I think I was about 11 years old when I told my daddy that I really wanted to have a wendy-house in the back-garden. In usual parent/child fashion we went back and forth for a while with our reasons why it was or wasn’t a good idea. I honed my negotiation skills early on and explained how I’d use it every single day, how it would mean my bedroom would be really tidy because I’d do all of my playing outside and how I could sleep in it when friends stayed over so that we wouldn’t disturb everyone else with our chatting. I was sure I was on to something, but not much budged.
It started as a simple idea: I wanted somewhere new to play, but that idea soon captivated me and I started to dream… I pictured a little green play-house in the middle of the rose bushes, with stable doors and curtains in the window; my very own home to play “being a grown-up” in. I pictured long benches inside with cushions on top and storage underneath and a flip-down table on one side. I drew it all out over and over again (I am, after all, the daughter of an architect). I visualised and refined my dream with coloured crayons. My imagination took over and my simple idea soon became a fully-fledged dream. So what was my daddy to do? …Well, that summer we built a wendy-house together.
For as long as I can remember my parents have been dream enablers. Dad was always building things for us when we were little (truth be told he’s still doing it now), we’d think it up and he’d be out in the garden creating it. He taught us to be daring and think big; just because it doesn’t exist now, doesn’t mean it wont by the end of the day. Mum taught me that I could achieve anything I set my mind to if I worked hard for it. She is the reason I often believe that I can before I fear that I can’t. I have never met someone who works as hard as she does, she’s superwoman; achieving more in a day than most people would in a week. She taught me to give everything I had to whatever I do and never to be half-hearted in life.
Together they taught me one of the most precious things I’ve learnt in life so far: If we can dream it, then we can make it happen.
They gave me the freedom to dream big dreams because time after time they’d be there to help make them a reality. They would never tell me that my ideas were too outrageous or far-fetched, or try to make me think smaller or more realistically. They never told me it couldn’t be done, they just helped me find a way …even if it meant sitting up at 3am the night before a deadline helping me sew the hems of an elaborate ball-gown I’d designed in textiles class, or constructing a 6ft x 6ft board for my latest piece of artwork. I often dreamed – it would appear – above and beyond what I was capable of achieving on my own, but that didn’t seem to matter; they encouraged it. Sometimes I’d hit what I was aiming for, sometimes I wouldn’t, but it was never for lack of trying my hardest or for lack of support. I grew up dreaming without limits, reaching higher and higher every time and believing that pretty much all things were possible…and there are few things in life I’m more thankful for than that.
If I have any bravery in stepping-out, any ability to dream big and naively assume it possible to achieve, it is because of them. Without a doubt, no matter where I go or what I do, I am standing on their shoulders.
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A week or so ago our chief exec was sharing about Tearfund’s leadership manifesto. At the heart of it is a desire to empower our staff, create space and freedom for them and enable them to flourish. It’s a great thing. We spend a lot of time talking about and embracing this culture of freedom and empowerment – its a life giving environment. But then he added something. He said that two things trump empowerment – I wondered for a moment if he’d say financial constraints and risk management….but he didn’t – he said: vision and values. We are not empowered to do anything. We have a vision, a really clear picture of what we are working towards. We aren’t empowered to come up with a great sales strategy for expensive cars because that’s not why we exist – it doesn’t fit with our vision. We also have strong values and these dictate how we work. We can’t step on each other to get what we want because that isn’t servant-hearted. Our vision and values create a framework…and within that framework we get to play.
I love that. I found it so helpful for both life in general and with regards to how I lead my team.
Vision. Values. Empowerment.
It took me back to what my mum and dad have done for me over the years and what I’ve found to be an incredibly helpful picture of how God parents us. They gave me vision and helped me understand my role in a far greater story – I’ve forever known what I’m walking towards and what my life is about. They have modelled and taught me clear values; I’ve grown up watching how hard they work and how much they give of themselves. I have observed how they steward their resources and use what they have to generously bless and serve others. They have given me freedom to be whoever I am. They’ve trusted me to figure out a million different ways to move towards that vision and work and play within those values. I’ve been completely free to discover my unique gifts and contribution to the story.
(Amazingly, I think this really neatly sits with Simon Sinek’s “Why? How? What?” framework that demonstrates how great leaders inspire action in others. My team (and anyone close to me) would tell you that I’ve become slightly obsessed with his TED talk and his poorly written book)
All this is to say that I’m learning the significance of not only being a dreamer, but also being a dream-enabler. I want to be a person that gives others the freedom to dream really big, audacious dreams…and then helps them turn them into reality. I want to be the shoulders other people stand on, someone that helps others to reach beyond their limits and dare more greatly.
As I’ve mulled this all over it has become one of the most helpful pictures of what God is like. Not a God of rules and regulations, telling me what I can and can’t do, but a God who sets out a beautiful vision of a restored kingdom, who demonstrates how we should love and value one another…and then gives me a safe space to be myself in so that when I sit and wonder what I should do next He whispers softly in my ear, “dream bigger little girl”