leading without power, part 5

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist; part 4, mission curator) i’m ruminating on the suggestion that leadership in the church needs to move away from the traditional notions of hierarchical power we’ve embraced for so long. and i’m unpacking 9 new metaphors for “powerless leadership”. here is metaphor #4:

Storytelling Host

i’ve written a bunch about how effective organizations (including churches and youth ministries) are ruthlessly committed to a set of collaboratively discerned core values. and a big part of effective powerless leadership is hosting the collaborative discernment process.

but once the values are in place, a key role of the powerless leader is to host storytelling. because: storytelling is one of the primary means of culture creation. if we hope to see our ministries embody and live out values, telling stories that reflect those values is critical. merely pasting the values on a piece of paper on the wall does very little. but we humans — and even moreso, we jesus-followers — are moved by story. particularly in a postmodern culture, we understand ourselves, our affinities, our personal values, and our resonance with the values of the organization, through story. story is the vehicle for truth (and this is not new – certainly, this was the experience of all the original audiences of the bible, old testament and new).

the word “host” is critical here. the powerless leader doesn’t merely tell stories constantly (though telling stories is good); leading without power means that we act as a host, creating spaces and environments where values-laden stories are told, where key moments in our history are re-told, where imagination stories about our future are dreamed.

i was struck by this again last week when i spent two days at zappos.com, the online shoe retailer known for their internal culture as much as their business success. particular stories from the history of the organization were told again and again, with great pride, from various staff (for instance, the story of the longest customer service call — more than 8 hours — was seen as a great badge of honor, something everyone in the organization was proud of).

one of the ways we youth workers can play this out is by making sure a regular part of a volunteer staff meeting is given to storytelling. stories of wonderful conversations and small group times, stories of glorious failures, stories of who we are and why our ministry exists, stories of mission, stories of values, stories of vision, and even stories of goals.

how are you, as a leader, hosting storytelling? how can you ramp this up — not just by becoming more of a storyteller yourself, but by hosting an environment of storytelling?

2 thoughts on “leading without power, part 5”

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, especially after you told me to read Intuitive Leadership. What does it mean for a leader to tell stories? I’m struggling with this…

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