Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16, 2009 - Leadership: It's Personal

The recent news about entrepreneur Steve Jobs’ sudden medical leave from Apple Computer brings back memories for me. When you’re in a very public sort of job – like CEO of a company, or pastor of a congregation – there isn’t much of a right to privacy. You’re doing more, professionally, than just filling a box on an organization chart. Personality and profession are all wrapped up together. When you get sick, people feel they need to know.

Steve Jobs has pancreatic cancer. So far, he’s been one of the truly fortunate ones. Not only is he still around, more than 4 years later, but – except for several relatively brief absences – he’s thrived, remaining at the helm of the innovative company he founded. Now, Mr. Jobs has announced he’s taking another, longer leave to see to medical concerns – at least until June.

Apple stock has plummeted. It must be a terribly difficult spot to be in, knowing the stock analysts are watching him like hawks (or vultures?), ready to issue “sell” orders at the least sign of physical weakness. For a man like Steve Jobs, even getting the flu could have a notable effect on his company’s value. The fact that he’s actually stepping down for a time indicates that something is, indeed, seriously amiss.

At least one commentator has issued a call to privacy on his behalf. I agree with that. News reports speculating about the future of the company and the value of its stock are inevitable, I suppose, but it would be nice if the media could find some way to discharge their duty to the public without heating up Mr. Jobs’ life with their spotlights. He needs to find a place of peace and privacy where he can concentrate on healing.

I’m grateful that my congregation gave me such a place, during the acute phase of my illness. I used this blog to let them know how things were going, but that was my choice to do so. This online journal has also been a kind of therapy for me, providing a way to reflect personally and theologically on what’s been happening to me, and what God is doing in my life.

Sometimes I wonder, though, whether certain developments in the life of the church may be attributable to my cancer. As we struggle with issues of membership growth and finances, as nearly all mainline Protestant churches are doing these days, I ask myself whether some of this church’s particular challenges are attributable to my health outlook. Has this become “the church whose pastor has cancer,” in some people’s minds? How does my health situation affect long-range planning? Did the intense focus on my health back when I was receiving chemotherapy – as God’s people ministered to their minister – help or hinder the church’s overall mission in the long run?

These are mostly unanswerable questions. As with families, churches sometimes find they can’t choose or plan for certain eventualities. They have to face whatever comes.

Still, the questions remain in my mind. Leadership is personal – and nowhere is this more true than in ministry.


Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

Dear Pastor,

I, too, dealt with this when I closed my medical practice temporarily the first time I went through chemo. Ten months later, when I was in remission and reopened my practice, some patients left me, not wanting to depend on a doctor with a recent history of cancer. Most stayed.

When the lymphoma came back, I immediately closed my practice, knowing I couldn't give my patients 100%. Which leads me to the only important question, in my mind: "Am I doing my job well?"

From your blog I suspect you have been doing an even better job, thanks to the lessons learned through your illness.

If the answer for anyone is "Yes," then besides being unanswerable, I worry about these musings opening the path to self-blame for something that they didn't want and didn't choose.

As we've said about other aspects of survivorship in both our blogs, "It is what it is." And we always end up at that life-affirming follow-up question: What are we going to do about it?"

The best we can do is try to use our unwanted illness in positive ways and try to deal with the unwanted fallout in positive ways.

With hope, Wendy

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor,

I certainly wish the best for you, your family, and your congregation.

Respectfully, however, I do wish to take take issue with one of your statements...

"When you’re in a very public sort of job – like CEO of a company, or pastor of a congregation – there isn’t much of a right to privacy."

If you had said there isn't much of an "expectation" to privacy, I would agree. However, you are wrong when you state there is no "right" to privacy. I know we live in a life where everyone wants to know everybody else's business, but this doesn't mean we (celebrity or not) give up that right to privacy. The fact that other's pry into someone else's business, and perhaps even gets satisfaction from someone's misfortunes, is both sad and amoral. I think a Supreme court judge once said - one of our greatest rights is the right to be left alone. I can't think of a better example than all this frenzy surrounding Steve Job's (who only this weekend asked a group of reporters "why don't you guys just leave me alone").

John said "this is the condemnation of the world, that the light came into the world, but the people preferred the darkness." Still true 2000 years later.


Karen Ebert said...

Hello again fellow pastor,
I am most struck by your last paragraph or two. I, too, worry that my cancer has warped the ministry of the church I serve, and contributes to the problems we are facing. I think they wore themselves out caring for me, and are now out of patience with it - and to some extent, with me. I do feel that dealing with cancer has made me do my job as pastor less well. The ongoing nature of this illness makes me far too self-centered, and depression seems catchy. I had never thought of myself in Steve Jobs' category, but I see the parallel you are drawing - what happens to the leader impacts the organization.
Thanks for continuing to write - whenever I hit the wall, I come back here to see what you've been up to.
Karen Ebert

Carl said...

Thanks, Wendy. Insightful, as always.


Carl said...

To: tpm

Point well taken. I wasn't speaking technically about legal rights, but I can see how you could read it that way.

Carl said...

Thanks for the good word, Karen.

I've thought about similar things, myself, with respect to my church. Speaking for myself, I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between appropriate self-care and being "self-centered." Many of us in ministry have been so schooled in putting others' needs ahead of our own, that we neglect taking care of ourselves, even in times like a serious illness when that ought to be our first order of business.

The illustration of the airplane safety announcement about parents putting on their own oxygen masks first comes to mind.

I don't know your congregation, but I have a feeling they may be less worn out by having looked after you during your illness than you may think. Churches are pretty resilient when it comes to fulfilling their essential mission.

Blessings to you in your continued journey.