Tag Archives: leading without power

conviction, collaboration and calling: the piece-parts of a 21st century leader

leadership is changing. and this is a very, very good thing.

the era of the autocratic, top-down leader is gone. a new kind of leader — one who leads without power — is on the rise.

while it’s fantastic to see this new approach to leadership gaining ground in the world of business, it’s sad to me that the church — the place where this jesus-y style of leadership should have been in place all along — is behind.

i’ve just finished a year with my second youth ministry coaching program cohort. and as i wrote ‘growth affirmation and challenge’ sheets for each of the participants, naming the amazing transformation i’ve seen in each of their lives this past year, i was once again struck by how many churches are riddled with lousy leadership. during one of my 1-on-1 coaching sessions with a participant, on the last day, we were talking about leadership, and i surprised myself when the subject of this post came out of my mouth (all starting with the same letter — how rick warren of me!). i said,

great leaders are anchored by three things: conviction, collaboration, and calling.

conviction isn’t about being the sole vision castor.
it’s not about forcing an agenda onto everyone.
it’s not about being the heavy.

conviction is about being a culture evangelist and mission curator.

conviction is about ruthlessly protecting the values, and not being swayed by attractive ideas (financially beneficial, numerical growth beneficial, keeping the peace, pleasing the powerful) that erode the values.

collaboration isn’t about forced fun.
it’s not about tokenism.
and it doesn’t mean democracy.

collaboration is about being a uniqueness dj. collaboration is about creating space and processes and an ecosystem the values meaningful input, and offers active participation at every level.

and calling. calling isn’t about filling seats.
it’s not about manipulation.
it’s not about isolation.

calling is about being a storytelling host, a champion of hope, and a trust guard.

calling is about living into who you were made to be. it’s the self-actualized leader, humble and open, rooted in a spiritual sense of urgency, committed to the mission and unwavering in a sense of movement. it’s about living this, and calling others to this greater purpose.

conviction, collaboration, and calling. how are you living them out this week?

leading without power, part 10 (final)

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist; part 4, mission curator, part 5, storytelling host, part 6, champion of hope, part 7, uniqueness dj, part 8, contextualization czar, and part 9, trust guard) 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 the final metaphor (#9):

Collaboration Guide

i’m going to keep this short and to the point, since this series has gone on long enough (too long, possibly), and because i’ve written about collaboration multiple times in the midst of the other 8 metaphors.

here’s a strong statement for your consideration: the top three skills needed to be an effective leader in the twenty-tens are…

1. discernment

2. contextualization insight and praxis

3. a passion for and skill in hosting collaboration

a reminder of where this blog series began:

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.)

and…

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

collaboration is messy. it can be cumbersome. it can create political and relational tensions. but it is better is just about every way. collaboration is a reflection of the various giftings paul writes about, and a reflection of each person’s imago dei, and a reflection of the priesthood of all believers.

and collaboration works at a practical level: whatever hierarchical power a leader might forfeit by leading collaboratively is gained by an order of magnitude in terms of buy-in, shared ownership of mission, creativity, follow-through, quantity of output, breaking up group think, avoiding stupid errors and blind alleys, and all sort of other CYA dead ends.

this is the biggest lesson i learned in my years of leadership at ys — particularly when it came to the leadership team. when we operated collaboratively, we kicked butt and had a blast doing it. when we were forced to operate in more traditional top-down decision-making modalities, the fun went away, the mission lost focus, and the ministry suffered.

here’s a thought to chew on: collaboration requires leading from within, not leading from out in front.

what would this look like for you?
what would it require you give up?
what would you have to risk?
what might you gain?

leading without power, part 9

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist; part 4, mission curator, part 5, storytelling host, part 6, champion of hope, part 7, uniqueness dj, part 8, contextualization czar) 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 #8:

Trust Guard

trust is, perhaps, the single greatest factor in leadership. and, while trust is so rarely present in hierarchical power structures (in churches or businesses), the funny thing is that it’s one of the few facets described in this blog series that is possible within traditional hierarchical power structures (btw: if you want a good book on this — trust in the context of traditional power structures, that is — i recommend stephen m.r. covey’s the speed of trust). and the reason boils down to this: trust is 100% dependent on honesty. if a hierarchical power-based leader is fully honest and transparent (an extremely rare occurrence, to be sure), it’s possible to instill trust. but more often than not, the mindset of a leader in utilizing role power and hierarchy has a mental mindset that says, “i know things you cannot and should not know; they are not your job to know them.” if the leader were, somehow, able to be completely honest with himself or herself (another rarity), the truth would be closer to, “being less than transparent and fully honest with you protects my position of power, control and authority over you. you are more dependent on me when i know more than you do.”

