on leadership…again

If you’ve hung around here for a while you might recall that this is far from the first time I’ve posted about leadership. This time though, I’m not writing, but talking. And sadly for you all, it’s on video! 😉

Recently I sat down with Ben Rogers, editor of Journey magazine to record a chat about leadership – and specifically about Christian leadership.  Below is the video of our chat, and here’s the article that precipitated the conversation.  And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, here’s some more of my potentially baseless musings on leadership.

Your comments are welcome.

workshop description: the art gallery

I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with ministers and leaders of Uniting Churches in a Queensland city in recent months as they work together to try and figure out what the future looks like.

It’s been enjoyable to be a small part of what is a gentle process of sharing stories, getting to know one another, and slowly activating an imagination about a shared future.

Last night was the next step in the process, and a fun way of encouraging imagination, creativity and building something together.  We had about 35 present for an evening event we dubbed “The Art Gallery”. Read on for a description of what was a fun, creative and imaginative night of resourcing leadership. Continue reading

the pothole

The pothole (the geological kind, not the road traffic kind) is, I think, an interesting phenomenon.

A little pebble gets caught in a crack or depression, swirls around and gradually, bit-by-bit, grinds away the underlying rock. It digs deeper and deeper, over hundreds, thousands, even millions of years.

I quite like potholes because they remind me that with persistence and time, even a little gravel can make big changes.

But the metaphor works the other way too…that over such a long period, a little pebble can do a lot of damage.

I’m starting to wonder more and more if there’s a sad, disturbing kind of pothole forming in in our (western, mainstream, Australian) culture. Here’s a couple of symptoms:

The vast majority of climate scientists are very clear about anthropogenic climate change. We are heating up our planet with our insatiable desire for burning fossil fuels, and we will pay a heavy price. More frequent, more intense weather events, rising sea levels, loss of habitat and flora/fauna, people dying. Those that are best placed to know, appear relatively certain that this is all true.  Almost every counter-argument has been demonstrated to be false.  And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, be held hostage by big business and declare “climate change is crap” because “I know a guy who said….”

Immunisation rates are falling, with the result that herd immunity against long-ago contained diseases is now at risk in parts of Australia.  Medical experts (those that are best placed to know) are clear about the value of immunisation, and the tiny risks involved in it. And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, to deny our own children (and other children) this safety net.

Politicians are almost universally disliked and regarded as untrustworthy.  For non-believers the same is true for religious leaders. And probably a long list of others.  We who sit at home and google conspiracy theories feel quite justified in declaring that we know better than those best placed to know…about nearly any topic we care to name.

I personally am the “World’s Expert” (TM) on medicine, climate science, national leadership, international relations, economics, search and rescue for lost aircraft,  Formula 1 Team Management, Australian Cricket team selection, NRL refereeing standards…and plenty more.

And so I make  up my own mind, irrespective of the views of those who are best placed to know.

I’m not (really) interested in debating the pros and cons of climate science, religion or immunisation, but I am wondering whether these things are symptoms (rather than causes) of a bigger issue:

The erosion of trust.

As a society I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming a place in which trust is an ever decreasing commodity.  With the rise of the individual and of self-determination, comes a first subtle, but now accelerating erosion of trust.

I don’t trust politicians, I don’t trust the media, I don’t trust scientists, I don’t trust religious leaders…on and on it goes. I don’t trust my neighbours enough to let my kids walk to school alone.

And sure, let’s be fair and honest, some of those whom we no longer trust bring it on themselves (I’m looking at you Australian politics), but just as often it’s because I get an idea in my head that I know better.

I know better than the climate scientist, the immunologist, the referee, the footy selector.

And so the next time we disagree, I’ll trust them a little less.  And a little less. And a little less.

Until there’s just not a whole lot of trust left.

Mis-trust might just be the pebble that is digging away at the bedrock, forming a deeper and deeper pothole.

And trust, it seems to me, is one of those things that is self-fulfilling.  If I exhibit trust, then those I trust are more likely to act in a a trustworthy way, and so I’ll trust them more (and so on).  Could the reverse, I wonder, also be true?

If my pondering has any merit (and lets be frank, as I’ve already announced, I’m the World’s Expert (TM), so it must) the question must be, what to do about it? How to remove the pebble of mistrust and start to repair the damage?

Is the answer to try harder to trust the people around me? The people who are best placed to know? To explicitly put my trust in them and demand trustworthy action?

Perhaps.

