A major theme in my life is motion. I have made fourteen major moves with international relocations to Uganda, Greece, Canada, and the USA. The paradox is that all the relocations actually taught me the importance of deep relationships. Friendships matured quickly because we were not sure how long we had together. The vulnerability of inevitable movement fostered an identification that became the foundation for interrelatedness. We shared our stories, hopes, fears, tears and laughter. We risked deep relationship and the result was profound transformation in our lives.
I am an avid reader and am currently reading a book entitled, “Leadership and the New Science” by Margaret Wheatley. Wheatley writes about her research into quantum physics, self-organizing systems, and chaos theory and the direct implications for the science of management. It is an interesting book in which she presents a worldview shift from Newtonian mechanical worldview, to a Quantum mechanical worldview. She writes, “The Newtonian model of the world is characterized by materialism and reductionism—a focus on things rather than relationships and a search, in physics, for the basic building blocks of matter” (:9). She goes on to contrast this with the Quantum worldview, “But it is a world where relationship is the key determiner of what is observed and of how particles manifest themselves. Particles come into being and are observed only in relationship to something else. They do not exist as independent ‘things’” (:10).
The implications of this shift in worldview are occurring in every field of study, not to mention everyday life. Our understanding of Trinitarian theology and the theme of identification—an understanding that sees the other as essential to self identity and wholeness—is rooted in the Eastern church understanding of relationality in the Trinity and is evident in the Western church understanding of the sending nature of God.
This shift in worldview is also awakening renewed understanding of leadership. Relationship is the essence of leadership. Leadership includes challenging assumptions, questioning values digging for the roots of problems that threaten and being true to the relationships that have developed in difficulty and good times. This is risky because it not only confronts others with change and possible loss, but also oneself. Strong relationship mobilizes people to face tasks with confidence even when it involves challenging assumptions and cultural values. One must build strong relationships so that when it comes time to confront adaptive change there is trust, credibility, interdependence and a deep understanding of how much change can be absorbed at a given time. A leader must create space that allows for intimacy, friendship, listening and sharing life stories in a vulnerable way.
“Learning was sharing—of stories, questions, insights, confusion, suffering, paradox and joy. Discernment was not given; it was shared. Wisdom was not imposed; it was portrayed. Character was not taught; it was evoked. As mentors we exercise the courage of vulnerability to offer our lives and experiences, our integrity and failures, our understanding and confusion so that both partners in the relationship can learn” (Anderson 1999: 87-88).
This goes hand-in-hand with the most important skill needed—perspective. Leadership is risky precisely because it is worthwhile. Maintaining innocence, curiosity, and compassion in the midst of the challenge of leadership enables one to risk with gusto and enthusiasm. Perspective—a measured assessment attained by the willingness to listen, learn, question, hold steady—enables one to challenge self and those one is leading to face growth as people and organizations and makes navigating the risk of leading possible. This view of leadership finds itself rooted in the understanding that position and influence are for the benefit of others not self. After all, we do not exist as “independent things” but are created to receive the love of God, so that we can share the love of God.
Anderson, Keith, and Randy D. Reese. 1999. Spiritual Mentoring: A Guide for Seeking and Giving Direction. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.
Excellent insights into leadership. Leading people in adaptive change requires a high level of trust. That trust must be earned over time, and it must be built upon a higher motivation than self-interest. You nailed it when you said, “This view of leadership finds itself rooted in the understanding that position and influence are for the benefit of others not self. ”
Thanks for this thoughtful blog!
Matt, excellent view! May be the next question would be: “when do we let go our Christendom concept of leadership and move to the realities of the 21st century when Christians of the Global South are sending missionaries to NA and Western Europe?
See, Leon Hanciles, “Beyond Christendom” (2008)
Excellent question David! I think that there are some helpful insights for us regarding how we might approach letting go of this “Christendom” mindset in the work of Jane Vella ie. her book “Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach” which I would like to retitle…”Learning to Listen, Learning to be Taulght”…