Welcome Others: The Gift of Hospitality in Leadership

When I was a preteen, a woman named Tonya would pick me and several other girls up, take us to her home, feed us, and then take us to church. That time was a sweet escape from the dysfunction and volatility in my own home, so I tried to elongate the time as much as I could by insisting that Tonya pick me up first and drop me off last.

Eventually, I entered the foster care system where several families welcomed me into their homes. While not having a stable family to call my own made me feel unwanted and unloved at the times, I can see now that spending time in many different people’s homes allowed me to learn the gift of hospitality.

The day I aged out of foster care I was instantly homeless, so Tonya took me in. While living with her I watched her be a stable mom and loving wife—something I had never witnessed in my first family. By simply welcoming me to live in her home, Tonya taught me simple skills like how to cook and eat healthy foods. But most importantly, she was an example to me of how we welcome others into our lives and lead in a way that is meaningful, intentional and loving.

Now, as an adult, one of the greatest joys in my life is hosting and hospitality. I love having people in my home and feeding them—from church small groups to our unhoused neighbors to friends to children in the foster care system.

It is important to note, however, that genuine and radical hospitality toward our neighbors is not defined by a beautiful home and delicious food. Rather, genuine and radical hospitality is marked by a vulnerability that allows people to truly come as they are, because you come as you are. Genuine and radical hospitality is showing people how to live and answering their questions, not by wagging your finger at them and telling them what to do, but by leading with your own example.

A Spirit of Welcome

Though we do not always have the ability to welcome people into our home, we do always have the ability to lead people by deliberately welcoming them into our lives. 

During a very full month of traveling and speaking engagements, I wanted my time at home to be dedicated to my family. But I still felt it was important and valuable to show hospitality in my life. So, to continue to lead well and with hospitality, I invited former foster youth and other young people along with me to my speaking engagements. It was through these experiences they were able to see a glimmer of their own stories and dream for their own futures. 

There have been other times when I haven’t had enough time to prepare and plan for people to come into my home. However, when a new church member needed a friend, I invited her to go grocery shopping with me. While it was not the most glamorous, we came to know each other better.

Hospitality is not simply something we do in our homes. Hospitality is who we choose to become. Genuine hospitality is a form of leadership that reduces loneliness and allows us to lead with ease rather than pressure, because all we have to do is welcome people into our life as it is. Genuine hospitality grants opportunities to those around us not just to learn from our words, but from our life and love in action.

Shared Experiences

True hospitality is characterized by authenticity. People look to us for advice and direction, and as leaders we don’t want to offer advice or direction that is harmful. Hurtful advice often comes in the form of absolutes or platitudes. But when we lead with authenticity, we don’t simply share advice from a book. We share our real experiences.

Telling our stories is one of the ways we can remain authentic. When we share our stories, rather than telling people what to do and how to do it, it allows listeners to do one of two things: Look into a mirror or look into a window.

When people hear our stories, they can see a reflection of themselves. They can see how their life and story is similar, and insert themselves into the story. This prompts the question, How does this apply to me?

The second way people see themselves when hearing a story is like looking through a window. Though they see someone has lived differently than them, they can still gain insight about themselves and the people around them.

Leading by letting people in, showing them who we are through hospitality, and then authentically telling them who we are through stories make our leadership relational. When we go first in welcoming people with vulnerability, others will do the same. Proximity and mutual vulnerability with those we are leading allows us to see their heart, and then we can truly lead them the best.

A Level Playing Field

Allowing people into our lives and sharing our stories can feel very vulnerable. While there is great value in being on stages and having momentous accomplishments that allow us to reach people en masse, hospitality and storytelling allow people to see leaders as equals, without the lights, cameras or anything practiced.

As leaders, our sole aspiration should not be to speak to people from a large platform or stage. We should be able to also reach across our table, grab someone’s hand, and show them we are on a level playing field.

When addressing public leadership and ministry, a wise mentor once said to me, “There will be many people who put you on a pedestal, so keep people around you who see you as ordinary. That will keep you off of that pedestal.” The more I welcome people into my home, and the more I share stories of my shortcomings, the more people see me for who I am: not a hero, but rather a human in need of a Hero.

Leading With Love

Tonya and I remain close today. My children see her as a grandma, she is a mother-figure in my life, and I would say she is one of my heroes. One of the things that I admire about her most is that even though she is older and much wiser than me, she treats me as an equal. She says she learns from me, as much as I learn from her. She does not intend to be anyone’s hero or gain any accolades. She lives an uncluttered, uncomplicated, rather ordinary life loving whoever is in front of her. 

While magazines would never make Tonya their cover girl, or give her a leadership award, her leadership made me realize that I am loved, and that has had the greatest impact on me and countless other young women. Tonya never would have said she was being a leader—she was simply trying to love. From her I have learned, you can never truly lead people if you do not love them.