Kermit the Frog once said so eloquently, “It’s not that easy being green.” Sometimes you’d like to be something nicer, like red, or yellow or gold or something much more colorful like that.” Sometimes you’d like to stand out, says Kermit, “like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky.”
Of course Kermit was singing to the kid with the curly, red hair, the one who would like to have hair like everyone else; or to the girl who thought she was too tall, or the boy too short. With his plaintive, touchingly gentle voice, I’m sure he was also trying to affirm our ethnic and racial differences. He was saying, it’s not that easy being who we are, in a world that wants us to be something else — but in the end, says Kermit, “It’s beautiful” being green, “and I think it’s what I want to be.”
I’d like to think Kermit might also be talking about being a leader: “It’s not that easy” always being out on the point; not that easy being misunderstood, misjudged about motives, being characterized too often as foolish or misguided or uninformed. It’s not that easy when everyone knows your job better than you do. This is our climate of leadership.
I worry that young people watching all of this might choose to “blend in with so many other ordinary things,” as Kermit says, rather than stretching themselves to lead out on things that matter.
We’ve been talking on our campus about Abraham Lincoln as a leader. Talk about difficult times in which to be a leader? Lincoln’s great Second Inaugural Address ends like this:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan —to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
These are incredible words from an extraordinary leader. As the bloody Civil War was coming to its close, Lincoln begins his closing by calling on the best in people: “With malice toward none.” Really? This was a time of “victory” for Lincoln and the forces of the North. So many thought it should be a time of malice and resentment and vengeance. No, Lincoln as a leader was driven by something really big. He calls for “charity for all.”
As leaders, we are encouraged to keep our anger in check. We must actually show charity even to those with whom we disagree, those with whom we have battled. We must commit ourselves to reconciliation and the common good; not always easy, to be sure.
But that’s not all. We must lead “with firmness in the right,” Lincoln says. What does this mean? Leaders need to listen to others always, but then they must seek to be guided by a story of what is true and good and beautiful. “It’s not that easy” leading in this way in our postmodern moment when all such stories are called into question. What is right? Good according to whom? That’s what leaders have to try to figure out and then lead “with firmness in the right.”
But even this is not enough. It is about leading in the light of what is right and good “as God gives us to see the right.” This is the profound posture of humility at the very heart of Lincoln’s leadership. This is the final test of good leadership, one that is so often missing in all of us who lead. We can’t assume we’ve got all the answers. In the end, with humility and gratitude, we ask for God’s guidance to “see the right.”
Kermit wants to “be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree,” but ultimately it is humility that wins out. Kermit has the right tone. Lincoln for sure has it right, even in a time when “it’s not that easy” to lead.