I’m 55 and a voice in me groaned quietly to hear it again. I’ve been going to church more or less religiously (forgive the pun) on Sundays for those 5+ decades. And when I heard “A man had two sons,” I knew the story nearly by heart. Add in an older priest as reader and homilist, and my arrogant irreverent self wondered: “What on earth can he possibly say that I haven’t already heard?”
Fortunately, a curious humbler self tuned in to Fr. Daniel Danielson* reading the narrative I’d heard 100 times before.
The story in brief: A son asks for his half of the inheritance, and his dad gives it to him. The son leaves with it and squanders it all. In a far-away famine-plagued country, he covets the scraps the pigs are fed. He decides to return home penitently. His father receives him back, forgives him and throws a lavish feast of celebration. When the older son comes in from his hard work in the fields, he’s furious to find his father has slaughtered the fatted calf to fete his irresponsible brother. The father explains to the elder that he has always loved him, but that the young son was “dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.” (For those unfamiliar, or otherwise curious, I have printed the full version of the passage below.)
This scriptural parable is naturally at its core religious: Jesus offers the father in the story as representative of God’s love for the return of a sinner.
I write here, though, of all-things-leaderly, and Fr. Danielson said one thing that especially caught me. He said, “the father went out to greet the older son, just as he had gone out to greet the younger.” I grabbed my bible and re-read, doubter that I can be. Of course he was right. And that’s my simple lesson today for me and you as everyday leaders:
Go first (Literally: “take the lead!”)
- Get out of your office. Go to theirs.
- Go to your kids’ room…or meet them coming in the door…or meet them at the bus stop!
- Go to the cafeteria. Go to the locker room. Hang out in front of the building at the end of the day.
- Anticipate the one who’s made a mistake and wants to get back in the fold. Seek them out.
- Find the one in the office who is sulking because they feel unappreciated.
- Reach out to the colleague who seems upset with you at an unpopular decision you’ve made.
The list is endless. Opportunities abound to generate, to initiate.
Oh, the risk is there, too. Some would argue the father in the story was as foolish or imprudent as the son. Indeed, the father was himself “prodigal” (definition: “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant”) with the young man who perhaps deserved a kick in the arse, rather than a new robe, sandals and a plate of veal marsala.
For my part, I think the father in the story acts like a leadership god. What do you think? Have I gotten old and soft, or is this perhaps a model way to
Lead with your best self?
* I can’t help but share a virtual smile at the priest’s tautological name — Daniel Danielson — and to wonder whether he was an elder or younger brother himself!
Scripture: Luke 15:11-32
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable…
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ 31 And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”