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Leaders don’t tell people what to do; they ask them what they need

Leaders don’t tell people what to do; they ask them what they need
Leaders don’t tell people what to do; they ask them what they need
Indiana's First Lady Judy O'Bannon speaks last week at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where she was the first female student. (Photo by Randy West)

Indiana First Lady Judy O’Bannon was the first woman to study at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, back in 1957, not long after she had married a young lawyer named Frank L. O’Bannon of Corydon. She had just earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at Indiana University.
Since that time, Judy O’Bannon has continued to do a fair amount of groundbreaking by encouraging Hoosier communities to work together and take pride in their past accomplishments. She’s been involved in historic preservation, Main Street rejuvenation, literacy projects, child development, and low-cost housing. Having survived several statewide political campaigns, she’s learned a lot about leadership skills along the way, sometimes in the most surprising places.
O’Bannon was the guest speaker last week when LPTS started its spring semester and celebrated its first 150 years of existence in a worship service at beautiful Caldwell Chapel. O’Bannon’s topic was: “Tending the Flock in a High-Tech World.” Just as she started to speak, someone’s cell phone jangled the mood in the high-ceilinged chapel. “My heart was strangely warmed just then,” O’Bannon said. Everyone laughed.
Her subject was more serious: Where do sane people turn in an ugly world when people use high-tech weapons to terrorize and destroy your life? Before 9/11, you could surf the ‘Net and be anywhere in the world, but you could also turn it off and be back in your own little safe haven. But, now, things are different. You can run and hide from evil, but if we have values and beliefs, you have to stand up for what you believe. Sometimes it really does require a leap of faith, faith in a loving, redeeming God.
“We must be reconcilers and go into the world when troubles abound,” she said. You can start in your own neighborhood.
O’Bannon told a story about a garden that she started in the back yard when she and her husband – then newly-elected lieutenant governor of Indiana – moved into an old mansion next to an interstate in a run-down section on the near north side of Indianapolis. The blighted neighborhood was full of vacant lots and boarded-up buildings – not the kind of place you’d expect the lieutenant governor to live in, but the kind of place Judy O’Bannon likes because it allows her to make contacts with other people – they turned out to be “wonderful people” – on the most basic level.
She started a vegetable garden and invited her neighbors to come dig in. Almost no adults showed up, but lots of kids did. O’Bannon also got the idea that she’d like to raise roses, so, without reading up on roses or talking with anyone who knew about that fine art, she bought a plant or two that had been reduced for quick sale, put them in the ground, and loaded them with vast amounts of fertilizer. The rose bush grew prodigiously but produced no flowers. O’Bannon was disappointed. One day she mentioned her problem to an expert. It turned out that roses did not grow the way Judy O’Bannon wanted them to. Sometimes she does that with people, too, she said.
“Until we do something for someone or find out about them, we’ll never know them or understand their problems,” she said. “Everybody needs the support of a community that understands and loves them.”
Judy learned another lesson in another unusual place: South Africa. There, in a settlement shantytown of 300 to 400 desperately poor families, she met “the most amazing woman,” Marita Koopman, a woman in her 50s who was clearly the most powerful person in her community. The ghetto had no running water, no electricity, no waste disposal.
Marita was a woman, but in her town she was “the man.” The inside of her dark house was filled with tables of clothes and other necessities. (I thought of Harrison County Community Services.)
O’Bannon asked Marita how she acquired such power in the community. “I don’t tell people anything,” she said. “I always ask them what they need.” She said God planted her there and she intended to stay until everyone in the community had what they needed.
“We all have gifts, and we all have needs,” O’Bannon said. The hardest thing is accepting gifts from someone else because it’s an humbling experience, and we aren’t in control.
She mentioned the first time a child is able to give a parent a real gift of love. It changes the dynamics of the relationship but, it’s rewarding, empowering and healing. When we learn to accept gifts, and recognize each other’s needs and “feed each other,” everybody is empowered.
“That’s what God has in mind for us. He allows us to go into the world to do His work.”