I think the best way to describe the week that I just spent in Haiti is summed up with the phrase “perspective shift.” It’s nearly impossible to take the sights, sounds, smells, emotions and impressions and put them into words. The level of poverty there is crushing, but the joy of the people surpasses their physical conditions. The needs of the children are overwhelming, but the way their hearts are open to love is astonishing. I spent the week glimpsing the Haitian people’s daily lives, and observing their leaders. And I walked away knowing that I want to lead more like they lead.
The leaders never ask their teams to do something they aren’t either already doing, or aren’t willing to do themselves.
Not once did I see a leader standing above their team, passing down instructions of how to get a job done. Instead, they were right there in the midst of their people, modeling what it looks like to get the job done. If a wall needed painting, the leader picked up the paintbrush first. If chairs needed to be set out, the leader set the example. Don’t mistake my meaning here – the leaders were not micromanagers who couldn’t let their teams do the work without them. They were simply the example – and once their teams were resourced, they let the team do the work.
The leaders weren’t afraid to ask their teams to work hard.
In Haiti, you have to work hard just to survive. Yes, the unemployment level is at 90%, but that doesn’t mean that the people aren’t hard workers. Many of them have to haul water to their homes every day. Most wake up before dawn to get the fire started for cooking that day. We had the privilege of hiking 2 hours into the mountains via a very steep, slippery trail to the village of Duclos. There we went to see where the men are building a small 7 foot tall reservoir to collect the water that comes out of the side of the mountain. In order to make the concrete blocks, they have to smash rocks to make sand, haul 80 pound bags of concrete mix up the trail (daily!), and do all the labor by hand. The leader cast the vision of what could be done to change the trajectory of their village, encouraged them to do the hard work, and is leading them to a better future.
The leaders are servants in the greatest sense.
Time after time I watched leaders give up accolades and even their own resources to make sure their teams were equipped. Pastor Sidor, the leader of the local church we are partnering with, embodies what it means to be a servant like Jesus. He worked tirelessly to prepare for our arrival to his town. He leads a time of praise and worship every morning at 4:30 to give his people the opportunity to focus on Jesus before the day starts. He walks miles daily to deliver small bags of food to people in his church who may not have a meal otherwise. He dreamed about starting a school for kids who may never have had the opportunity to learn, and now has over 200 children in his classrooms. He would literally take the shirt off his own back to clothe one of his people. And because of his constant attitude of serving, he has built many relationships and opened the door to make an eternal difference in the lives of those around him.
The leaders are a beacon of hope to those around them.
It’s actually possible for anyone to lead for a short time. Simply jump to the head of the line and someone will follow behind you. But if you are not providing hope, you will soon look over your shoulder and realize there is no one there any more. Esther leads the school that Pastor Sidor started in the town of Piat. One look at her beaming face and you cannot help but be drawn to her and her passion for leading these children. In a town where many children previously had no hope of learning or even eating regularly, Esther has provided an oasis of hope. Now, every child receives a small breakfast, a day of instruction, and lunch. Those few things will change the course of their very lives. Without hope, we cannot survive.
As I try to process all of the things that I experienced during my few days on Haitian soil, I know that above everything, my perspective has shifted. I no longer want to lead without thinking about the leaders I observed this week, who give everything they have to lead their people. I no longer want to think I have the answers about everything because I live in the United States of America.
Thank you, Haiti, for giving me a new perspective.