Leadership Lessons in the Luminous Mysteries – Wedding at Cana

If you missed the introduction and first mystery, you can find that article herehttp://blog.euphemos.com/2016/12/15/leadership-lessons-in-the-luminous-mysteries-baptism-in-the-jordan/

The Wedding at Cana

The story, for those unfamiliar: Jesus, his mother, and his disciples, are all invited to a wedding in a town called Cana. Weddings at the time were multi-day affairs during which wine, representing joy, happiness, and abundance in security, flowed copiously. During this particular celebration, the wine runs out (a major party foul), and they go tell Jesus’s mom, Mary. Mary tells Jesus that they’re out of wine. Jesus asks why that’s his problem, and points out it isn’t the right time to do anything showy. Mary tells the servants to do whatever he tells them. Jesus tells the servants to fill (huge) jugs used for washing with water, then bring the water to the master of ceremonies. They do, and it turns into the best wine, ever. The master of ceremonies complements the bridegroom on his excellent provision, serving the best wine last, rather than good wine until they’re drunk, then bad after. Turning water into wine is Jesus’s first documented miracle.

There are at least as many theological opinions and nuances in this account as there are persons to consider it – I’m not at all attempting to reject those, just presenting a narrow slice as it struck me in the context of leadership.

Stepping up to empower others

Jesus is a guest here. He’s not the host, and has no direct responsibility. There’s some hint that his mother may have some position of responsibility, since the servants come to her with a problem, but that doesn’t automatically make it something Jesus needs to deal with. Nevertheless, Jesus steps up to meet the need.

In many respects, stepping up is the essence of leadership. People who desire leadership position for the perks, or to fill some emptiness within them are typically terrible leaders, at least until they grow out of that particular brokenness. In my experience, the only leaders who inspire others to step up are those who step up themselves.

The question, though, is how do we step up to meet the need? What did Jesus do? (This is almost always a better question than what would Jesus do.)

There’s a temptation, especially when a strong individual contributor is asked to take a leadership role, for the leader to misunderstand servant leadership. It’s servant leadership, not servant doer-ship. Leaders “do”, and Jesus plays his part in the work, but Jesus doesn’t make a big show, or physically do all the heavy lifting himself. Instead, he gives clear, calm instructions, empowering those he leads to achieve what they could never even imagine, much less achieve on their own. Without his leadership, nothing happens. Without his power and influence, their efforts could only result in embarrassing failure (serve wash-water as wine?). Without the trust of those doing the work, Jesus’s leadership is ineffectual.

Do I try to do it all myself? Am I trustworthy? When and how do I step up to meet a need? When and what do I do myself, and when do I empower others? Liturgy and Catholic Social Teaching’s principle of subsidiarity present a suggestion for this – every action should be performed at the lowest level possible by the persons closest to the problem. A priest is also ordained a deacon, but it is the deacon who should read the gospel during the liturgy. National and international governments and large NGOs can care for the poor, but it is I who can best care for my neighbor. Jesus could have miraculously filled the vessels just as he changed the water into wine, but he instead inspired and empowered the servants responsible for the feast.

Leading up, and how to offer and accept advice

In this situation, I see Mary as a line manager, with Jesus in the role of executive. I don’t want to go too far afield with only a brief account of their conversation, but there are certainly some lessons here as Jesus and the Blessed Virgin offer examples of how to ‘lead up’ and to offer and accept advice.

The line manager perceives a need she cannot address, and brings the problem to her executive for consideration. She neither demands nor cajoles, but simply presents the need for his consideration. When the executive is not immediately responsive to her need, she does not plead her case further. She does, however, instruct her team to be prepared to “do whatever he tells you.” She trusts that her executive will do the right thing, and empowers and prepares her team to execute when he arrives at a course of action.

The executive hears the need, and his first response is to question whether this is a problem he needs to solve. He points out that this is not the time for him to display his power (his hour is not yet come), but does not immediately reject or accede to his line manager’s request. He questions her on why she’s bringing this problem to her consideration, then may be reasonably assumed to give the matter some thought, as there’s at least enough time for Mary to go instruct the servants before he gives instructions. Ultimately, he decides to address her need.

As a young man, I was given the opportunity to manage international delivery of our product, including defining the process for deciding which markets justified investment, which we should maintain without additional investment, and which we should divest. The C-level executives bought in to the process we designed, but the first time one of our international managing directors pushed back on a decision guided by this process, the executive team reversed the decision. I was frustrated. Their decision was poorly explained and apparently illogical. It was objectively the wrong decision for the product and for the company, so I pressured them to either reverse their decision or explain their rationale. Ultimately, the right decision is now irrelevant; my point is to give background for what my boss, the CTO, taught me in this situation.

He said

Make your case, but once the decision is made, I need you to let it go and help us execute.

At the time, that sounded like selling out or giving up, but there was wisdom in it. We can’t win every battle, and we begin to lose as soon as it becomes a battle at all. That’s not to say that line managers should never stand upon principle or engage in battle with their executives, because, let’s face it, we’re not all fortunate enough to have Jesus Christ as our managing executive.

As I present challenges to my executive, I want to come like Mary – present the need, but do not demand or cajole. Assuming the executive is trustworthy (if they are not, why I am I here?), trust them to do the right thing. Don’t undermine them with my team, or attempt to establish that my team and I are on one side of an issue, and the executive upon another. Do prepare my team to act. Don’t make it a battle unless it is truly a battle worth fighting, and worth stressing the relationship, but maintain integrity.

As I listen to challenges my leads and managers present, I want to respond more like Jesus – listen to the need, ask clarifying questions, and don’t give an off the cuff answer or jump at the chance to throw my weight around, but respond thoughtfully. I need to be willing to take advice from those who may be in positions of lesser authority, but have wisdom to share.

Sharing joy

Practical lessons aside, Jesus’s actions at the wedding were about sharing joy. He shares the joy of service by empowering the servants at the feast to solve a serious social problem. He shares the joy of acclaim with the master of the feast by allowing him to take the credit for bringing the best wine later in the feast. He undoubtedly brought joy to his mother by heeding her advice and responding to the need she presented. He brought joy to his disciples by giving them evidence to support their growing belief in his identity.

On top of this, Jesus does all of this when he doesn’t have to. He’s not engaged in active ministry here, he’s just a guest at a party, engaging socially. It’s not “his job” to solve this problem, and it isn’t even “work-related.”

Do I care enough about my team to empower them, then let them enjoy the accolades? Does that concern extend beyond the workplace, and into their personal life? How can I bring joy into the hearts and homes of my team without becoming a creepy buttinsky? As an introvert, this extracurricular responsibility is particularly challenging for me. I find that praying for my team individually has helped me to grow in this area. I started by keeping notes, and always having “one thing” where I want to help each of my team grow professionally and personally, and that helped, but there’s something about praying for a person that grows my awareness of their needs, and encourages me to look for creative ways to help meet those needs.

Where can I find joy, and how can I share it?

Leave a Reply