In our society today, male leadership seems like an ancient and even backwards concept. In 1990, we attended our nephew’s high school graduation. When a member of the school board addressed the graduating class, he urged the men to step aside and let the women lead. In the intervening years, that mantra has escalated. Women are encouraged to take leadership roles while, in sitcoms and commercials, men are made to look like a class of clowns.
We could come up with numerous examples of men in leadership roles who have abused their power. They have used the power to promote themselves and hurt others. Some appear not to know what they’re doing and that makes everyone nervous. Let me take the position that it’s not male leadership that is bad. Bad leadership is bad. Good leadership is good.
The Dance Metaphor
Ten years ago, I took an East Coast Swing dance class. There was a man in the class I will call “Matt.” You could tell he thought he had a lot of style as he whipped his partner forward and then snapped her back. The problem was that he wasn’t there to be a good leader or a good partner. He was there to show himself off. And, in the process, he was hurting his partners.
His actions had a consequence: When the teacher told us to rotate, his partner would excuse herself to go to the restroom. We’d rotate again, and the next partner would do the same thing. No one comes to a dance class to get their arm wrenched out of its socket.
Matt was a bad leader. We also had several excellent leaders. Dave was one of them. He was big and he was strong. In fact, he had been an NCAA linebacker. When he moved toward you, you knew exactly which way you would be going. If he had chosen to push his partner around the floor, no one would have been a match for his size and strength. But he didn’t do that. He used his power to gracefully guide around the floor. All the ladies wanted to follow him.
The qualities Dave demonstrated in dance are the same qualities that make a husband a good leader in his marriage. They are the same qualities that make anyone a good leader in any situation. First, Dave was confident. That was because he knew what he was doing. He had learned the steps and practiced them. He knew what options were available to him if he needed to move down the floor, or turn a corner, or avoid colliding with another couple. Dancing with Dave, you had a sense of security. You weren’t worried about slamming into someone.
When you lead in marriage, you have a different obstacle course to lead the way through. You need a strategy for how to make the budget work and how to turn your kids into responsible human beings. There are moral dilemmas and spiritual decisions to make. You have to study the Bible so you know the principles and the pitfalls and the options. You need to watch those who are more experienced than you—and learn how to do it.
This is not to say that the lady or wife does not need to know what she is doing or that she is not required to be competent. We would never argue that. Both dancing and marriage work best with two strong, competent partners. And, if a man is a good leader, he will appreciate a strong partner. In dance, the man provides a framework—and, if I may say so, a framework is boring—without a beautiful, capable partner to balance it.
In dance, a good leader isn’t there to promote himself; he is there to serve. He doesn’t just lead the steps he enjoys, but emphasizes the steps his partner enjoys and does well. If his partner is unable to do a step as he leads it, he must adjust. “Servant-leadership” is a quality that makes all the difference in marriage. A husband who leads well listens to his wife and makes sure to emphasize things that are important to her. He considers his family’s needs even when he would prefer to think of himself.
And here’s the secret those who demean male leadership don’t tell you: Yes. People object to following selfish, abusive leaders. But no one objects to following confident, generous leaders.
One of our dance teachers was a highly competent, smart, beautiful woman. She was also 5’10”. Whenever she was paired with a male dancer, it was because he was tall enough—not because he was able to match her dancing ability. Until she was paired with a partner who was tall—and gently confident. As they were dancing, he threw in a step from a different ballroom dance. “Hey, that’s not the right step for this dance,” she complained. “Just follow me,” he said. “I know what I’m doing.” And how did this strong-willed woman respond? “I thought—this guy might be worth a second look!” He is still confident, but gentle—and she is still strong, but agreeing to follow. They are still dancing through life together—both on and off the dance floor.
It is not disagreeable to follow a strong, gentle leader. It is a joy.