Transitioning Leadership

Look all around you and you will see transition, which simply put amounts to change.  A lot of the change we are now in the middle of may seem uninvited, or even unwelcome.  If you didn't ask for something to change, and the rearranging impacts you, but is beyond your influence to stop or start, then chances are you don't consider it friendly, even though it could turn out to your greater good in the end.  Do I sound like a salesman?  I hope not.

The certainty of change, in our times, has been called the only constant.  There is some truth to that, I think.

Chances are, you are in the throws of disruption on a lot of fronts.  What is now is being replaced by what is coming.  I think if we see things as they are, we can actually rejoice in this fact, as long as we keep our eyes on the One who owns the final outcome.

Transition is painful, but necessary, if things are to improve.  Our fallen nature wants to find a way to “get by.”  We want to make a place for ourselves, nest a little, and tell ourselves it's good enough, and at least we'll know what to expect.  This may come from a deeper state of mind that sees change as beyond our control or influence, and with some other selfish person at the helm arranging things to serve themselves.  And this can be true.

I want to understand change, and not only the incremental changes that are going on around me and impacting my life and family, but also where it is going, and the ultimate outcomes that can realistically be expected.  It has been a quest of mine for some years, understanding.  And we can have understanding, even about such things, if we seek it from the right Source.

I may come back and write more about my perspective/limited level of understanding about change, but I want to talk about something specific here.  I will try to keep my intro brief.

As you know, if you know me personally, I own a small business, and have owned the same small business for a decade as of the first of next month.  I study, attempting to continually learn and cultivate my abilities, and much of the materials I have studied over the years have been business books and business concepts.  I believe this has been a good investment of time and energy, and that it has helped to bring balance to my perspective of spiritual things, which is my core pursuit.  Actually Jesus is my core pursuit, and this business study has helped in this pursuit.

I believe that there are parallels to the natural and spiritual order, both of what is now, and what is to come.  We have all heard the scripture, likely, about “that which is first is natural, then that which is spiritual.”  (1Cor 15:46)  We can take this to mean that there are spiritual things to observe and understand by the natural things that reflect and proceed them.  This is true, and has been one of the ways that I have learned spiritual things from studying the natural realm of business and interpersonal affairs.

Peter Drucker was, and is, one of my favorite business writers.  I really can't remember how I heard about him in the beginning, but I have been reading his material for some years.  He has had an impact on me, as I have read a good number of his books and a few books written about him.  I am currently working on a book of his material published in 2009 by Harvard Business Press, Managing in a Time of Great Change. Though Peter passed in 2005, his work is still having an impact.  As I was reading yesterday, I was reminded by the content of something I wanted to share, and this is that.

We are in the midst of a process of replacement of leadership style and attributes, both in the working world and in the church.  Peter always said that leadership wasn't about attributes, but results.  He had a point.  I think Peter was leery to trust all these figures that emerge with so much charisma and motivation, chiefly perhaps because he had seen Hitler arise and do the things we all know him for.  And what did Hitler's leadership produce, even though he was probably one of the most talented leaders to have yet lived?  I am not inferring by this reference that our current leadership in these spheres is Hitler-like, just trying to give you a view of Drucker's scope on the subject.

Let me throw a few Drucker quotes out at you, and then attempt to interpret them:

In a knowledge economy there no such thing as conscripts, there are only volunteers. The trouble is we have trained our managers to manage conscripts. (A conscript is one who has been drafted into service, such as in the army.)

How does this strike you?  A volunteer is one who has involvement based on their willingness, not on compulsion.  Almost all people today in the world we live in can make a choice and withdraw their contribution, with varying degrees of repercussion, and yet there are those, in church and business leadership, who think their ideas should not be questioned, but carried out without review.  That is an old idea, and is ready to be replaced.

Executives are used to command… to think through what they want and get acceptance of it by subordinates.  But in a partnership, one cannot command.  One can only gain trust.

If we look at all our collaboration as partnerships, regardless of our position (or lack of it), we will realize that we must gain the trust of those we are working with in order to have positive influence on the other person or entity, and thereby have a realistic expectation of positive results.  Too much of church leadership still functions as the executive in the quote above, thinking through what they want and then trying to sell it to subordinates.  This is not collaboration, and shouldn't be sold as such.  If you don't have a material contribution to the decision and the course of action, you shouldn't be led to believe you do, no matter what sort of “feel-good” is erroneously transferred.

