I sat down with a friend after a Bible study the other day. Although we hadn’t planned on a conversation, this friend is one who I am always willing to engage because of the wisdom and insight that I get from him every single time that we talk. My constant prayer is that I can live my life similar to his in the ability to never leave any person the same as when I met them. I know that the work that is done is the work of the Holy Spirit, but to be used and available and willing is a huge part of that.
As we sat and talked about some of the things that we are experiencing in our lives, I had an epiphany. We were talking about people development and watching people flourish and grow or remain stagnant and plateau. God has grown me an awful lot over the years in that my automatic response when I would see someone who would remain stagnant and plateau was to blame them for their laziness or lack of initiative. I’ve come to realize that there’s another side to the story.
While there is a responsibility on all of us as individuals, leadership plays a key and important role in helping others develop into who they were created to be. Sometimes, people find themselves in environments where they are not able to develop for one reason or another. It could be that those who are supervising them are lacking in self-confidence and keep things close to their chest, not freely doling out responsibilities for fear of losing their own self-worth and identity.
As I thought about it more, what stood out to me was that there are times when there are people that we lead who need to have their boundaries and limits expanded far beyond what they would normally expand them to themselves, if we don’t recognize the need to expand these boundaries and limits, we may be stifling growth.
It’s easy to see this from the perspective of parenting, at least to me it is. As children grow older, responsibilities need to increase and as those responsibilities increase, the amount of freedom that is given to them should increase as they show their ability to fulfill those responsibilities. If there is an imbalance at all, there are a variety of scenarios that can play out.
1) Increased freedom with no increased responsibility
I feel like I see this all the time. Parents will constantly give out freedom to their children without requiring more responsibility for that freedom. When this happens, we perpetuate the entitlement that has become endemic to our culture. If we don’t increase responsibility when we increase freedom, then we will end up with lots of children (and people) walking around who expect things coming their way without them giving anything in return.
2) No increased freedom with increased responsibility
Here is the recipe for stunted growth. When children (or people) are asked to do more and increase their responsibility while not being given increased freedom, they will become frustrated and will most likely stagnate. Everyone is knit together differently, so there’s no magic formula to see at what point someone stagnates, but it will happen eventually. I would hazard a guess that there might be a very small segment of the population that might still flourish despite the lack of freedom that they are given, but the overwhelming majority would end up becoming complacent and remaining the same.
3) Increased freedom with increased responsibility
This is the “Win” of all the scenarios. As responsibility is doled out and given, so is freedom. As someone proves themselves capable, so they are given an increased amount of freedom. That increased amount of freedom will (hopefully) spur them on to better things and to become better themselves. Growth should take place, in theory, as they begin to see the progression and the relationship between responsibility and freedom.
This realization is a huge thing for me. As I raise my own children and as I lead people whom I lead, it is essential for me to realize this relationship between responsibility and freedom. Having three children of my own, I have already seen the vast difference in their personalities, so it’s also essential that I not embrace a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy towards them. They are different, the process may need to be changed and tweaked accordingly. It takes energy, it takes investment, it takes time. I am not a patient man.
I’m curious as to whether this theory resonates with others. Like I said, my own experience with children is only nine and a half short years in the making. My experience in leadership is longer, but it’s only been the last few years that I have looked more intently at it. So, what do you think? Do you see the connection and relationship between responsibility and freedom? Are you tracking with this? Does it make sense?