But just as important, it seems to me, the answer is for me to act in a trustworthy manner myself – to build the pool of communal trust that is going around, by ensuring that my family, my friends, my colleagues, those I support in my daily work, my neighbours (those I encounter as I live my life)…they can trust me.

To trust, and be trusted.

Sounds like community.

(p.s. just so we’re really clear…the “World’s Expert” (TM) claim is an attempt at humour…)

 

leadership #3: following the leader

Over the last couple of weeks in our leadership class, we’ve been mainly focused on two questions of leadership:

  • What is leadership?
  • Who leads?

Those conversations took us in some interesting directions, but today we found an entirely different tangent to pursue.

Today we talked about followers.

Today we wondered if leadership is actually something that is offered by erstwhile leaders at all, or rather whether it’s something that is sought, recognised, and even bestowed by a group of followers.

We talked about the little known notion of ‘followership’.

When all the attention in our talk about the future is on seeking a higher quality of leadership, finding new leadership theories, developing the leaders within our community, or bringing in wildly brilliant leaders from outside….the theory of followership suggests that we perhaps ought to be focusing our attention elsewhere.

The success of any enterprise, or organisation is largely attributable to the quality of the followers, the community of people who identify as “we” and who collectively seek after common goals. The leader might help to organise and equip, and even to recognise the vision and purpose that is hidden within the group of followers….but it’s the followers that matter most.

Or so my understanding of the theory goes.

And to be truthful, it kind of rings true. It’s hard to be a great leader on your own. In fact there’s no leadership in action at all if its not recognised as such by a group of followers.

Somehow in our world, we’ve managed to bestow negative connotations on the word follower. Say it out loud. Let it roll off your tongue. Follower. It’s hard to say without thinking of sheep, of uncritical, unthinking flock. Followers bad. Leaders good.

The truth could hardly be more different. And as a Christian, I should know that. Jesus didn’t ask us to be unthinking, uncritical, automatons. Sheep-like followers.

Jesus did call us to follow, but in a sense to follow with the best of who we are. To bring all our giftedness, all our talent, all our capacity to reason, to think, to analyse, to critique and to act. To join with God’s purposes for the world with all that we are.

In that light the famous question “what would Jesus do?” is the wrong question. It could be construed as the question of a sheep-like follower. Perhaps the better question (though a little less sexy and not quite as neat) is to say “as one called to bring all I have to follow Jesus, what should I do?”

I’m patenting that and having bracelets made up. “AOCTBAIHTFJWSID”. They’re going to be big sellers.

The question of course, for those thinking about what leadership means, is what to do with this notion of followership. I think there are a few clues, a few places to start:

1. Recognise that within the group or community there is an astonishing capacity, a broad range of gifts and skills, and the potential to transform the world (or at least that part of it to which we have access).

2. Recognise that within the group or community there is (either overtly or tucked away) a vision – a sense of who we want to be, what we want to achieve, how we want our (collective) life to feel and look.

3. The task of the leader is to recognise what’s there and help give expression to it, to sharpen it, to identify as one with the community, to want and work for the community at its very, very best – and to find ways of organising, resourcing and encouraging to release that best within it.

4. The task of the leader is to love followers. Love them.

Maybe it’s time to reclaim the word followers. Followers rock. Followers are the future. Followers (and I’m not even joking a little bit) will save the world.

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

“who wants to be awesome?”

IMAG1540 smallI was reminded recently of a great story about my son.

We had a bunch of family friends over at our house one afternoon, and the kids were all playing up a storm – inside where the toys are. Mitchell was about 4 years old at the time, and desperate to get his friends to go outside to play.

The way I remember it, he tried everything:

“Who wants to go play on the trampoline?”

“Who wants to go on the swings?”

“Who wants to play cricket?”

“Who wants to play footy?”

And nothing worked. I don’t remember what game the kids were playing, but it must have been good because they weren’t budging.

Mitch went away a little sad, but determined to figure out how to get his mates to play outside. A few minutes later he burst into the room, all excited in the way only a four year old can be and called out over the din:

“Who wants to be AWESOME?”

Naturally all the four-year old hands shot up and the kids vanished outside in the blink of an eye, following Mitch into a state of awesomeness (and thankfully leaving behind blissful silence!).

It’s a priceless family story, and one I look forward to telling at his 21st (yep, I’m that kind of dad, gathering ammunition ideas already), but what it’s got me to be thinking about this week is whether in life we ask the right questions.

