Amanda Tyler is executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C. A member of the Texas and U.S. Supreme Court Bar, Amanda has experience working in Congress, in a private legal practice and serving as a law clerk for a federal judge.
Amanda, tell us about your early years.
I was born and grew up in Austin, Texas. It seemed like our family was always at church, participating in Sunday and Wednesday activities. We had a relatively small family, but large network of friends like family that supported and nurtured us. These relationships were particularly important when tragedy struck. My younger sister was born with a heart defect and died when she was just twenty months old and I was five years old, which was a formative event in my spiritual life. My younger brother was born when I was seven, and I embraced the big sister role again. I loved to read as a child, and enjoyed school. I tended to have a few close friends, and thrived in small but tight-knit groups over larger settings.
How has your family background influenced the way that you lead?
I am a classic first-born child, which means that I’ve been a leader for as long as I can remember–a quality to which my family can attest, usually to good effect. My mother modeled church leadership for me. She was a lifelong Sunday School teacher, as well as a deacon in our church. She taught me to follow my gifts and find ways to give back to the institutions that matter most to me. She also supported and encouraged me. I always felt like, with enough hard work, I could do anything I set my mind on.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m a collaborative and encouraging leader. I know I’m succeeding when I can bring out the best in my team members, to help them lean more into their gifts and use those together to improve the work of the whole. I have a positive, “can do” attitude. I also tend to embrace change, and I challenge the team to always think of better ways we can do things to accomplish our mission. Mutual respect is one of my core values. I never ask of others what I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.
Who shaped your leadership style or mentored you as a leader?
I worked for eight years for Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a person for whom I have tremendous respect. He hired me when I was thirty years old to lead his district office. He believed in me as a leader and helped me develop new skills in management and public speaking. He also showed me that one can remain committed to one’s core values and succeed at the highest levels of government because of–not in spite of–those values.
For a few years now I’ve worked with Lauren Laitin, a leadership coach who works with professional women, many of them lawyers like me working in both traditional and non-traditional positions. She has taught me a tremendous amount about leaning on my values, trusting my instincts, taking risks, and learning from my experiences to become an even more effective leader.
What qualities have you observed in other leaders that you have incorporated into your own leadership style?
Active listening is an underrated skill. I think the best leaders spend much of their time listening to others and using that wisdom to help them discern paths forward. Sometimes I am better at this practice than others, but I always try to ask questions and learn from my colleagues, both in the office and in other organizations, as well as supporters and constituents.
What are some key leadership lessons you have learned in recent years?
The best leaders allow their team members to take charge. Finding ways to create leadership opportunities for those who report to you will not only help them develop into better leaders but will also help you manage large workloads by spreading responsibility throughout your team. Also, I’ve learned it is hard to over-communicate as a leader. At times, I’ve assumed that those around me know the direction we are headed in but I’ve learned that things go more smoothly when I communicate the context I see before launching into a new initiative.
What have been some areas of growth for you as a leader?
I expect a lot of myself, and I have learned that that can put pressure on those who work around me too. I am learning to see my leadership not just through my own eyes, but through the eyes of those I work with. I’m also learning patience, which is indeed a virtue and not one that comes naturally to me. The learning process is an incremental, not immediate, one, and enjoying that journey and not wanting to rush through it to mastery has helped me appreciate this first stage of my leadership at the Baptist Joint Committee.
What words of wisdom would you share with recent seminary graduates as they move into new leadership roles?
Your first leadership position will not be your last. Learn from it and use it to discern where God might be leading you next. Seek out resources in the form of mentors, spiritual advisors, or coaches to help you meet challenges and improve your leadership. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Appreciate and enjoy your position. It is a high calling and a privilege to be in a position of leadership. Find joy in what you do.