ah, but this tactic just doesn’t work.

a moment of honesty myself: i have not been a superstar on this. i think my leadership team at youth specialties had a high level of trust in me and my leadership; but that was directly connected to the level of honesty we shared. but for the rest of the staff of youth specialties, their trust of me vacillated greatly. at times, it was high and strong; at others, extremely questionable. in my 20/20 hindsight, i can see the pattern clearly: when we were in seasons where i was being ruthlessly honest, trust was high. when we were in seasons where i was withholding, or spinning them, trust was low (or at least weakened).

if we want our organizational teams (and, again, this applies to volunteer teams as well as groups of employees) to experience the kind of wholeness and full embracing of the organizational mission, we have to place the value of alignment in a place of preeminence. in youth ministry 3.0, i wrote about the goal of “communion” – a combination of authentic community with christ in the mix. pulling out the essence of that into a workplace, i can envision a kind of missional alignment experienced in community by all members of the team.

and, without trust and safety, there will be no communion or missional alignment.

without communion (or missional alignment), the ministry or church staff culture or business culture will be clubbish and/or wimpy.

what if one of the primary ways we leaders exercise our power is by being honest?

i’m reminded of this as i write, as i’ve been looking at a case study over the past few days. a particular mission board (ABWE) received information, decades ago, about one of their missionary doctors perpetrating pedophilia on young teen missionary kids. they responded by covering it up. the issues were brought up at multiple points over the last 20+ years; and each time, they promised action, but took none. not only is the wrong perpetrated in this example horrific on many other levels, the result has been – as i’ve watched this unfolding in real time – a systemic and complete breakdown of trust. trust in the organization and its leaders has been shot for a long time for those closest to the crime; but now that the story is coming to light, trust has been eroded at levels that reach far and wide, including affiliated churches and donors. the likely result will be leaders losing their jobs and a big shake up. justice, in situations like this, gets more and more difficult without honesty. (btw: if you’d like to read more about this story, or help throw your voice into the mix of people calling the board of the organization to action, read this fairly comprehensive blog, hosted by some of the MKs impacted.)

i’m also reminded of one of the (rare?) times i think i got this right: when it was brought to our attention at YS that we had published some blatantly racist content in one of our books, and we were called out by the asian american church community. in this case (as would have been true with ABWE), it would have been better had we not allowed the offenes to occur in the first place. but we screwed up; and the only right response was full disclosure, complete honesty, and swift action. now, you could say that this was all external, and more about our interface with customers. but the impact on our staff was significant; and the way we handled it (both in how we talked about it internally, and the steps our staff saw us taking) had an enormous impact on the level of trust internally. it was — counter-intuitively — one of those times when our screw-up resulted in more missional alignment (and communion) for our staff team.

back to my question: what would it look like if, as a leader trying to lead without power, that your primary expression of the power provided by your title or position were the relentless pursuit of honesty?

leading without power, part 8

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist; part 4, mission curator, part 5, storytelling host, part 6, champion of hope, part 7, uniqueness dj) 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 #7:

Contextualization Czar

in order to actively engage in most of the previous metaphors, and in order to lead via collaboration, the leader who aspires to lead without traditional hierarchical power has to become an intentional student of context. really, since we’re living in an era where culture has splintered (youth culture, for sure, but all culture is following), the role of the leader must shift.

in the 1950s (think “mad men” or the church version — even more power, slightly less cigarettes and grain alcohol), the primary approach to leadership called for the loudest voice, and maybe the ability to think forwardly.

in the 80s and 90s, all kinds of social science-like skills rose up the “skills leaders must possess” ladder: empathic listener, prophetic visionary voice, new idea generator, motivational speaker, strategy hound.

but today, in our new world, when copying the other guy (or the other business, or the other church) gets you nowhere other than a few steps behind or grossly misguided, the ability to host these collaborative questions trump the other “skills”:
– what’s our context?
– who are we called to be?
– what are we passionate about, and why?
– what’s unique to us?
– how can we become more us, rather than more like someone else?

