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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.'”
The interesting thing about scripture is that there are many leadership lessons to be learned. The reading and rereading of this passage. It will take a lifetime to learn them all
Dan, Thanks so much for this article today. I, too, was listening to yesterday’s reading with the same “I can recite this by heart” attitude and didn’t tune in with my “curious, humbler self.” In addition to the nuggets you shared, you reminded me of the importance of being curious, humble, and willing to learn even when I’ve heard it 100 times before. Remembering this will certainly help me lead with my best self.
Nice job on this article Dan! Hope you and the little lady are well!
There is no better teacher than God’s Word and we need to think deeper, dig in farther to glean new truths, Dan, good thinking and a lesson I too had missed
The father was wrong, here’s why I say it. When I was around 12 years old I had a tall ceramic collie piggie bank, my sister, B asked me if she could put her money in it too, I already knew how she was and so I told her “okay, but you’re not breaking it as soon as you want your money back”. Oh no, she said, she wants to save her money too, so I let her. In a matter of days I walked in to see my collie busted on the floor, she said that she decided to take her money back. (Which I’m sure was mine because she don’t save). Well nothing changed over the decades. B kept trying to get my mom/dad to turn over one of their houses to her but they wouldn’t. (She won’t pay taxes, she don’t pay anything). In 2003 my dad was hit by a car, as he laid in the hospital dying, B asked my mom if he made a will. She asked everyday including asking me on the way to the cemetary, I reminded her he was married. In 2005, my mom died, B gets (not hire-she don’t pay nothing), she gets a lawyer to sue for 3 houses, plus a house that was mine, in my name. She went around telling anybody/everybody she should have it all since she’s oldest. (She wasn’t even blood related to the man who bought the houses, my dad). Her/her lawyer found out since I am alive she can’t sue for my house. B who wasn’t in the will (with good reason) didn’t have to know there was a will and that she was left out. She would have the house she wanted, the one I let her move into while my mom was in the hospital, (I was POA), and her oldest son have a house, and I a third house. She took it to court to have everything so I showed the will. Oakland County felt it was more important to sell the houses to pay for B’s attorney fees for her civil suit and criminal charge on truency, instead of paying my mom’s bills, or funeral. I had to pay my own attorney fees with my house, though I was in the will, I also paid for the headstone. A day before Christmas I and my 3 year old was told to get out. I bought a house in Manistee Forest away from FAMILY. Oh, I can’t forget, I and my nephew (who was also in the will) got $4,000 each in which case he gave his mom $1,000. B then went around complaining she only got $1,000 out of 3 houses. Also, I wish I thought to tell the hospitals to watch my mom knowing how greedy B and her boyfriend were. Sorry, but that is why I say the father is wrong for helping the one son too much.
Dan: I applaud the father’s insight. Most people miss two important points at the end of the story. First, the prodigal son is penitent when he comes home and asks to be treated as a hired servant — he has changed, and though the lesson was costly, it made him a better son. Second, the father explains to his other son: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” His loyal son inherits everything they have worked for, and still cannot see that his own brother’s return alive is a reason to celebrate. It is a lesson in forgiveness and joy in life. How much better would things be at work, if we could get past petty jealousy and thoughts of revenge. Good lesson. Good article.