Wednesday, February 7, 2018

On Leadership: Overview and Leadership as Skill

It's been about 4-5 months since resigned from my church in Chicago to follow the Spirit to the University of Oxford to write my DPhil dissertation, currently titled "Stories the Church Lives By". And as much as I love both the calling and the process of fulfilling that calling, my pastoral soul is itching to preach as much as it is itching to lead. Not everyone is called to leadership, but as someone who is called to it, my bones yearn to lead someone, anyone, somewhere. 

Unfortunately, at least until I complete the necessary work to move to stage two of DPhil and open the doors for teaching in the fail, my bones will have to yearn on. But there must be some small balm for this itch, some tonic for my yearning bones. 

What is that tonic? the balm? The next series of posts. Over the next several posts, I will be exploring what leadership is, as well as more practically how to do it. Leadership, as much as it is a gift, it can also be a cultivated skill. As anyone who's ever tried it knows, it's not about mere knowledge, it's about wisdom. 

Series Overview
As true wisdom starts with some knowledge, and with some awareness of dangers (that is knowing that a cliff is high and present is not the same thing as knowing you're safer not roughhousing near one), this series will start with the Three Cores of Christian Leadership: Faith, Hope, and Love. After the question of what it means to be a leader is addressed, we can move to consider how to actually lead in more concrete situations. That section will address things like Psychological Dynamics, Social Dynamics, and Structural Dynamics. 

Leadership as Skill
Conspicuously absent will be the normal mission, vision, values, etc. that you can pick up in virtually any leadership book, popular-level or otherwise. That's not to say that mission, vision, values, etc. aren't important. They are. But they are well covered. That, and true leadership is always more complicated than mission, vision, and values. The reality is that mission, vision, values, etc. (hereafter MVVE) is a popularized leadership tool, not leadership itself, which is why many people, companies, and churches can have MVVE and still fail to have leadership. 

It's true you have to tell people what they are headed towards, how they are going to get there, and what kind of constraints or ethos they should have along the way. However, if all you do is throw this MVVE tool at people, probably all you're going to get is a bunch of people ducking out of the way so they don't get hit by the flying wrench through the air. A wrench has to be fit over the nut and used to either tighten or loosen the bolt. 

Likewise, if you fail to realize MVVE is just a tool and not the skill of leadership, you are likely to fall into the same trap as the old adage "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." And this is often the main problem when some people read some leadership book, or take some leadership workshop/seminar. They think they are going to get leadership, the skill, but really all they are get is leadership tools. So, because they have learned a leadership tool and not leadership itself, they go back to their respective leadership situations and start wielding their newfound tool as if it was the skill of leadership. 

This means, even if aspiring leaders go to a good workshop that gives them a bunch of tools, but fails to make it clear that's all they are, then they will go home and use the hammer, wrench, and screwdriver on things that require a saw or a drill. Have you ever tried to cut through a 2x4 with a hammer? Don't. You can beat the crap out of that board, but will you ever really be able to say that you cut it? Will you ever get the length and shape you were looking for? Maybe--probably not--but at what cost? As with the 2x4, there is a cost to using a leadership tools without leadership the skill--both for the leader and to the led. 

Leadership is a skill and not a tool, an art, not a technique. The most important things about leadership are not tools, like MVVE and others we will cover, but faith, hope, and love. This is because leadership is not about us as leaders, its about people as created in God's image and called to God's glory and purpose. Thus, leadership is about God and others, but only tangentally about leaders. 

Who is This Series For? 
To that end, many people--aspiring leaders of all kinds--should be able to benefit from these next few posts, whether pastors or not, whether Christians or not. However, I will be gearing my tone towards my fellow pastors, since they are ironically not always trained in leadership as skill and my heart goes out to them, and since theirs is the context that I know best. If you are a elder or deacon or some other kind of lay leader, it should be easy enough to translate things to your own set of responsibilities--and I probably will throw in some comments in your direction too. 

If you're a business leader or some kind of community leader, I think there will be plenty that you can gain as well, although not everything will translate--like I said, leadership is a skill and art, not a set of tools, so seek the skill of leadership and pick up any tool that looks helpful. 

If you're outside of the family of Christ, do join us in the discussion and don't let its Christiany-ness keep you from gaining something. Full warning though, Christians often view leadership very differently than those on the outside, but I think our version of leadership has a great chance at leading to large-scale human flourishing. Also, I might point out that Jesus was apparently so good at leadership, that 2000 years later the leaders He trained are still training new leaders, and we continue to learn much about leadership from Him. 

So let's venture together to discover what leadership is and to increase our skill in it. 

The next post will be On Leadership: Trusting in God and Entrusting to Others


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