this means that we have to be anthroplogists. the wiki-god says, “Anthropology asks ‘What defines Homo sapiens?'” see it? pretty easy to translate that for our local, rather than global, realities. “what defines us here at the youth cartel?” or “what defines us at first church?”

now, leaders have played this role in many ways over the decades and millenia. but the spirit of what we’re addressing in these posts is that power-based leadership is both unbiblical and ineffective in today’s world. so we have to think about how to ask that “what defines us” question without forcing or demanding or unilaterally deciding.

and that brings us back to… collaborative discernment.

i think i’ve written this more than once on this blog, but i think the primary skill set needed (but not present) in most church leadership today is to recover the art of spiritual discernment. understanding context, being responsive to context, and hosting collaborative discernment rooted in context might be the best gift you can give your organization.

leading without power, part 7

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist; part 4, mission curator, part 5, storytelling host, part 6, champion of hope) 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 #6:

Uniqueness DJ

powerless leadership metaphor #2 was “competency facilitator”. that metaphor plays out mostly at an individual level — identifying and facilitating competencies in individual people (particularly in other leaders, i would suggest). the ‘uniqueness dj’ idea works in partnership with that skill to mix a team’s uniquenesses into a cohesive whole.

the uniqueness dj is not into pigeon-holing people based on pre-determined roles.

the uniqueness dj does not leverage traditional hierarchical power to assign people.

the uniqueness dj abhors vanilla, and loves to create new mixes of surprisingly complementary flavors.

wearing this hat (probably a cool porkpie, btw), this kind of leader allows for — celebrates, even — the one-of-a-kind gifting, experience and personality of each person on the team, and looks for ways to connect them to the shared values.

here’s a practical example: for years, in youth ministry, i utilized a highly articulated ‘job description’ for volunteers. the thinking was (and i had been taught this, and subsequently taught this myself in many seminars) that youth ministry volunteers would flourish is they knew what was expected. i read that sentence now, and i think, what a dehumanizing approach to people. i would approach this very differently today. after the shared values of the ministry are discerned and articulated, i would work with each volunteer, based on his or her strengths, interests, experiences and competencies, to help him or her develop a unique plan for embodying our values in the context of their youth ministry calling. and, i would be intentional about how these unique works of art, made in the image of god, can experience something greater than themselves by bringing their uniqueness to the whole.

this kind of ‘mixing’ isn’t a blender approach, creating a mushy paste of liquified banality. instead, it’s a skill more akin to a ben and jerry’s flavor creator. or, a super-fresh mash-up of disparate musical pieces overlaid on the beats of shared values.

championing hope: a case study

yesterday i posted in my ‘leading without power’ series, suggesting a ‘new powerless leadership’ metaphor of “champion of hope”. and it made me think about some scribbles i wrote for myself a couple weeks ago, after my visit to zappos.com. i spent two days at the zappos insights bootcamp, learning with 25 other business leaders from around the world how zappos runs a very profitable business passionately anchored in 10 core values, with a vision of “delivering happiness”. yesterday, as i wrote that bit about how great leaders in this new world we live in need to be champions of hope, i thought of zappos, and how their leadership totally embody this kind of leadership, even while they don’t know the ultimate source of hope. on one hand, i find this beautiful and amazing, that the grace of god allows hope to so permeate an organization that doesn’t exist for the kingdom; but on the other hand, this makes me a bit meloncholy, realizing how few churches reflect the same.

my scribbles, written on my iphone while waiting for the plane door to close:

“Delivering Happiness.” Zappos is all about delivering happiness, to employees, vendors, customers.

I sensed some internal resistance to this idea during the two days of bootcamp. I wondered if – from my Christian mindset – joy would be a better framework than happiness. Happiness is, I reasoned, a nice-but-temporal feeling, tied to circumstances, whereas joy is deeper and more internal. But during the 2nd day, I decided I was just being arrogant and condescending, imposing my own self-righteousness on a thing of true beauty.

The Zappos employees DO seem happy. And the handful of customers I’ve interacted with, either during my visit, or in my own conversations, sure seem to be happy about Zappos.

