More on Leadership

Dave Pollard (How to Save the World) comes at leadership from a different direction than my recent post; what he says seems pertinent to chuch leadership as well as any other political leadership — and as polloi are just people, all leadership is political.

Pollard notes that “many studies have shown that leadership has little to do with organizational success — successful leaders, for the most part, just happened to be in the right place at the right time with a good group of people already working ‘for’ them. Then he quotes Peter Block, a consultant in organizational development:

“‘Leadership’ is a well-developed misconception. The dominant belief is that the task of leadership is to set a vision, enroll others in it and hold people accountable through measurements and rewards. It’s a patriarchal system used to create high performance through centralization of power. Most leadership training focuses on how to be a good parent. We teach how to ‘develop’ people, as if they were ours to develop. We do a lot to create the notion that bosses are responsible for their people. All that parenting has the unintended side effect of creating deep entitlement and having employees stay frozen in their own development. Most management techniques are ways of controlling people so they feel good about being controlled.

… Put this in boldface: They are not your children. Once you realize that, real engagement is possible.”

Pollard goes on: “Block understands the essence of complex systems: No one is in control. What gets done (for better or worse) gets done as a result of the staggeringly complex interactions and personal decisions of everyone.”

What would it be like if faith community leaders let go of the idea that they should create or adapt a vision for God’s work in the world, that they should float the vision so that other people will become enthusiastic about working towards it, that they should seek ways to hold people accountable to the vision and to measure its success? Is letting go of these expectations an insane notion, for those of us in faith communities where God is often seen as a parent, where discipleship is spoken of as a way of developing other people into what God wants them to be, and within a societal culture that highly values finding purpose, creating goals, quantifying success and making definable progress at all times?

What’s the alternative to this way of leadership? No leaders? Leaders who create an ambiance of ease, openness, honesty, and energy (“nothing to prove”) that in turn facilitates deep thinking, insightful connections, idea-sharing, “what-if?” daydreaming? Leaders who simply model their own visions, their own discipleship, contemplative lifestyle, peaceful way of being, activism for social justice, community-building actions?

I wonder if “leader” is a word like “shopper” or “eater” — it defines certain actions we all do, to some extent. Are there separate people who are leaders, or are any of us leaders when we lead, or are there people whose identity is leader as well as people who dip in and out of leading as the situation that matches their particular leadership skills arises? (One could, I guess, ask the same of teachers, writers, parents, some kinds of healers, and probably other roles that are comprised of lots of complex, human-relations, liberal-artsy, is-it-an-art-or-is-it-a-science? skills.)

(Pollard is actually examining the differences in how Americans and people of other nations, like Canada, view their leaders: “One thing that seems to differentiate US culture from that of any other affluent country is the cult status of its leaders — especially political and business leaders. Unlike in Canada or Europe, disagreement or criticism of one’s boss in the US is treated as sacrilege — a career-limiting move.” His theory is that Americans have been domesticated, like dogs from wolves: “So what happens if a domestic dog, for whatever reason, pandcrational to us or not, decides it doesn’t want to be ‘property of the house’? If it bites back, or flees, it is probably doomed to die — domestication was a one-way trip for dogs. … Americans are more trusting of their leaders, of those (way) higher up than they are in the pecking order, and hence, like the domestic dog, have given up much of their independence of thought and action for the creature comforts of the American Dream.”)


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