Tag Archives: jesus and leadership

leading without power, part 2

yesterday i started a series of posts on a shift in thinking about and application of power in leadership. my framing contentions are:
power-based leadership has no place in the church.
(and: power-based leadership is a culturally-waning paradigm in all contexts, because we live in a wiki, prosumer culture.)

church leadership needs to move from a paradigm of control to one of facilitation.
in this context: facilitation = identifying and nurturing competencies

with that in mind, i’d like to suggest nine new metaphors and mindsets for powerless leadership. here are the first three:

Competency Facilitator

i admit this is a little repetitive of the paradigmatic shift i just suggested. but “competency facilitator” is such a potent metaphor, such a pregnant imaginary job title.

as a competency facilitator, my leadership role is to be curious about strengths, potentialities, and each person’s unique made-in-god’s-imageness. i am not exerting force on people, but am leading through nurturing. my greatest leadership is to call out what others might not (yet) see, or even what the person might not (yet) see about herself. and, more than only calling out these competencies, my role is to create supportive spaces for the person to test-run these competencies. i support, offer feedback, and continue to point out growth and development.

i posted this quote once before, but it’s such a great reminder of my natural proclivity to be the opposite of a competency facilitator. it’s from max depree’s brilliantly-title, but otherwise somewhat mediocre book called ‘leading without power’:

Esther and i have eleven grandchildren. One of them born weeks premature is now in 3rd grade, and while she has some special challenges, she is really doing quite well. One day when she was three years old, she came to visit me in my office, which is in a small condominium. She said, “Grandpa, would you like to see me run?” And I must tell you, my heart jumped. I thought to myself, this little girl can hardly walk. How is she going to run? But like a good grandparent, I said, “Yes, I’d like to see you run.” She walked over to one side of the room and started to run, right across in front of my desk and directly into the side of a refrigerator. It knocked her on her back, and there she lay, spread-eagled on the floor with a big grin on her face. Like any good manager, I immediately went over with a solution. i said, “honey, you’ve got to learn to stop.” And she looked up at me with a big smile and said, “but, grandpa, I’m learning to run.”

i’ve been challenged in recent months about the importance of meaningful responsibility, particularly in terms of teenagers and young adults moving to adulthood. i am witnessing a real-life example of this with my daughter. liesl (almost 17, a junior in high school) is passionate about the environment. she was one of two participants on the dwindling ‘planet team’ in our church’s high school ministry. the team’s primary responsibility is to collect recyclables from the church, to provide funding for some sponsor children. the team was without an adult leader. and, while all the other leadership teams in our high school ministry had an adult leader, our astute high school pastor saw liesl passion and competency, and took a chance on her. he asked her to lead the team. she has completely risen to the responsibility, recruiting a larger team, producing a recruitment video, training the team and hosting them for social stuff, and ensuring the work gets done. it has been a major win in terms of her development, and a great experience of owning meaningful responsibility.

of course, this isn’t just about competency in teenagers – this applies to all our leadership relationships, not the least of which is with volunteers in church ministry.

next up: Culture Evangelist

leading without power, part 1

i don’t think i’m alone when i admit that i’ve had issues with power, probably for most of my life. and it’s strangely paradoxical that my struggle with power (as in, i want it, too much) has played a huge role in me being put in roles where i had power. that twisted reality is, i think, a reflection of our church culture buying into broader american power values. no need to harp too much on that — we see nasty abuse of power all around us in the church.

my current employment status (as in, self-employed) is the first time in about 20 years or so that i haven’t had employees who report to me. and i’m starting to see these questions of power and leadership in a new light. maybe it took a complete lack of power in order for me to learn something about this.

of course, i’m challenged by jesus. he’s certainly not powerless. dude had/has plenty o’ power. so the question shifts from quantity to quality; or, the question shifts from if one can exercise power to how one exercises power. and, what form that power takes. i’m sure there are a hundred more forms, but here’s a short list of power forms, good, bad and indifferent:

• Coercion
• Manipulation
• Positional authority
• Official dispenser of rewards & punishment
• Paycheck signer
• Ability to control
• Personality
• Ideation
• Encouragement
• Truth telling
• Serving
• Facilitation

jim collins’ notion of ‘level 5 leadership’ (here’s a helpful harvard business review article on level 5 leadership, written by collins), developed first in his book good to great, has been messing with me for years. i’ve blogged about it many times (here’s one), actually, because it haunts me. the level 5 leader (a very, very rare leader, btw) possesses a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” and, at the end of the day, isn’t that a pretty good description of jesus’ leadership and use of power? it’s also, unfortunately, not the approach to power we see in most churches (or other places of leadership, to be fair).

let me dive in with this proposal: power-based leadership has no place in the church.
(and: power-based leadership is a culturally-waning paradigm in all contexts, because we live in a wiki, prosumer culture.)

sure, we can argue semantics and reframe power in positive ways (like the power of servant leadership). but, for our purposes here, let’s just stick with the more common understood (and exercised) concept of power — the ability and practice of exerting influence over others whether they want it or not. that’s the kind of power i’d like to see (mostly) excised from church leadership. (i concede with a little “mostly” there, because if i were the exec pastor or senior pastor of a church today, i’m sure there would be times when i would ‘exert influence over others when they didn’t want it’ — whether i’d be right or wrong is a separate conversation.)

here’s a paradigmatic shift idea: church leadership needs to move from a paradigm of control to one of facilitation.
in this context: facilitation = identifying and nurturing competencies

if you follow this blog at all, you’ll likely recognize that language. i picked it up in a conversation with dr. ropert epstein, while talking about how his parenting has shifted, in the midst of a broader conversation about infantilization and extended adolescence, and have mentioned it here more than once. but i’ve started to see that shift’s applicability in so many other contexts of my life. and, really, doesn’t it make great sense here?

where this post series is headed: i’ve come up with 9 new metaphors for ‘powerless leadership’. i hope they’ll stir your thinking and nudge you (and me) off balance a bit. i hope we can take them on a road trip together — test ’em out a bit. i’ll unpack one or two per post, and see where it takes us.