Maybe that’s enough for a for-profit business like Zappos. It’s certainly more than any other business delivers!

But it has continued to nag at me.

Two weeks later, this idea came to me:
Happiness is awesome, a very wonderful and noble thing to deliver. It doesn’t need to be discarded for something else; but just as the vision of Zappos has “evolved” from “largest selection” to “best customer service” to “delivering happiness” (with more in the middle), I think there might be a natural next step, an evolution, something transcendent:

Hope.

What if Zappos can deliver hope?

What if that’s what their already doing?

Certainly, on my 65 minutes of eavesdropping while Pat spoke with a lonely costumer from Appalachia, she delivered something more than happiness. Yes, she delivered happiness, but there was something spiritual, something transcendent about what Pat provided to this lonely man. She gave him hope. Her patient listening, validation and treating him with dignity – treating him as a person worth spending an hour with – had to offer him an internal, and not merely external or circumstantial sense of goodness in the world. Pat offered possibility and potential. And I’m quite confident that the hope that man experienced had some kind of refining, transforming, yes, even transcendent aspect to it. I think that man and his whole existence was – in some immeasurable way – changed. I think the trajectory of his life was, in a way that could only be measured in the tiniest of fractions, altered. But this fractional shift in trajectory could have significant long-term impact.

Some would quickly dismiss this as hyperbole, and suggest that it’s absurd to say that an online shoe retailer could offer something transcendent like hope. But what if it’s not an exaggeration? What if Zappos (and other companies, for that matter) could provide a sense that, out of our dissatisfaction with the way things are, something better is possible.

Hope isn’t wishful thinking or optimism: hope is longing wrapped in expectancy.

My fellow Christians might not think this is possible apart from faith. But if we (Christians) consider real hope to be much more than wishful thinking or optimism, but “a confident assurance of things to come,” how can we not apply that definition to the experience of the lonely man on the hour-long call, even if he is completely unaware of the hope he’s experiencing; even if Pat is only nominally aware of the hope she has dispensed?

leading without power, part 6

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist; part 4, mission curator, part 5, storytelling host) 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 #5:

Champion of Hope

i’ve been doing more than my normal share of thinking about hope in the last year or two. in some ways, at all started when i was asked to speak on the subject of hope at a youth ministry event very early in 2010. i did some thinking and praying and digging, and realized that there are a handful of things that often rob us of hope in our churches:

  • optimism and pressure to be content. it’s not that optimism is a bad thing.  it’s just that we’ve spiritualized it in the american church and re-labeled it as hope.  but they’re not the same thing.
  • being well-resourced. honestly, what church leader would choose being under-resourced over being well-resourced.  but as i meet hundreds — thousands, even — of church leaders and youth workers around the globe, i’m amazed how being well-resourced can lead to a variety of destructive things (hoarding, protecting, confidence in things) that make hope impossible.  because hope has embedded in it some longing.
  • living without pain. i’ll expand on this a bit more in a second, but pain seems to be the necessary b-side to hope.  or maybe it’s the other way around: hope is the b-side to pain.
  • technique. we loves us some technique in the american church, don’t we?  technique is a distraction, and quickly becomes (in many, if not most cases) the object of hope.

but my perspective on hope was rocked by my trips to haiti this past year (which i have blogged about extensively). and that idea that suffering and hope are two sides of the same coin really started to click for me.

as i wrestled with this more (including developing a book proposal that’s under consideration at some publisher or another), i read more on hope — particularly some stuff by bruggemann. and i saw the biblical pattern: honest and healthy dissatisfaction with the way things are –> crying out to god, admitting your need for god and dependance on god for a rescue –> the gift of hope. it’s most clearly seen in the exodus. and it’s seen again in the exile. it’s even seen in jesus’ cry from the cross.

but here’s how this applies to ‘leading without power”: organizations need to have hope (not just individuals). while this isn’t talked about often, it’s intuitively true. we’ve all been part of, or visited, organizations (churches, business, whatever) that lack hope, and ones that seem to be bursting with hope. really, this isn’t just christian organizations — my visit to zappos.com, the online shoe retailer, gave me a visceral experience of hope embodied.

but the leader who wants to lead without power (because, really, there’s NO WAY to hierarchically force someone to have hope!) becomes a champion of hope in the organization. the powerless leader listens for and is present to suffering — not brushing past it or sweeping it under the rug (easier said than done, btw). and in the midst of that safe articulation of struggle, the powerless leader points people to the source of hope (jesus), rather than cul-de-sacs of optimism, technique, and other hope thieves.

a few practicalities:

1. remember Romans 5:3 – 5 — …we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

2. provide reminders of who we place our hope in; reminders of what our hope feels like; reminders of why we have hope.

