before I saw the documentary---probably just what I’d heard on the news. However, afterward, I found a new respect, not necessarily for or against his politics, but for his character and the way he treated people. Somewhere along the line, this very successful businessman learned the leadership lesson that what happens behind the scenes matters.
People should be treated with respect.
True leaders don’t demand service, but they seek to serve others.
Somewhere along the line, this leader made the same decision I’d made as a 21-year-old housekeeper that this was the type of leader I wanted to be.
Someone who understands that how you treat people is more important than what you say from the platform, and what you do behind the scenes matters just as much as what you do in front of the camera.
Not just because “the maid’s talk”, but because it’s the right thing to do before God and your fellowman.
That’s the type of leader people want to follow.
It’s the type of leader we all need to strive to be.