Tag Archives: leading without power

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?

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.

leadership as facilitating competencies

i’m presenting a seminar at the national youth workers convention this week called “leading without power“. i stole the title from a book i read years ago by leadership guru max depree (author of leadership jazz, and leadership is an art). it’s not depree’s best book, by any stretch. but the title alone has captured my imagination for years.

in preparing for the seminar, i quickly re-read (skimmed) the book again. it didn’t as much give me seminar teaching points as it prodded some creative thinking on my part.

but one story in his book so completely and wonderfully captured a shift in my thinking that’s been fermenting for a few months: a shift from control to facilitation. the language of this mindset shift came from the conversation my youth ministry coaching program cohort had with dr. robert epstein. we were talking about parenting, and someone asked him how he’s changed his parenting approach from his first round to his second round (he has adult sons from a first marriage, and now, a grouping of 6 – 12 year olds from his second marriage). he briefly unpacked this notion of moving from control to facilitation, with facilitation meaning ‘identifying and nurturing competencies.’

this idea deeply resonates with me. i’ve been trying to apply it to my parenting.

but i’m seeing the spill-over into every other area of leadership. we’ve had some great discussions with my coaching group about what it would look like for us to be champions of competencies in teenagers, rather than program creators.

and, while preparing this seminar on powerless leadership, i’m realizing how this mindset shift so directly applies to all contexts of leadership.

with that in mind, this little story of max depree’s is priceless:

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.”

leading without power

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?