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Grandma Leadership 2.0-You've Got Ants in Your Pants


Two wonderful grandmothers influenced my life and those of my siblings and couisins. Vera W. Holmes, pictured at right, was my paternal grandmother and Mollie K. Owens, not pictured, my maternal. Vera Holmes, known to us as simply as Mama, lived most of her life around Walhalla, South Carolina. Even though she was basically uneducated, she taught Sunday School for forty years, and with our grandfather Otto Q. Holmes, ran a mom and pop grocery story on North Main Street in Walhalla for as long as I can remember. Five of her sayings are scribbled in the margins of my memory. Reflection on them remind me that she was a savvy, home- spun business woman and entrepreneur. Her sayings are what I call "Grandma Leadership". They are version 2.0 because I'm now reciting them to my own grandchildren and even to the pastors and church leaders I am privileged to consult on occasion. In a few weeks I'll post another series titled "Grandma Wisdom 2.0", a few thoughts based on some of the lessons Mollie K. Owens taught me and the Owens tribe. Yes, they sound like country adages. Yet, underneath are brilliant leadership lessons.

If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times. Mama Holmes would say, "Sit still. You act like you have ants in your pants." Of course, this was long before ADHD was a household word and there were meds prescribed to take the edge off of rambunctious children. Back then we all agreed that God just made some of us more active than others, accepted it, and handled life as best we could. They all say I was one of the active ones, the ring leader of schemes, constanly in motion, what some call Type A. But, there's more in the "ants in your pants" talk than children in motion or an adult version with the fidgets. It was a recognition early in life that there needed to be some discipline applied. Vera W. Holmes reminded me and all the other nervous twitchy people in the room that we needed to learn some calm. You know, chill.

OK, there's motor-sensory activity that triggers our nervous behaviors. Tapping fingers, bouncing feet, clicks, popping knuckles, and many other motions, some voluntary, others not, define the lives of people with focus or interest problems. Even so, as we move up the ladders of leadership, we learn that this kind of hyper-activity rubs off on others, often in a detrimental way. It may impede the mission we're all trying to achieve, or, at the least, make everyone pursuing that mission crazy as a bat. Grandma Leadership lesson one for me, then, and even now, is that this kind of motion, regardless of the cause, makes other people nervous. On top of that, there's a domino effect, the emotional crash that so often follows as, one by one, the important systems of mission are blown over---agitation, loss of confidence, rule of fear, growing impatience, quickened expectations, disappointment, and finally, failure.

Of course, there's an answer. In every walk of life there's the discipline of being still. People who study and develop the human mind provide strategies to help conquer the quirks of nervous or hyper-active people. Regardless of the career path every successful practitioner learns how to second their impulses for the sake of the sale, or the patient, or the deal. Captains of industry must learn how to wait, to exhibit patience, to learn the capacity of endurance, and the power of a quiet spirit. Sure, there's a place in all of those venues for the energizer bunny type to light things up and bring some action to the table. Ants in your pants is a good hustle when you're making the the pitch or developing the plan. But, the guy in the corner office is usually calm and collected, and communicates confident assurance in his motion. He is disciplined. He or she has learned to master emotions and responses to them.

Christ followers have a diffferent angle on this calmness. It's learned in discipline too, the disciplines of Jesus Christ who demonstrated peace and confidence even as he was tried, convicted, and crucified. We call it discipleship because it involves having the disciplines of Christ realized in each of us. What a coincidence, tongue in cheek, that disciple and discipline are such closely associated terms. Nevertheless,, his disciples knew about being still before him, facing the tests and trials of every day with the calm assurance of his presence and provision, of sitting beside the still waters because he guided them there, of resting while the world was in havoc.

He promised and taught them the spiritual discipline of peace. It was a peace only he could offer them, and as a result, was given to them. A gift. The Gospels reflect several instances of the inner peace that he demonstrated and gave them. One is a precious passage that guided Harriet and I through our hardest life ordeal, the tragic death of our son Brian in 2011. Jesus and the disciples were in a boat on the sea of Galilee. Suddenly, a violent storm rose and frightened the twelve. They were agitated and fearful, but Jesus was alseep. After they woke him he scolded them for their lack of faith, then calmed the storm. Jesus the leader brought peace to the situation. I remember reading that episode in Matthew 8: 23-27 the week of Brian's death. It was the text I preached the day after his funeral. As I read those powerful words then, I heard Vera W. Holmes, repeating "Grandma Leadership Lesson #1" to me once again, "Sit still. You act like you've got ants in your pants". What a gift after all those years.

Sixty years ago we'd all be crowded into essentially three small rooms of her house and she'd say, "Sonny, sit still. You act like you've got ants in your pants". It was good instruction for the times because I was making all the other children wacky and the adults nuts too. Doing the retro thing, however, I know it's good counsel today, especially for leaders, because we live in such chaotic times, and the world gets smaller every day. And, if he is real to me, I need to show them his peace, that passes all comprehension.

Solomon wrote, "...for calmness will lay great offenses to rest" (Ecclesiates 10:4).

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