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.

7 thoughts on “leading without power, part 7”

  1. I learned something interesting while watching the commentary on the first DVD of the TV series LOST. While a number of roles were “pre-written,” most of the show was cast or re-categorized based on the actors who came in to audition. For example, the character “Jack” (who eventually became the linchpin of the show) was originally conceived to die in the first episode. The “Kate’ character was going to be the leader of the group after that. “Jack” was planned he would be played by Michael Keaton versus Matthew Fox… that is, until they met Matthew Fox.

    Even cooler – “Hurley” never existed in the script. When the actor who played him auditioned, he originally tried out to play the smooth-talking ladies man “Sawyer.” The DVD shows that video, during which we see a “Hurley-ism” come out that the writers and producers liked enough to create a character around.

    Basically, what made the show what it was wasn’t a job description, but that people were sniffed out for what they could offer, and a job description was written around them.

    The only time I’ve felt this way outside of my current situation was when I was serving under an innovative pastor who would ask me to rewrite my job description and goals every year. This activity was to consider where I was at in life, what I wasn’t capable of this year that I may have been last year (i.e. due to changes in family), and where I sensed God wanted things to go that may have been shifts from how we were doing things. I looked forward to this process because of the freedom it allowed me to grow, and integrated it into how I personally lead others.

    Or as you put it, a “Uniqueness DJ.”

    As a side note, the world doesn’t work this way, and people may still ask to get the 2-dimensional job description that they will attempt to live 3-dimensionally in. If you give them a better way, some may embrace it… but others will struggle. It may even that may lead to issues within the group of leaders you serve that will surface if a strong personality comes in and wonders why everyone else isn’t acting like life in the business world.

    Maybe that’s why you chose the word “DJ,” though – because it involves coming up with remixes on the spot. Meaning, this thinking doesn’t just apply to the personality of the individual, but to the “personality” of the whole group, too.

  2. LOVING this series! You’re articulating these thoughts in a way that’s really helpful, personally, as I’m trying to synthesize similar thoughts into practice. (trying – key word). I feel (without extensive study) that the kind of cultural “ethic” your talking about embodies Kingdom values far better than the current norm in the Church.

    I particularly like your comments relating to creating vision/mission in a discerning community context. And, creating an environment in which we recognize and employ each person’s “unique made-in-god’s-imageness”.

    What kinds of things need to “die” in the church in order for us to embrace powerless leadership?

  3. I’m intigued of course by the student ministry idea. I totally see how/why different volunteers need different roles. I’m wondering though, how much structure then does the ‘uniquness dj’ provide? Is the creative job description rigid once in place? Not that I’m worried you’re suggesting people can just change the game anytime they want because that’s what suits them.

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