I was a huge fan of The Muppet Show as a kid. And two of the most memorable character are Statler and Waldorf, the two guys who sit in the balcony and rip on everything the show does. Nothing is ever good enough. The jokes aren't ever funny enough. And for some reason these guys keep showing up to every episode.
They were about as much fun as having wet socks. Think about the last time you got caught in a downpour and ended up with soggy feet. It's not much fun. Wet socks ruin your day. They make your shoes stink, they make every step squish, and they truly become a downer.
One of the hard struggles for ministry leaders is to avoid the trapping of becoming like Statler & Waldorf and becoming a wet sock. Leaders who are wet socks aren't any fun to be around, they stifle the joy of others around them, and in many cases they're blissfully unaware that they're even acting like a wet sock. Wet sock leaders miss their important role of being the chief storyteller because instead of framing and leading a narrative of joy, freedom and excitement, they frame a narrative of cynicism and one where no one is ever able to meet the standard.
Avoid Being a Wet Sock in Relationships - In 3 seconds you can see the impact a leader has on the others around them. Watch what happens when the leader walks in the room. If everyone gets quiet and looks sheepish, they'd rather have dental work. But if there's genuine delight in seeing a leader, you can see the beginning steps of true team chemistry. Leaders who are wet socks are leaders no one wants to be around unless they have to. Wet sock leaders suck the air out of the room. But healthy leaders are naturally contagious to be around.
Avoid Being a Wet Sock Through Encouragement - Wet sock leaders have a hard time building up others around them. Others' accomplishments aren't something easily celebrated or acknowledged. Wet sock leaders struggle with encouragement because of their own need for affirmation, and become like a vacuum for encouragement on a team. Healthy leaders are able to recognize others' accomplishments and enjoy them, and are able to be cheerleaders for others. Too many times leaders who are wet socks find themselves craving encouragement and are unable to give it to others. But a healthy leader is, as Ken Gosnell describes himself, Chief Encouragement Officer.
Avoid Being a Wet Sock by Patience - Unfortunately, wet sock leaders aren't willing to be patient with others around them. Just as Statler & Waldorf couldn't wait for the joke to develop or for Kermit to get the show started, wet sock leaders don't have the ability to, as the Bible describes, long suffer with others. They want immediate results. They get frustrated when people aren't as spiritual as they are or aren't as far along their discipleship journey. On the other hand, a healthy leader will be patient with people who ask if they've read the most recent book by <insert whackadoo author> about <insert whackadoo theory about the end times> which details <insert how somehow America is in the Bible>. Those things can be maddening. But a healthy leader recognizes that none of us are where we should be. And rather than beat people up or make them feel bad, they gently and patiently walk them through how their faith informs their thinking. Fruit of leadership happens over years, if not decades.
What else can a leader do to avoid being a wet sock?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.