Sunday, October 20, 2013

Are We Doing Leadership Wrong?

This post is to participate in October's synchroblog topic for "The Despised Ones" blogging collective.  The questions asked were:

  • What does cruciform leadership look like? 
  • Should we even use the word "leadership" or should people who are catalysts, visionaries, teachers, etc, only think of themselves as "servants" instead?
  • Or answer another question of your choosing that is related to leadership.

I'm not even sure my post will answer the questions, but it is a post that I've been trying to finish writing since August.  Please feel free to link up to the synchroblog at the bottom of this post.  I'm hoping I set it up correctly and that it will work!


Back in August, I attended a satellite location for Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit.  Like most introverts, I needed time to think about and absorb the information with which I was presented.

One big question I had as I sat through all the talks was "what do I do with this now?"  I was the only non-staff/non-elder person from my church who attended.  Another attendee commented through the conference hashtag about "leading up" and in the home, and while I agree with those, I still wonder about them (and besides, for people who believe women can't be leaders what do they do in the home, anyway?!).  

Despite having written a study guide about women in leadership, I don't have a lot of expertise in the area of leadership theory.  I have only read a handful of leadership books.  But it struck me, as I saw the crowd on the screen that was at Willow Creek and knew there were hundreds of satellite locations, that for many reasons, people crave this information and want to be leaders.  But I do wonder what that means.  

When I first learned that there were leadership books and leadership conferences, it kind of perplexed me.  I thought, don't people just know how to treat others who work for them?  Apparently not, because I have worked for some bad bosses.  I've worked for some who are control freaks, and whenever they would leave work for me to do, there would be a "see me" note on it, so that for each task I would have to go and have them explain it to me.  That way, they could know when I was starting it and how long it took me to do it.  In this office, we all had typewriters in our individual offices, and the two or three computers were all in one room, so that they would know who was using the computer, when, and the reason it was being used.  At another job, I had a friend who requested to come to work 15-20  minutes late each morning in order to get her kids on the school bus so they wouldn't be alone.  She offered to take the time off her lunch hour.  Her request was denied and she eventually left and took another job that enabled her to have that flexibility.  And these supervisors in both situations?  Christians.

We often think of leaders as exuberant, outgoing, energetic people--the stereotypical extroverted leader.  And that's probably one big reason why I have never really considered myself a "leader"--I am an introvert, and I like to think for a while about things before I respond, and being with a lot of people is draining.  I'll never be the "life of the party" (I hope that doesn't make me sound too boring!)

Something I noticed is that people like to talk about servant leadership and turning leadership upside down and leading where you are and not really striving to be someone who is a Big Deal.  But then I'll see that people who are invited to speak at conferences are people who are Big Deals.  And the examples I read recently in a leadership book were all Big Deals and doing Big Things.  What message does that send to the Small Deal Leader?  The person who is considered a Nobody?  Do we ever hear from leaders who are leading from another angle or "lower level" or do we only hear from them when they become Big?  Sometimes, it seems as if the advice that everyone is leading and everyone can be a leader and do it where you are is to placate those who are not "in charge" of something.  And I've appreciated that sentiment in my own life.  When I heard the idea that leadership is influence, it made me feel better about myself and my situation in life.


How many leaders on top are really going to practice a model of "everyone's a leader"?  Is the CEO of a company going to delegate decision-making to the janitor who cleans her office?  Is a pastor going to open up the weekly sermon time for anyone who wants to give one?  Is a coach going to let the players decide how to run things?  It's pretty unlikely that these will happen, and so even though we have all these grand ideas about leadership being about more than being "in charge", people still often need someone to be in charge, to step up and make decisions, to organize the group, or at least lead the discussion about how a group should be organized.  

I thought an article in Christianity Today made some great points about this that made me rethink looking at leadership simply as "influence".  Paul Pastor writes:

"We pay lip service to servant leadership, but still structure our communities like the outside kingdom. There's a problem in our formation if we don't recognize the danger of this.
And there lies the true leadership crisis in the church. We face the same problem that we always have, the same problem that James and John (desiring to be young influentials) fell prey to when they desired glory at the right and left hands of the Enthroned Christ instead of longing to join the Servant-king in the empty place of true leadership.  
You see, there has always been a crisis of leadership in the church. It is this: few of those Christians called to lead seem to embrace Christ's model of leadership. Why? We cannot drink Christ's cup.

Many of our churches are still structured with the pastor who gives the Sunday sermon as the leader, even if there is some sort of board that also leads.  Often, this ends up working itself out as one (or a few) people with a specific vision for a specific location with which other people need to get on board.  Mike Breen wrote about this recently in which he said that this is called "plug and play" leadership, and he challenged readers to imagine what it would be like for various leaders from the Bible to step foot inside this church and volunteer.  Where would the be placed?  As ushers?  Sunday School teachers teaching prescribed curriculum?  Is that what we can see Paul or Priscilla doing in the local church today?  

Jesus' leadership example was to give up power and to die (Philippians 2:5-8).  Yet that is not what any of us really do--or want to do.  We want to stay in control because we have ideas about how things should be.  I know I do!  I don't like giving up control (especially if I feel I haven't really attained the level of it that I would like).  And so, if I think of leadership in those terms, it is leadership in a finite sense.  All of our leadership plans, at some point, should probably die so that new ones from others can be born.  If one's influence or leadership becomes so great that the message presented becomes about the messenger instead, it's probably a good time to take a look at what is going on.  I think back to a church I attended at one time where I thought I heard more people talk about how much they loved the pastor and what the pastor said than they did about Jesus.  It concerned me then and it still concerns me now.   When God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, Moses didn't want to do it.  He couldn't speak well.  But God still chose him.  Maybe, just maybe, it is for that very reason.  Because if Moses had been an eloquent speaker, and fit into the type of leader that we tend to glorify today, who would have gotten the attention:  Moses or God?

 If what I say or write is making people talk about me instead of about Jesus, instead of about exploring their faith, instead of relating with others and further finding out what it means to have an abundant life, then I am doing it wrong.  

What about you?
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