3. cultivate a language of hope with your team, and with parents.

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?

leading without power, part 4

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist) 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 #3:

Mission Curator

we’ve all heard the importance of leaders articulating and embracing the mission of the organization. but i see three significant flaws in how this often plays out:

first, this often merely means creating a mission statement that gets stuck on a website — a mission statement that sounds nice, but doesn’t actually shape how things are done. while creating a mission statement necessarily bad, this surfacy approach misses the point. the mission of the organization (business, church, youth ministry) is difficult to fully capture in one or two carefully word-smithed sentences. those sentences are often cerebral; while the real mission is more gut. real mission is the embodied fuel of why we exist. it’s something that needs to be felt more than written into a sentence (i’m not suggesting that articulation is misguided; but mission is more than that).

second, that approach to creating a “mission statement” is often produced with outdated (and unbiblical) hierarchical power approaches. a real mission is discerned. and, i would suggest, should be collaboratively discern, not brought down from the mountain on stone tablets.

third, real mission (the kind that can be lived out) has an unrelenting core, but liquid edges. real mission has some fluidity. real mission assumes a posture of humility and openness to change — not only in the implementation, but in the mission itself. real mission says, “this is who we believe god is calling us to be, for now; and we hope god will continue to reveal newness.”

mission provides rails for “where are we going?”

curator is an important word choice here. a curator doesn’t create everything. a curator creates space for interaction, participation and enjoyment. a curator understands that her power is in the role of ‘host’, not ‘dictator’. a curator points to others, to works of beauty and discomfort, and never points to self.

listening to a dozen speakers at last year’s willow creek global leadership summit, i had one take away. it was bill hybels’ point that leaders can’t merely say “this is where we’re going;” leaders have to start by helping people understand “why we can’t stay here,” why ‘here’ is not acceptable.

i’ve railed against our goal-setting obsession before; and it’s because i think we all too often get the cart before the horse. here’s the progression that is essential:

mission → values → goals

in other words: why we exist (leads to) what we’re passionate about (leads to) how we’ll embody this.

the powerless leader doesn’t dictate this progression; the powerless leader curates the process, hosting the dialogue and discernment, showcasing beautiful examples of the mission as well as examples that bring discomfort and move us toward the mission or away from things that are off-mission.

leading without power, part 3

in this series of posts (part 1: overview; part 2: competency facilitator) 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 #2:

Culture Evangelist

i’m becoming more and more convinced that one of the most important skill sets for a 21st century leader is the ability to lead in the area of culture creation. in youth ministry 3.0, i talked about the increased need for leaders (youth workers, in that case; but this is true for all church leaders) to move toward differentiated, contextually appropriate, discerned ministry values, structures, methods, approaches. for that to happen (particularly if we’re moving away from top-down power structures), we have to re-learn the spiritual art of discernment. and we have to learn to practice discernment using a collaborative approach, as opposed to going off to a cave to get a ‘word from god’.

one of the most important things we need to discern (remember: that means an active reliance on the holy spirit, not our own brilliance and insight) is culture. we need to collaborative discern the current culture of our church (or youth group), and the culture we aspire toward.

once this culture is understood, the powerless leader becomes an evangelist for that culture.

my new friend, donavon roberson – a former youth pastor – is the lead culture evangelist for zappos insights, the corporate training arm of zappos.com. i love donavon’s title. church leaders need to unofficially adopt that title.

we evangelize: this is who we are!
we evangelize: this is who we are called to become!
we evangelize: these are the things that are most important to us (our values)!

at a gathering of junior high pastors several years ago, my friend eric venable made the comment that, in their youth ministry, they tried to embrace the idea that “the feel of the ministry is the content”. last night, i happened to be with eric, and he said he’d later heard a professor state that phrase with better terminology: “the method is the message.”

what does culture creation look like in your context?
how can you move toward it, then evangelize it?