Five Lessons I’ve Learned from My Head of Staff

From Seth Godin yesterday: “Every job candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the leaders they’ve worked with previously. Those unwilling or unable to do so are not paying attention.”

I’ll take that challenge. I’m not a job candidate, but I’m about to start a new job, and I want to be both willing and able to outline five lessons I’ve learned from the leaders I’ve worked with in my job of the last eight years.

Today, the Head of Staff.

I’ve been fortunate to serve with the same Head of Staff for my entire time here. We’ve had a great working relationship. These are five lessons I’ve learned from her.

Listen first, speak later.

My colleague is a careful listener. She will offer substantive leadership to the question at hand, although perhaps not right now, in this particular conversation. She will say, “I need some time to think about this.” Then, the next time you talk about it, she will have a carefully refined conviction about it that is infinitely more valuable than if she’d forced some position in the moment, just to have something to say.

Keep it professional.

Two of the most active members of my youth ministry here are my Head of Staff’s kids, but that has never been awkward, because my HOS maintains a very clear distinction between her relationship with me as a staff member and an adult working with her kids. She asserts that distinction with her kids, too.

Let people laugh

I’ve laughed a lot these past eight years. The culture my HOS has cultivated allows for–encourages, even–levity. There are serious challenges involved in this work, but none of us feel overwhelmed by them; the boss smiles a lot and gives space for yahoos like me to crack jokes in staff meetings.

Do what you say you’re going to do

Dependability is priceless. I can’t recall a single instance in which my HOS has failed to follow through on something she committed to. Not one.

Assume the best about peoples’ competence, but yell if you must

I have grown here because my HOS has let me work on the things I think are important and has only very rarely questioned me on that front. And when she has, it has been more with curiosity than with judgment, and never with anxiety.

I’ve heard her yell twice, both times to great effect.

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