Sunday, March 29, 2009

Week 3

This week, we'll be reading and discussing chapter 4 - Leadership style. (You can go back and read Chapter 3 some other time if you're interested.)

We know you're excited to be coming back to Willmar this week (we're excited too!) but please don't forsake this assignment!

We'll slow down a little for break and only cover one chapter during the two weeks you're gone (chapter 7.)

This week I’d like to focus on a few points that Graham makes, but I want us to take some of his words a little further and deeper than he does.

In the secular leadership environment that he is coaching people for, “compensating” for weaknesses is good management advice. But Christ calls us to a greater degree of wholeness than merely compensating for our weaknesses. In fact, He tells us that these weaknesses are the areas where His strength is made perfect.

This chapter offers lots of practical reasoning behind the advantages and disadvantages of various character traits, and I think its all essentially good information. But we have an edge on the secular leadership world here, because we already understand and accept the fact that we are broken, imperfect people. In recognizing this fact, we are able to use our weaknesses as strengths by clearing the way for the author and perfecter of our faith to come in and make complete that which cannot possibly be complete without Him.

In my mind, there is no point to leadership if, in the end, it does not point towards the One in whose name we lead or advance His purposes. And since making us complete is among His purposes, it follows that there is something much more mission-fulfilling to be done with our weaknesses than merely compensating for them. We can actually use them to enhance His glory… and that is the end we lead in support of! So rejoice in your weaknesses!

We have not been made complete on our own. But through the body of Christ, the Church, He has made us complete, and equipped us for every task He has set before us. Each of our weaknesses is offset by a strength in another. As a leader, one of the constant battles I fight is the temptation to think of myself as self-sufficient.

So, back to the point… I agree that it is important to identify both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in our leadership “styles,” but we must be very careful that we don’t use this discussion of “style” to justify our actions or shortcomings (“that’s just who I am – deal with it!”) Scripture clearly teaches that our knowledge of Christ should transform us (see Colossians 3, Romans 12, and countless other passages.)

Even without the spiritual perspective, Graham identifies that some styles are inappropriate, regardless of how “authentic” they are for us (I noticed particularly that sarcasm was on his list, and I must admit that I cringed a little bit.) For us, this list could be expanded to include any style that doesn’t reflect Christ in us. And, as drawn as we are to the idea of “authenticity,” it’s worth mentioning that it is not inauthentic to “suppress” these parts about ourselves and instead seek to grow – this is what Christ calls us to do, and it’s what we’re calling our team members to do. (We could insert an entire tangent about fruit of the spirit here.)

While we’re here, let’s give a little press to this concept of authenticity. Authenticity is tested and defined by those around us. No matter how strongly you believe it, you can’t objectively declare yourself to be authentic. (In fact, chances are good that the louder you shout about how authentic you are, the more people are going to stop their ears against your shouting.)

I wasn’t really impressed with the value of the metaphor exercise where you ask someone else what kind of animal they are when they’re leading, but I do think it’s critical that we not assess ourselves in a vacuum. We need the input of people who can tell us straight up where our perceptions of ourselves are not aligning with how others perceive us. Enter one Biblical way to “compensate” for our weaknesses: listening to the wise council of others.

The last thing I want to highlight here is this thing Graham defines as the Pucker Factor. I find this to be a mostly practical discussion of something that tends to happen intuitively. But the one very interesting thing to me about the Pucker Factor (which is somewhat annoyingly described as an absolute equation) is the illustration that it can actually remain low if group competence is high enough.

This is interesting to me because it would be an indication of a great leadership success. If you find yourself in a challenging situation in which your group recognizes the gravity and employs their ability to avert it, you’ll find yourself among people who have been liberated to do what’s needed in the best possible way... and you’ll be the one who has liberated them.

Now, I’m obviously not advising that you use a potentially dangerous situation as an opportunity to observe what your team is capable of. You clearly have to know that information before you’re in a situation where you need to know it, and you need to be prepared to intervene in high PF situations. Knowing whether or not you will need to intervene will depend on how well you have gotten to know your team, and to what degree you have empowered them in low PF situations.

My chief complaint about this chapter is that it seems to place a high value on self-sufficiency. I think this is a trap, not only for us as leaders, but for us as Christ-followers. I believe the better path to leadership success for our purposes involves exploiting every opportunity to empower others. Doing so provides the opportunity for those we lead to be formed more in Christ’s image, and this is at the core of our mission, coequal with serving our partners.

I encourage you all, as you discover your leadership style and its associated strengths and weaknesses, to take particular note of the weaknesses, and “compensate” for them by empowering others. And the first person on your empowerment list will be your co-leader. Be thinking of specific ways to empower them.

I have no specific reflection questions this week, but I do want everyone to share their thoughts from the chapter, or on what I’ve written. If you’re stumped for material, consider sharing some of what you believe your strengths and weakness are, and allow the community to share back with you whether or not your assessment of yourself lines up with what others see as your strengths and weaknesses.