when youth specialties asks speakers to do a seminar at the national youth workers conventions, they ask for a handful of possible seminar titles. then tic long chooses the ones that fit the overall mix. i’ve been through this process for 20 years or so, including all the years i worked at ys. so it was nothing new to me: i suggest a half dozen or more ideas, some of which are fully developed, and some of which aren’t much more than a title. and, when tic picks one of those that’s only a title… well, there’s work to be done!
this year at the ys conventions, i’m doing four seminars (3 in each of the 2 cities). and two of the seminars i’ll be leading were those “only have a title” kind: soul care for busy non-contemplatives (which is a “fishbowl” discussion), and leading without power. this morning, i had to turn in descriptions for these babies, which meant i had to think a little bit about what they might actually cover!
here’s what i wrote for leading without power:
Leadership guru Max Depree wrote a book with this title, identifying the unique challenges of leadership in a volunteer organization. This is our reality in churches, in youth ministry. We don’t lead with the power of a paycheck, or the power to hire or fire. Instead, we live in the unique space of leading through invitation rather than leading through demands. We’ll contrast this with power-based leadership a bit, then get into a bunch of ideas for leading laterally (and sometimes, leading up).
depree’s book, leading without power, was one i read more than a dozen years ago. and i haven’t read it again since (though i’ve often ruminated on writing a book based on one of the chapters: organizational hope). and, while i couldn’t actually tell you much about the content, other than that one chapter (i’ll need to re-read the book in prep for the seminar!), the title alone has haunted and challenged me for years.
so much of what we read, hear, and absorb about leadership has an embedded power dynamic in it. and i see this all over the church today. it’s certainly dripping from most of the lexicon of leadership books written for church leaders. in fact, i think it’s interesting (and frustrating, and sad) that the few books i’ve read that model a very different kind of leadership are not from or about the church (another amazing and weird book with this vibe is let my people go surfing, by patagonia founder yvon chouinard). certainly, a wonderful exception from power-leadership-in-the-church books is nouwen’s classic, in the name of jesus (man, i have to read that one again also!).
but we do not lead with power. sure, you might counter that we have spiritual power. but that’s not the kind of power i’m talking about. we (let’s use youth pastors, for example) don’t possess the power of the paycheck. and we’re leading in a space where we believe (more in theory than in practice, in many churches) in the priesthood of all believers, and in the sons-and-daughters of god reality that means we’re all siblings, on equal power-ground.
after a dozen years of leading with the luxury of paycheck power (hopefully i didn’t wield that like a light saber most days), i’m back in a space where all of my daily involvements — from my volunteer work at my church, to my consulting work with churches and ministries, to my writing work — involve the opportunity to lead, but no platform for power. i suppose the only arena where i could “lead with power” is in my home; but i’ve found it doesn’t fly well there. :) (yes, i used an emoticon in a blog post.) and it’s bringing me back to these questions again.
the san diego cohort of my youth ministry coaching program had an interesting discussion at one of our meetings about leading laterally and leading up (this is where i grabbed that wording for the seminar description). we talked about what it looks like to lead other church staff over whom you have no responsibility or authority; and what it looks like to lead your senior pastor (a position many youth workers are put in). of course, things like demands and “clarified expectations” go right out the window, as they’re useless. instead, questions of vision, communication, suggestion, transparency, example, story, and healthy politics (yes, politics can be healthy) come into play. and, while good leadership should always be embedded in a soup of support and grace, it becomes a non-negotiable when leading without power.
for example, in my consulting work: i can give great ideas and walk away in disgust if the organization chooses not to embrace them. but that’s not leading; that’s banking (at best), or drive-by consulting (at worst). in order to lead in a situation like this, i need to come in with compassion, understanding, and a posture of listening. that’s an interesting tension to live in, when active listening is, ultimately, not what the organization is paying me for. but, i’m learning, it’s the only route to leadership in this context.
what about you? what struggles are you experiencing with shedding power-leading? what struggles are you experiencing with lateral leading and leading up?