7 Leadership Lessons from the Spouse of a Chaplain

This summer has been full of change, new experiences and transitions. Overall it has been full, challenging and rewarding. Over the summer, my wife Allison has been serving as a Chaplain Intern at a local hospital as part of her seminary program to become a pastor. (Technically this chaplain experience is called “CPE”- Clinical Pastoral Education.)

My wife Allison and I taking a moment to breathe amidst the crazy summer that has been.
My wife Allison and I taking a moment to breathe amidst the crazy summer that has been.

For the summer, Allison has been one of a handful of interns from different seminaries serving and learning what it means to be a chaplain providing real-time pastoral care. It has been a wonderful growing experience for her, but it has also taught me some as her spouse, and I believe about being a leader.

Here are seven of the leadership lessons I have learned (or at least been reminded of) from this experience so far:

1) Listen

Good leaders are good listeners. I have seen Allison remember her gift for listening this summer, through her telling me about her experiences of being with people in the joys, challenges and sadness of life that a hospital often serves as the location of. I have also been reminded that listening is not always easy. Sometimes there are distractions and things that need to get done. But a good leader is there with an open set of ears and attention.

2) Ask questions

As part of good and active listening, a good leader asks questions. I have found that as Allison recounts her days and experiences, it is more helpful for both of us if we ask questions about our day to guide our conversation. Otherwise, one or both of us may wander and ramble on. For the sake of time and our relationship, questions have been very helpful in creating fruitful conversation.

3) Make time

It takes time to listen and be present. A good leader makes that time, no matter what else might be on their plate. So, as Allison and I check-in with each other, we are honest in saying if the current moment might not be the best, but that we will make time in _____ minutes. This is a helpful way to be clear, manage expectations and value each other.

4) Be present

Life isn’t always easy or pretty. Sometimes the challenges and experiences of life lead to moments of heart ache and pain. Sometimes there are moments of great joy and excited energy. No matter where someone is on the emotional and energetic spectrum, be present with them. A good leader is someone who comes alongside and is fully there. This is true in any relationship, but especially in leadership.

5) Challenge when necessary

A good leader is not afraid of a little potential conflict. At times, it is important to challenge another person in order for them to think through the implications of their ideas or perspectives. This challenge might be something small, but if effective, it opens their eyes to other possibilities and ways of doing things which they will thank you for in the long run. (But please, unlike some people I know, please do not challenge just for challenge’s sake or to be a “devil’s advocate.”)

6) Be present some more

Even when you think you have been present, make more time to be present with those you work with, are related to, lead, collaborate with, etc. If you want your team to be most effective, you need to be there with them, maybe not actively leading, but there if or when they need your brain, heart, soul and imagination.

7) Encourage and remind

Perhaps the most important thing I have discovered or been reminded about through Allison’s chaplaincy, is the importance of encouragement. It is important for a leader to be able to encourage their team and fellow leaders, as well as to remind them of their gifts and how their work is connected to some larger mission and purpose. This is critical to reinforce and celebrate success, but also in the most challenging of moments, to remind someone that they are more than capable and that they are not alone.

How do you understand these leadership lessons in your own life as a leader in relationship with others? 

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