The organization I’m leading, PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI), is going through some exciting, positive changes!
It’s during these times of leadership adjustments that I remember my older brother, Rev. Dr. Luis Pantoja II. He went home with The Creator last September 06, 2010 at around 6:00 o’clock in the evening at a resort in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Luis had a sudden heart attack while walking on a stairway during a spiritual retreat among a group of international Christian leaders. A group of pastors stayed with him until his wife, Mrs. Li Pantoja, and our younger brother, Rev. Noel Pantoja, arrived to claim his remains.
I dedicate this article to my beloved Kuya (Respectable Older Brother).
Paradox. A statement of truth that seems to contradict itself.
In his book, Global Paradox (1994), John Naisbitt defined it as “a statement of formulation that seems contradictory or absurd but is actually valid or true.” He used an illustration from architecture to clarify his point: “Less is more…the less you clutter a building with embellishments, the more elegant it can be, the greater the work of architecture it can be.” Naisbitt believes that we live in a global paradox of the 21st century: “The bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smaller players.”
Servant-leadership is one of those paradoxical concepts in the Bible. Jesus Christ is the ultimate model of a servant-leader (Jn. 13: 1-17). While claiming to be the Supreme Authority in “heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28: 18), He rejects position power as the basis for leadership in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 20: 20-28). Servant-leadership is symbolized by the throne and the towel. He knew his cosmic authority: “that the Father had put all things under His power” (Jn. 13:3). That was the throne-symbol. Because of that ultimate sense of security, He was able to humble Himself to “wrap a towel around His waist” like a lowly servant, “to wash his disciple’s feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him” (Jn. 13: 4-5). That was the towel-symbol.
My journey in paradoxical leadership seems to be a series of contradiction but filled with exciting truths. I’ve been learning at least seven practical insights on servant-leadership. Like hiking the mountains of Mindanao, these lessons are difficult, at times painful, but fun! Here are the paradoxical lessons on servant-leadership that I’m beginning to understand:
1. Leadership Skills & Management Capability. Should I lead or should I manage? God has gifted me with the people-and-vision skills that produce leadership. But more and more, I’m finding that I also need to develop managerial and technical skills that enhance operations. Moses was a leader who also learned to be a manager (Ex. 18). Nehemiah was a manager who learned to be a leader (Neh. 1-13). The Moses-types like me can produce the best strategy in the world, but if it is poorly executed the whole strategy will be futile. On the other hand, Nehemiah-types can have a superb implementation of the wrong strategy; this may lead to an orderly destruction. I need to learn Nehemiah’s capability, or at least, I must surround myself with the best Nehemiahs.
2. Creative Heart & Disciplined Mind. Should I be creative or should I be analytical? My father trained me to be an entrepreneurial leader. I can still hear his words: “Be a free-thinker!” “Fly like an eagle!” He was right. This attitude helped me in my church leadership and development ventures. This is the reason why I am enjoying the waves of postmodernity. My father, wittingly or unwittingly, prepared me for it. But at PeaceBuilders Community, I have to be very creative and at the same time I have to make budget, adhere to government’s non-profit corporation laws and be firm in leading our personnel to adhere to those relevant laws.
3. People-Oriented & Productivity-Driven. Should I be people-relational orproduction-rational? I love people. I love working with people. I love shepherding them. I love to encourage them. I enjoy contributing to their growth and development as human beings. I get energized when I’m surrounded by people. But I also need to lead the people working with me to contribute 110%-productivity in the accomplishment of the task mandated to us by those who have entrusted their God-given resources to advocate for peace and reconciliation.
4. Earning Trust & Implementing Change. Should I spend time earning trust or save time implementing change? Earning trust means understanding the value of people—their memories, their contribution to the movement, their view of what is important, their perspective of significance and meaning. This takes intensive, disciplined listening. Successful change-agents usually find a “springboard for change” in people’s memories and value-systems.
In early 2006, I invited a 63-year old pastor in Mindanao to participate in an inter-faith dialogue with Muslim religious leaders. The pastor told me that it would be a waste of his time. He had too many painful memories of sufferings caused by land-based armed-conflict between the Migrants (mostly Christians) and the Bangsamoros (mostly Muslims). One day, he visited my home without prior notice. It so happened that I had a couple of Muslim leaders staying in my home. After a few minutes of awkward introductions, we had coffee together. After an hour, I noticed that the senior pastor is able to exchange stories, laugh, and compare experiential notes with my Muslim guests.
Two weeks later, he sent me a text message: “Pastor Dann, I’m inviting you to an Inter-Faith Dialogue that I’m co-facilitating with Ustadz…”
5. VisionStability & ChangeFlexibility. Should I set my eyes on the vision or focus my sight on the immediate task? An organization without a vision is like a ship that is well-kept, well-maintained, well-managed, and well-financed but without a clear destination or direction. However, I am learning that this vision of initiating a nation-wide peace and reconciliation ministry will only be effective when the yearly, monthly, and weekly goals are efficiently-managed, implemented and evaluated on a moment-by-moment basis. Yes, moment-by-moment evaluation. Day-to-day is not good enough. Weekly evaluation is too slow. Monthly evaluation is suicidal. Quarterly evaluation is dead. Effective leaders look at the horizon with bifocal lenses – VisionStability and ChangeFlexibility.
6. The Initiator & The Team Player. Should I initiate or should I wait for my team? I will never forget a fellow leader’s reminder using a battle-picture of a military leader: “Dann, be careful not to go too far ahead of the people who follow you. They might mistakenly shoot you as the enemy.” I must initiate in doing the right things. At the same time, I must wait for my team in doing things right. I must search for excellence in my personal accomplishments but always with respect to the team’s objective, and with an attitude of interdependence on my team-mates’ gifts and skills.
7. Ministry Expansion & Cost Containment. Should the ministry output be determined by the proposed budget, or should the budget be determined by the proposed ministry output? A story was told about an accountant who saw a man carrying a coffee mug on which was printed “Budgets Are For Wimps.”
“Where’d you get that?” the accountant asked, hoping the man would tell him a nearby shop had them.
But no. The man answered: “My boss had them made for us.”
“He a marketing guy?” the accountant asked.
The man said: “How did you know that?”
Visionary leaders are similar to marketing directors. We have the tendency to expand our ministries—the ‘production’ and ‘distribution’ of our services.
The immediate focus of PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. is to prepare, equip, empower, and coach leaders to organize Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Communities, both within and beyond the organizational boundaries of PBCI. The mid-term plan of PBCI is to establish one PAR Community in each of the 81 provinces in the Philippines by the end of 2015. The long-term vision of PBCI is to contribute to the attainment of peace and reconciliation in our land where worldviews and value systems are mutually respected and freely expressed in the context of a multicultural society.
The paradox of postmodern leadership is not an “either/or thinking.” It is “both/and thinking.” This paradox is the reason why servant-leadership, despite the pain and hardships inherent in it, is a journey that is full of joy and gladness. The paradox of servant-leadership is relevant and needed in a conflicted realities of the 21st Century.
In the end, the ultimate picture of paradoxical servant-leadership is Christ’s suffering and death at the cross, and the glory and majesty of His resurrection.
Rev. L. Daniel Alba Pantoja, M.A., Th.M.
President & CEO
PeaceBuilders Community, Inc.