Leadership Is No Laughing Matter

Quincy Brown


When I was a child the guys in my family would play "Double-Dog-Dare." Our version of the game had a slight twist, and we called it, “Bet I Can Make You Laugh.” The object of the game was to make a person show his teeth by laughing. If you showed your teeth, you lost the game, and there was usually some “double dog dare” that you had to perform. 
I lost several games, but the one, which I remember the most was the time, my cousin Greg “double dog dared” me to jog to the stop sign at the end of the block in the pouring rain. He added that I had to wear a towel around my neck like a cape and sing the theme song to the 1960’s Batman TV Show. That was the day that I quit playing the game. Sounds silly, doesn't it?  Who would agree to a no-win type of bet?
Recently I learned about another silly no-win bet. A bet between a publisher named Bennett Cerf and his writer friend Theo Geisel. Cerf bets that Geisel couldn’t write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words. This bet sounds like a double dog dare if I ever heard one.
Surprisingly, Geisel took and won the bet; the result was a little book called Green Eggs and Ham. And yes, you guess it; Geisel is better known as Theo Seuss Geisel or only Dr. Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham has sold more than 200 million copies, making it one of the best-selling children’s books in history. 
Friday, March 4 would have been Dr. Seuss’ 114th birthday. Besides having pictures for people like me to follow along with the story, Seuss’ work also provides inspiration, wisdom, and lessons for leadership and community building, even if the names of these communities are places like Whoville, Jungle of Nool, Mulberry Street, and McElligot’s Pool.
Lessons on leadership can come from the most surprising places. According to Nick Saban, the head coach of the University of Alabama Football team, “leadership is doing something to influence someone for their benefit.”  It is about having the courage to help those around us face reality, and then to mobilize others for the change. Leadership is no laughing matter. Instead, it's about leading the conversations about what’s essential to community building.  
As a lifelong UGA fan (GO DAWGS!), it pains me to talk about Saban especially after we lost the big game that shall not be named. Both UGA's coach Kirby Smart and Saban live in a world of Saturday afternoon competition, blue-chip athletes, big boosters, and managing the expectations of 18-20-year-olds and their parents, and not the communities of Seussville.
Another Dr. Seuss’s story, The Zax provides some insights into how to lead others through competing perspectives to resolve a conflict. The Zax is a story about a North-going Zax and a South-going Zax who meet in the Prairie of Prax. Both are determined to do what they have always done and go where they’ve ever gone. With neither Zax willing to change its course, they come to a face-to-face standoff.  And the world continues to go on around them, and a highway overpass is built around them as they continue their standoff.
Do you know any Zaxes? They are not just in children’s books. Perhaps one way to describe the conflicts in our communities is a clash of Zaxes, where there’s a constant battling of wills to a standoff. Unless we can have honest discussions about what's at the heart of the issues we face, such as the fear of the unknown or losing power and control, we will continue to be stuck while the world moves on around us.    
I quit playing Bet I Can Make You Laugh. I had to negotiate with some Zax-like family members who called me a killjoy for wanting to play another game. Chances are there are still a few of us who don't like being laughed at or feeling like our best efforts to create new rules is thwarted by a "heels dug in the ground" battle of wills.  My hunch is that more people want to build communities of supportive collaboration where we direct our energies toward creating highways for the greater good, rather than focusing exclusively on who owns the road.
As a superintendent who's interested in helping churches to reach the next generation through creating safe places for conversations, questioning, and understanding, I would love to hear your thoughts on how the church can assist in community building. Like Dr. Seuss’s character Horton the Elephant, I’ve tried to work hard to be “all ears,” willing to hear the smallest of voices in conversation even during Zax-like confrontations.  “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” and contrary to my family’s game, I promise not to laugh at any idea or dream about community building.  “I mean what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent!"

On the Journey,


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