Tag Archives: leadership

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?

the values that act as my rudder

this past year in my youth ministry coaching program, i have gotten more and more adamant about the role of values in leadership. it’s not like this is a new idea in the least. and i’ve been talking and blogging about it for years. but i’ve refined my thinking, and it slowly became the central teaching/coaching component of the ymcp. for the first cohort, their final project involved articulating in written form both personal and professional values. (for an example of this, here are joel mayward’s personal and professional values.)

another ymcper, brian berry, recently sent me the link to this video, which has so much to say about the role of values (even though the video never once uses that word). you will not, i promise, regret the couple minutes you spend watching this video (in fact, hundreds of you will be repurposing it for youth group within a week):

so. i’ve got a challenging decision on my plate, one with vocational implications. i spent a couple days in the desert last week, seeking god. and, at one point i thought to myself, “you idiot. you made everyone else write out their core values, but you’ve never written out your own!” duh. admitadly, seperating personal and professional values is a false dichotomy (i wanted my ymcpers to think about the two spheres and what might be similar or different). but, i chose to create one list, more along the lines of “personal values that have vocational implications.”

here’s what i came up with (btw: i considered this a process of spiritual discernment, not an exercise in brainstorming):

My family comes first. Without meaningful connection to them, I’m useless for anything else.

Personal growth and transformation is the best life. I want the ‘fullness of life’ that Jesus promises in John 10:10, not the life of a cog, a maintainer, or a yes-man.

I want to change the world. I believe in my gut that I am invited into the ongoing restoration work of Christ in the world, and I want to actively participate in that Kingdom work.

I love the church, and want to see her change. I believe that, through Christ, the church is God’s plan for the world. We are the equipment. Let’s stop wasting time and get to it.

I want to lead collaboratively. Powerless leadership is both biblical and more effective. Nurturing a culture of team, empowerment, collaboration, and risk are core to how I aspire to lead.

Change is non-negotiable. Upheaval, starting new things, risk and failure are all necessary and good, both for the organization I’m a part of and for my own level of thriving.

Uniqueness is better than conformity. Honoring and celebrating initiative and unique gifting, in alignment with the values of the whole, creates excellence and life. Conformity only leads to death.

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 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?

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.”

thoughts from the bobsled

a couple weeks ago, while on vacation in park city, utah, my family spent the day at the olympic park. it’s the place where all the jumping events (the massive nordic jumps and the smaller flip-7-times-while-cooking-an-omelet kind), as well as the tracks for bobsled, luge and skeleton. these days, it’s both a working training center (we saw little kids on all the jumps, as part of classes — they have nifty ways to use the jumps in the summer), and a tourist attraction. jeannie and i had listened to (and said no to) a timeshare pitch in order to get 4 passes for the two ziplines and the alpine slide. good times.

all four of us in my family also had a certain amount of money to spend on our trip — on souvenirs or goodies or whatever.

i used my allotment to ride the bobsled.

the bobsled run at the utah olympic center is the 2nd fastest bobsled run in the world. and while it’s still used for real athletes, they also take silly tourists with money to blow on runs with a trained driver. it’s $200 in the winter; and in the summer, on a modified sled with wheels, it’s $60 (but i got a $10 discount, so it was $50). i was the last rider of the day, and went down the run with a driver and one other worker (because, they said, it was faster with at least three people). we clocked in at 69.4mph. the olympic athletes, on this course, go about 85 on ice.

it was one of the most intense minutes of my life. i didn’t breathe once.

but the extremely strange thing is that, somewhere about halfway down the run, while rounding a high banked turn and experiencing g-forces that left my stomach queezy for three hours afterward, i had a series of thoughts.

thought 1: this is FAST!

thought 2: that reminds me of that experience i had while driving a waverunner across a lake in texas back in 2006, when i sensed that god was saying something to be about ‘going fast’.

thought 3: this — my life — is so different now.

seriously, i thought that while rounding a turn on the bobsled run.

for so many years, my life was fast, fast, fast. i was afraid of it and proud of it. i nurtured it, pursued it, and knew i had to address it. i fondled my fastness while telling people how i was avoiding an affair with it. in some ways, i feel like i was a broken record, addressing the same thing over and over again, but not really changing anything.

i wrote a blog post about that experience on the lake, in 2006. it starts like this:

while zipping across lake conroe at 45mph, I was asking god what I should notice.


what about it?

you’re going fast.

crap. that’s too obvious. of course i’m going fast. i like fast.

some voice in me speaks, or god’s voice – i’m not sure (at first i dismiss it as a cliché voice – the ‘it’s obvious, stupid’ voice that only knows how to parrot what every other armchair psychologist or armchair god would say): you need to slow down.

i really did know this was a problem. and i really did know it could be my undoing. but it also made me feel important; and people affirmed me for it all the time. i even knew — ugh, this part is ugly — that talking about how i knew my speed was unhealthy, and taking seemingly aggressive steps to address it, made me look good. it was almost like that dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream thing from the movie inception: i was revealing my issues (which were real), but using them to mask an even deeper sickness.

so back to the bobsled.

clearly, my life has changed a good deal in the last year. and merely looking at my travel schedule would not lead the casual observer to believe that i’ve slowed down in the least. i’ve still got my fingers in dozens of projects, and deadlines still press on me; and while i’d assumed i would lose my airlines status this year for lack of flights, that’s looking unlikely at this point.

but… i don’t feel like i’m going fast anymore. at least, i don’t feel like i’m addicted to it anymore, or that it’s part of my identity, or that i need it like i did. others have affirmed this, including my wife and kids.

here’s what i’m thinking: maybe the ‘too fast’ was never about my schedule, but was always more about my motivation.