The Power of Presence

Celebrating Arrow Leadership’s 25th year, we’ve asked Arrow leaders – from class 1 to present – to share their insights on being “led more by, leading more like and leading more to Jesus”. Enjoy; please post and share with others!

The Power of Presence

“With.” That is the theme my staff chose for the year. A four-letter preposition. Odd word for a theme. But it fits what God is doing in our work with students… and in my life.

In my 20s and early 30s, I believed that leading like Jesus meant leading with greater passion and purpose, and achieving tangible results. I read leadership books. I strove to be the most effective leader I could be. I learned to get things done. But, as I approach 50, I have an unsettled feeling about my modus operandi the past 30 years. I sense I missed the point.David Leedy - Picture 2

Don’t get me wrong. Zeal, focus and results matter. As a Dean of Students, I have to deliver in key areas. But the older I get, I find it easy to push the auto-pilot button and disengage my heart.

I know how to be professional and play the part. Amid the many demands of daily work, I am tempted to view my staff as machines who are here to accomplish a task. I can cease to see them as humans when I value them foremost for their ability to accomplish goals, solve problems and make our organization better. All good things, but not ultimate ends.

I find myself asking the question, how would Jesus lead in my role? He clearly believed in leadership development (think of his investment in the disciples) and results (he expected his followers to evangelize the world). Yet, as I see how Jesus interacted with people in the Gospels, he never put task before people. Certainly the task was always in view – he knew why he came – but he was immensely present with those around him.

Consider the Apostle John, self-described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” How did John land on this phrase to identify himself? It flowed out of many interactions with Jesus that made him feel deeply valued. Think of John leaning upon Jesus’ breast, where he tasted intimacy, love and presence. It left a mark on him. It’s no wonder he writes so much about love.

Those under my leadership need my presence. They are human beings – with struggles, passions, dreams – not robots. I lead best when I manage by walking around. Several times a day, I walk away from my desk to check in with staff and students. Interactions are typically short, but over time the effect is cumulative. My staff sense I am in tune with their challenges and feel valued. I cannot be present to every one all the time – I don’t have that superpower – but I can be present enough of the time that my people see I am with them and for them.

As Abraham Lincoln put it, “The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships.” The better part of my life and work consists in being present to those around me. That makes me a better leader.

Reflection Questions:

  1. If Jesus were in my leadership role in my organization, what would be different in the way he leads versus the way I lead?
  2. Do I pause long to enough to really see and hear those under my leadership – or do I just want them to get more work done?
  3. How can I practice being more present to my people?

David Leedy - Picture 1


David Leedy (Arrow Class 22) serves as the Dean of Students at The King’s College in New York City. He is a graduate of Indiana University and Trinity International University. David resides in Queens with his wife Kathy and two children, ages 2 and 4.