leadership 6: radiating possibility

I’ve just finished watching a video featuring author/conductor/inspirer Benjamin Zander. Go ahead and watch it, I’ll wait (you’ll need 14 minutes – but its worth it!).

(Credit – I was put onto the clip by Peter A who posted it over at the Forming Faith, Growing Disciples facebook group)

There’s lots to like about the clip, and the irrepressible Zander, but these lines struck me the most:

A conductor (of an orchestra) doesn’t make a sound.

A conductor depends for (his) power on the ability to make other people powerful.

My job (as a conductor) is to awaken possibility in other people.

You can tell when you are awakening possibility in someone because their eyes are shining.

It seems just about the most poetic and inspiring description of leadership that I’ve come across. The leaders task is to awaken possibility in another, to make them powerful, to make their eyes shine.

Zander goes on to talk about the ‘negative spiral’ language so common today, in which we manage to constantly talk everything down, in the process convincing ourselves that the world really is hopeless.  This, it seems to me, is exactly the opposite to awakening possibility in someone (and that’s Zander’s point).

In the church, the institution in which I work, the negative spiral is verging on out of control. We are too old. Our properties are a noose around our neck.  There aren’t enough of us anymore.  On, and on (and on and on) it goes.  We have all but removed any hope of awakening possibility in the people of the church.

Last night I was helping to host a mission planning conversation for a Uniting Church region (called a “presbytery” in our ever-so-helpful internal lingo) and we tried to identify the critical questions for the church to address.  Quite a few of the questions that emerged were ‘negative spiral’ kinds of questions – but not all.

One of my favourites came from a group who simple asked, “how can we turn our negatives into blessings?”  That, it seems to me, is a question that starts from a place of possibility, of hope that there can be a new way.

It reminds me that in class last week, we encountered Stanley Hauerwas, and some of his thoughts on leadership.  I took five things from the encounter with Hauerwas (watch the video here):

  1. The leader articulates a vision, or speaks for the community.  The leader doesn’t speak to the community, but for it – recognising the vision, the image that is within and declaring it out loud
  2. Innovation and creativity are critical in the art of leadership, and they can be habits formed intentionally – in an individual and an organisation (*)
  3. The leader’s role is to recognise what is within – what giftedness can be found in the community – and empower it
  4. It’s impossible to lead without community engagement – the leader cannot operate in a tower of isolation
  5. The discipline of the ego (of the leader) is vital

Most of those lessons came to mind as I watched Benjamin Zander riff on possibility, on awakening, on seeing eyes shine.

And I was reminded of one experience from my own life that came closest to that kind of encounter.

I went to visit a group from a very small rural church in Tasmania. The group consisted of mostly elderly ladies (and as a result featured the most lavish country style afternoon tea!) and the purpose of our gathering was to think about the future of their church.  The conversation didn’t start well, with the clear declaration that “we are too old, too few in number to have any kind of future”.  I wanted more of that afternoon tea so didn’t want the conversation to end too soon, so we poked and prodded and explored and wondered for a couple of hours together.  We asked questions like “what do we look like at our best?” and “what do we love about our community?” and gradually, bit-by-bit, a different story started to emerge.  Not mindlessly optomisic, but an awakening of possibility, that this group (small and old as they might have described themselves) had a great many things to offer.  The whole tone of the conversation shifted over those two devonshire-tea powered hours of talking and wondering.

I think maybe that’s what Zander is talking about, and Hauerwas too.

Leadership is awakening possibility.

NB: This is the sixth in a serious of posts reflecting on leadership, written during a Religious Leadership course with Trinity Theological College

(*) I have a habit of thinking about imagination and Hauerwas stoked the fire for me again. I think imagination is a most important aspect of leadership, and the most often under-developed. Here’s a few thoughts in case you’re interested:


One thought on “leadership 6: radiating possibility

  1. Just thinking a little more about this clip from Zander.

    Mostly when we talk about leadership we imagine a kind of 1:many relationship – that is one leader who leads/inspires/encourages/empowers many followers.

    Zander, it seems to me, is more imaging a 1:1 relationship – that is one leader awakening possibility in one follower – or at least one at a time.

    I wonder what leadership would look like if those in leadership roles took a 1:1 approach to their understanding of leadership?

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