By Jack Conrad
“Feed my lambs. … Tend my sheep. … Feed my sheep.” That’s the total leadership guidance that Jesus gave to Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
I have been a director of spiritual care for 10 years, and prior to that a manager and executive leader in business for over 35 years. I have studied theories of leadership and management in MBA classes. I have read books and experienced many different styles of leaders over the years. After all that, I think maybe Jesus had it right as a leader. Feed and tend. Be a good shepherd. If you lead chaplains or volunteers, then think on this:
The 23rd Psalm says the shepherd leads the flock to verdant pastures. The flock must be fed:
- Fed monetarily. Assure all are compensated fairly. Make sure your chaplains earn a living salary commensurate with others in the company.
- Fed spiritually as part of a community, where the team has time for reflection, discussion, and prayer.
- Fed intellectually through continuing education and the ability to experience new ministry possibilities. Allow your people to stretch and grow.
- Fed respect. Let them know that chaplaincy is a respected gift to your organization and that they are valued.
Notice that Jesus first said, “Feed my lambs.” Look after the newest and most vulnerable of your people first.
If you ever watch shepherds, they are not out in front pointing the direction. Rather, tending means guiding the sheep in the right direction, usually from the side. This may seem like a subtle point, but it is very important — nudging them and protecting them:
- Be strategic. You have to know where you are taking people. A shepherd leads his flock to “verdant pastures.” So a purpose and direction is the responsibility of a leader. Be strategic and know where your group is headed.
- Represent the gift of chaplaincy to your organization. When I took over as director at my hospital, the first thing I wanted to establish was the priorities that we would live by for emergencies, visitations, staff support, etc. But my goal was to have spiritual care recognized as a critical support function within the hospital. That could only occur by making sure we were present to the all the needs of patients and staff that arose. Diligent and dedicated compassion and service speak to your organization.
- Pay attention. At my hospital, the weekend schedule required staff to overextend themselves and be worn out by extensive on-call coverage. That had to be modified to assure that the staff was being fed with rest and time off.
- Lead from alongside. Be ever cautious of your own ego-driven programs that exult your superior leadership. Allow your people to try things and grow beside them, but keep them out of the reach of trouble if at all possible. If you can, take your turns at on-call or coverage. Let them view you as not one above but alongside. It is important that you as a leader know what confronts them.
- Make yourself available. Communicate, communicate, communicate. The ability to talk, stop by, call, text is critical. Communicate purposefully person to person and in staff meetings. Listen.
- Know and care for each person. Jesus makes the wonderful statement that a shepherd knows his flock each by name. Make sure you know your people and what is going on in their lives.
- Represent them. Their ideas and needs come through you, and the hospital’s or institution’s thoughts and directions come through you. Be a conduit and at times a worthy filter. When you walk through tough times (budget cuts, reorganizations, disasters), let them know you are at their side. As part of this representation, make sure that your department is administered effectively. If the upper management sees your area as a “problem” area with mistakes, missed deadlines, or non-participation, your department will suffer with the broad brush of your leadership.
One of the key concepts at our hospital is the “shadow of the leader.” That means you cast a shadow with what you do and who you are as a person. People will watch what you do and emulate those actions. Make sure you are taking tough calls, responding to crisis, willing to stand up for beliefs. You cannot lead from your desk.
All of this applies to the hospital or institution that you serve as well as to those who work in your department. Anyone who comes into this hospital is coming into our parish, our community. All who work here, all who are patients here, all family, and all suppliers are part of the community — and all have spiritual needs.
To everyone from the janitor to the CEO, you represent something important. During a crisis, they will turn to you for spiritual leadership. As a pastor of your hospital or institution, you have a role to play.
I remember one day, after a very hard death in the emergency department, I was a bit down and quiet. As I walked past, an administrative assistant asked if I was OK. I told her I had just been in a tough case. She said, “You can’t be down. We need your upbeat spirit.” That is a large expectation, but as a leader, you represent the Lord and all his goodness. Happy shepherding!
Jack Conrad, BCC, is director of spiritual care at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN.