Today I’m writing with a steamy cup of this marvelous coffee called San Antonio Blend.  The warmth in my hands and it’s one of a kind aroma take me right back – right back to the place where I experienced community and God in such significant ways.  But also, right back to where I saw great leadership.  What does great leadership have to do with good coffee you might ask?

Truth is I’m a self-confessing leadership geek.   I love observing leaders.  A little while ago I was able to spend the weekend at Laity Lodge on a retreat for the High Calling.  As I watched Steve, the Executive Director and Tim, the Director of Operations, I was struck with their authenticity.  Not only did they make the “guests” feel comfortable, (after all, we are the customers, many organizations are good at focusing on the “customer”) But, as they interacted with their team, it became apparent that this was more than just a “job” for them.

My interest was sparked on the first night when Steve stepped aside and had Tim present to the group.  “Director of Operations means that it is my job to make you feel at home here.”   and he went on to explain why there were no keys, and that we should keep the fire going (yes, as in put logs on it!) and that if we wanted something special for dinner that we should just ask and if he was able he might be able to make it for us.  (Really – he said that!)  I’ve been to LOTS of conferences, and typically you NEVER meet this person.  You know, the one behind the scenes that makes it feel so inviting.

Great leaders give their people a voice.  A sign of good leadership, yes indeed.  Steve could easily have said all those things, but he wasn’t the one who had to deliver.  Instead, we got some face time with Tim, and it made all the difference in the world.  Because Steve had confidence in Tim, you could tell that Tim had confidence in his role.    And the impact they had together on the “feeling” of the valley, well, it was incredible.

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.  1 Peter 5:2-4

Great leaders are examples to the flock.  In this case we were the flock, and Steve and Tim (among others) led us well.  They didn’t just tell us what to do and how to interact, they were present with us.  Really.really.present.  They shed tears and told stories and embraced life with us in the valley.  They led with a tender care that unearthed an authenticity that is often left hidden.

Great leaders have eyes that see.  Truth is, there were many influencers in the room.  People with much bigger blogs and much bigger platforms than little ole me.  It could easily have turned into the standard “country club” feel that you experience at conferences.  You know what I mean – where the crowd that all seems to know each other talks and laughs and interacts, and then the outliers seem to shuffle uncomfortably around the perimeter hoping to bump into someone at their “level.”  But, great leaders,  they stand up front and remind each of us repeatedly to talk to someone and include them.  A subtle reminder, yes, but effective.  And then, they made a point of watching and seeking out those who might not have someone to talk to.  (honestly, this was a group of about 5 individuals, but it was noticeable to the leadership geek in the room!)

OK – so how does great leadership = good coffee?  Fast forward a couple days.  I was standing at the empty coffee pot at the Lodge, when I remembered what Tim had said.  If you need anything at all, just stop in the kitchen and I’d be happy to help.  So, I grabbed the empty container of my new favorite treat (San Antonio blend coffee!) and stepped into the kitchen.  Tim greeted me with a great big Texas smile (and his denim overall apron!)  We stood together and shared life stories together while he brewed me some of my “special” coffee.  And then, he took it one step further… and told me he’d have some beans ready for me on Sunday when I departed.  Yep – he hooked me up with coffee.  Sure enough – Sunday morning he taps me on the shoulder and has a bag of beans all wrapped up and ready for me to take home.  He didn’t sell them to me, just gave handed them over and told me to enjoy them.

I’m pretty sure Tim didn’t have to check with Steve to see if it was ok.  He was secure in his role, and knew where his limits were.  And in being confident in himself, with one small act, he made me an even bigger fan of Laity Lodge.  And because his leader had confidence in him, Tim had confidence in his people, and it showed in how they interacted with us.  (Do you all see the trickle down effect?)

So what’s the lesson?  Good leaders hire good people, and then let them do their jobs.  Good leaders don’t need to take all the credit; instead, they enjoy giving the spotlight to others and let them shine.  Tim was shining, because his leader encouraged him to.  He wasn’t polished and poised, he was real and kind and genuine.  In his own unique way, he made Laity Lodge more than just a retreat; he made it a lesson in leadership.  Good leaders are examples – Tim sat at the fire and told stories and he served meals, and gave hugs.  Good leaders have eyes that see…  and a spunk to be bold enough to call out what they see.

And today, as the sleet pellets my kitchen window, a simple sip of coffee transported me back to that place, and those people.  And I’m reminded that it all began with great leadership.

How about you?  When have you encountered great leadership in unexpected ways? Wu ho are you giving a voice to?  What flock are you being a good example to?