There are many more quotes of this type that I can share, but I will leave you to your contemplations after a close, personal example.

In 2005, I moved to Carolina to be a part of a missions training program that was newly arising, that I had been tracking for a few years.  My family and I had timed our move to coincide with a pilot of this program which lasted two weeks, and was by some estimations extremely rigorous / demanding.  I was 36 years old at the time, and the average age of the other participants was 22, and only because there was a 27 year old (next closest to my age) who was skewing the averages.  I was, in most cases, twice or nearly twice as old as my other seven teammates.  At first, I didn't realize how significant this would be.

During this two week 24/7 event, we were presented with various challenges, many of which were scenarios that we played out in which the leadership person was rotated among the group.  One day, a few days into the exercise, I was elected leader for the scenario, and the drama started to play out in the challenge.  As you might expect, everyone wanted to seize control when the chance of failure was putting our reward of food at risk.  The youngest person on the team was 17, I think, and was the loudest and most obnoxious, wanting to make sure that all of his ideas were followed in succession, without listening to anyone else.  Chaos was rising, and time was running out for us to accomplish our objective…. it was getting tense.

It was about at this point that I had had enough of the chaos, so I decided to seize control.  We had set up a test scenario to practice on so that we could figure out a solution and then try it on the real challenge.  I promptly ran into the center of the space and smashed the objective, which involved kicking a bucket filled with water and defying the chaos with a higher level of chaos!  I seized control, sure enough, but it violated my teammates, which was a bigger loss.  By some strange means, not tied to my actions, our team went on to successfully complete the challenge and get the food we were trying to earn, but the team was in bad shape.  In this act of lost self control, I had flashes of the perfect parallels of things authority figures from my past had done with me, to me.  It was sad, and quite revealing.

From this moment, and over the weeks to come, I mulled over and realized a few things about myself.  I knew how to be in charge, but I didn't know how to be a functional team member.  I knew how to decide what I wanted to happen and then push it out through or by means of other people, and I valued an accomplished mission often more than I did the people involved.  Sounds ugly because it is.  This hit me pretty hard, and I started studying teams and teamwork in earnest upon my return to civilization.  Through this I also became convinced that the Lord was raising up teams and teamwork, and that collaborative ministry of significant peers would rise up again, like it was commonly witnessed in the book of Acts and the early church.  This became and still is a central idea to my contribution.

If every member has a unique contribution, as the scripture assures us that we do, and the body is built up by the special work of each part, how can we be waiting for someone to give us something to do?  Sad fact is, and this is an effect of our church culture, we are all trying to get a spot on stage.  The value of stage time is without question in our Christian context, but it is a lie.  If you need a stage to legitimize your ideas, your concept, your relationship with God, you are very shallow indeed.

In the theme of transition, I had a dream some years ago.  In the dream, Jesus was standing near me.  I don't often see the Lord in these concrete examples in dreams, so I knew to pay attention!  He looked at me, and without warning he took off running.  I somehow knew that I was supposed to follow him (duh), but I would have to really run to keep up.  So I struck out.  As we ran for a while, I looked down to realize that I had a microphone in my hand, and also realized that I was coming to the end of the cord.  At that moment, there was tension, and I had a choice to make.  I could hang on to the microphone, or keep pace with the Lord.  I dropped the mic.



2 Replies to “Transitioning Leadership”

  1. powerful stuff.. I have also recently been learning about the value and difficulty of working in a team context, of building trust and inspiring rather than demanding, of bringing out the best in the people you work with instead of pressuring them to do better. The cool thing about what you’re talking about is that it not only applies to business partnerships, but other acts of collaboration and other relationships, even your marriage. thanks 🙂

    and I’m going to have to check out that book….

  2. Right On The Mark! Good stuff. It is always good to look church leadership styles. In our fallen nature is much easier to “come under” or “lord over”. The hard part is the coming alongside. But can’t I get a wireless mic? 🙂 Got it:) I’ll drop the mic. Thanks for sharing

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