Try as he might, those initial questions just didn’t have the desired effect, but as soon as he stumbled on the right question, the response was instantaneous:

“Who wants to be AWESOME?”

It’s a little like the oft-quoted phrase of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who is said to have written:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

In so much of our world today, I think we make the mistake of organising wood gathering, ship building plans, work orders, inviting people to jump on the trampoline or play soccer.  It’s there in our political environment, our media, and even our churches when we go all missional and try to invite people to contemplate the place of God in their lives.  I think maybe we ask the wrong questions.

Leadership has to be about asking the right question, building the right yearning, the right atmosphere and vision.

It has to be about teaching people to yearn for the sea.

In the language of a four year old, it has to be about asking “who wants to be awesome?”

just around the corner

I parked yesterday in a suburban street in West Launceston.

It could have been anywhere. Houses, footpaths, cars. Kids playing. People walking. A school at the top of the hill, a shop down the road.

It was so very normal. Suburbia.

And then I walked.

After two minutes I was in ‘First Basin’ where the South Esk River comes spilling out of the upper sections of Cataract Gorge, into a large open pool, before continuing down the Gorge to the waiting arms of the Tamar estuary. The water is surrounded by cliffs and hills, parkland and bushland, a 300m chairlift carrying excited school kids overhead. Peacocks fussing and preening.

It’s anything but suburbia.

And I walked again, following a trail upstream toward the delightfully named Duck Reach.

Not 10 minutes from setting out on foot from my car parked in the heartland of the suburbs I was a world away.  The remnant of last week’s floodwaters tumbled down the rocky riverbed. The steep sides of the gorge deep with forest, the atmosphere still and heavy – the river and an occasional bird’s call the only sounds beyond my own footsteps.

It is a beautiful place, and all the more remarkable for being so close to the heart of the city.

At one moment I was in the normalcy of suburbia, and minutes later deep in tbe beauty of the gorge.  It never ceases to amaze me that such a remarkable spot can be so close to ordinary life, literally just around the corner.

As I walked I thought a lot about that fact. I wondered how often we who are caught up in the ordinariness of daily life miss the spectacular, the remarkable, the astonishing that is just around the corner.

And I wondered about the church that I work among, so obsessed with worrying about our daily bread that we miss all the opportunities that lie just out of sight.

It seems an obvious connection. Lift our eyes from suburbia to find the remarkable that is literally on our doorstep.

But as I trod the riverside path on my way back home, something started to stir for me.  I had parked my car in the middle of everything that I know, and gone off to find something better.

And how often, I wondered, is that the case?  How often do we give up on all that is normal and around us to go searching for the something remarkable?  How often do we leave suburbia to go hunting for Cataract Gorge?

The closer I got to my car the more I realised that suburbia is anything but ordinary.  This is where I live. There are friends and family, there are stresses and tension, there is laughter of kids playing in the front yard, heartache as an amublance races to the scene of a domestic tragedy.

This, suburbia, is life. It’s not ordinary, it’s incredible.  When I go looking for the amazing that I’m convinced is just around the corner I think perhaps I miss the remarkable that surrounds me right where I am.

The grass is always greener, or so we say.  The salvation of my church, the restoration of my soul, the reclaiming of my world as a better place….these things are perpetually just around the corner.

Except they are not. They are right before my very eyes. They are my neighbours, my family, the shop at the end of my street.  The best stuff isn’t around the corner, its right here.

Perhaps I’d best start just here.

Leadership….is not a dirty word

There are two leadership quotes that I particularly love.

Lao Tzu: A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him….But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, “We did it ourselves.

Napoleon Bonaparte: A leader is a dealer in hope.

Leadership is not demanding, commanding, directing, or driving.  It is not managing or administration.

We have an oversupply of ‘leaders’ (whether political or otherwise) who lead by being negative, by pointing out the problems in our world, the dangers we face, what we should “not” be doing.

The kind of leadership that is most effective, and that is most lacking in our world today (and if we’re honest, in our church as well) is the kind of leadership that deals in hope, that inspires initiative and energy.  A truly effective leader is one who paints a picture of an alternate reality, who reveals to us what we ‘could’ be, and motivates us to go where we might not go if left to our own devices.

That’s the kind of leadership I would love to see us nurture in the Uniting Church in Tasmania.

What does it mean for you to deal in hope?  Who can you encourage or inspire? What new possibilities can you imagine….and call into existence?

(this story first published in Uniting Tas – the monthly newsletter of the Uniting Church in Tasmania)