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Leading Transparently

By Laurie Mellinger, Ph. D.
Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation and Christian Theology
Dean of Academic Programs

Have you seen the new Spiderman film yet? In a recent interview, Andrew Garfield-—the actor playing Peter Parker/Spiderman-—described the feeling of putting on that iconic costume. He called it a disguise, and told the interviewer that any disguise gives you anonymity, and therefore freedom to act without considering the consequences. I was struck by the linkages among disguise, anonymity, and what Garfield called "freedom."

As leaders, we are sometimes tempted to follow the cultural mandate to display only what we believe to be perfect, or only things we think will be acceptable to others. We might think that we can't speak the truth if it's difficult, or admit our mistakes in public, or show any kind of emotion in leading. We can spend so much time worrying about the consequences of our actions that we end up restricting our freedom to be who we are-—flawed, fallible human beings-—by trying to disguise what we don't want others to see.

Garfield felt anonymous and free while wearing the Spiderman costume. But as leaders, we don't get to wear disguises or be anonymous. Besides, it's much easier to be authentic than it is to try to craft and then wear the perfect disguise. It takes lots of energy to cover over whatever we're trying to hide-—and then we become trapped in the web of falsehood and lose our freedom. The women and men we work with every day will see right through those disguises, anyway.

Our job instead is to be transparent in healthy ways, but transparent nonetheless. Jesus did not become incarnate to try to disguise his true identity; rather, he became incarnate to reveal who he was, and to reveal his Father's nature and character as well. Our positions of leadership offer us the same opportunity: to reveal the truth of the gospel through our example as leaders.

This means that when we're tired, we can admit it. When we're energized, we can move decisively! When we're confused, we can reach out for wisdom and insight from others. When we're clear on next steps, we can take them boldly. When we're upset, we can express the problem in a healthy way and seek resolution. When things are going smoothly, we can rejoice in the community.

Let's put away the disguises we are tempted to wear, recognizing them as binding rather than freeing. Let's walk in the freedom to be who we are, and offer others the grace they need to do the same.

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