Apr 302015

Last weekend, I spoke on leadership at a retreat for my missionary colleagues.  I challenged some of our stereotypical images of leadership with comments such as these:,

  • “There is more to leading than going first”
  • “We confuse leadership with authority.”
  • “Leadership is more about being vulnerable than being in charge.”

We looked at Jesus’ model of leadership in John 13.  Jesus knew that all things were under his power.  And Jesus took off his outer garments, took up a water basin and towel, and washed the feet of his followers.

I also shared something I’m calling the Trust/Influence Matrix.  It’s a work in progress, and the feedback I received at the retreat was a great help to me as I continue to work on it.  It goes like this . . .

There are as many definitions of leadership as their are people who create definitions.  But one common thread in most definitions is the concept of influence.  “Leadership as influence” is an elegant, simple way to think of leadership.  If we think of the ability to influence others as a continuum, we could represent it like this:

Influence Continuum
By this definition, effective leaders are those who operate on the right side of the continuum.  The more you influence others, the more you are leading.  Followers are those who are influenced by the leader to carry out the vision, goals and plan communicated by the leader.

But this only tells part of the leadership story.  To lead as Jesus calls us to lead, we need to pay a good deal more attention to other aspects of leadership.  Not only should we consider how leaders influence followers, but we should also consider how leaders allow themselves to be influenced by those they lead.  This was the subject of my dissertation — a couple of years of work — and yet I feel that I have only begun to scratch the surface of this topic.

In addition to leadership as influence, I suggest that we also need to value leadership as trust.

Trust Continuum
Is this counter-intuitive?  We usually think of trust as the quality of followers, not leaders.  Can one say that the more you trust others, the more you are leading?  It may be possible to lead without trust, but I don’t think it’s wise and I don’t think it reflects a Biblical perspective of leadership.  I believe those who lead across cultures need need a capacity for trusting others, for learning from and listening to and accepting those they serve and lead.

In a world where both trust and influence are necessary ingredients of healthy and effective leadership, we could draw this kind of picture:

Influence:Trust Matrix
Authentic leaders are ones who don’t merely work to influence those they lead — they intentionally put themselves in a posture that allows themselves to be influenced by those they lead.  I’ll be back next week to share more about how I see each of the quadrants.

Nov 302012

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them . . . . Listening can be a greater service than speaking. . . . There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that . . . is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1978). Life Together. San Francisco: Harper.

Enough said.

Nov 152012

As I wrote last week, I have been well cared for by a variety of great teams during the month since my surgery. And my hip with three stainless steel screws is getting stronger every day. But teams don’t always work the way they’re supposed to work.

Because of the large number of teams that cared for me, and the diverse personnel working on each team, communication proved to be a special challenge. This was most evident during my week in the hospital. I would hear contradictory information from two or three different people, which resulted in both personal confusion (what was really going on?) and doubt (did anyone understand what was really going on?). For example, I received conflicting answers to the question, “When are you going to take the epidural out of my back?”. It had been there for 3 days, and one nurse said she thought it could come out soon. Later that day, another caretaker told me that it was decided that I would have it out this afternoon. A couple of hours later, I asked a third person about it. “The epidural? No, that has to remain overnight. We won’t take it out until tomorrow.”(Ironically, a couple of hours later they checked on the needle in my back after I complained of a pinched feeling there. They found that that needle had come out of its own accord!).

I also became frustrated when I had to repeatedly tell the same information to different people. It felt like they never talked to one another. At about 5:00 AM each morning, a doctor (or resident, or intern–I was never sure who was who) would come into my room to check on me. He would ask how I was doing and look at my incision and say things looked fine. About an hour later, another doctor (or resident or intern) came in to do the same check. An hour later, a third doctor did the same thing. The only difference I noticed was that each succeeding doctor seemed to be more knowledgeable than the one before. Only the third doctor was prepared to answer questions like, “Is it okay to move my leg now?” or “When might I be able to check out of here?”.

Communication is vital both within a team (Do the doctors talk to one another?) and between teams (Do the doctors talk with the nurses? Do the nurses know what the physical therapists are doing?).  Last week, I referred to my wife who was basically a member of each team. One of her roles was listening to what each team was doing and speaking up to let one group know what the other was doing. In a ministry or church with multiple teams, members who belong to more than one team are key to the effective communication between teams. And every member is key to effective communication within teams.