A series of blogs on developing Christian principles for Leadership, Organising and Learning

Part 1:

There comes a point in any human endeavour where people and activities need to be organised. When this happens we need to decide how to organise, and what leadership model to adopt.

However, I suspect that for most of us, it is more likely that we find ourselves in situations where the model for organising and leadership are already in place.

In either case, Christians should aspire to organise and work in ways that are congruent with our beliefs, values, missiology.

My sense is that many ‘not for profit’ or ‘value-based’ organisations have been seduced by commercial management methods. There seems to be a continuing notion/story/myth that this is the professional thing to do. Research has shown that many charities, public authorities such as schools, hospital, civil service and churches have gone this way.

Yes there are things we can learn from the world of commerce. However, it is important to remember that commercial methodology is based on a particular worldview, ie, capitalism. And that any techniques or solutions thereof come imbedded with capitalistic values and assumptions, which we may or may not agree with! In my experience, many Christians:

1. are not (philosophically) motivated by capital.
2. would prefer methodologies that are ‘Apolitical’ (rather than right wing).
3. want to be less individualistic, competitive and meritorious.

An alternative model is relational practice which has at its heart a philosophical commitment to inclusivity; empowerment and ethical practice. It is based on a human developmental process informed by relational attributes such as nurturing, love, connectedness, and expressions of feelings.

This is in contrast to modernist models which are based on “rational values” associated with autonomy, scientific methodology, and independence. Don’t get me wrong, we do need to use reason, and to make our thinking rationally coherent. However, a relational orientation focuses on communal interactions rather than on rational individualism.

In the relational ‘paradigm’, leaders are participants in the communal construction of meaning, purpose and action. Rather than relying on power derived from command and control, they play a key role in sense-making; and motivating people to fruitful and coherent action/s within complex situations.

This series of blogs will explore how leadership and organising might look like as relational practice. I will share these thoughts over the coming weeks. They are meant for discussion, comments, suggestions and re-working. I am hoping that this will be a way of developing these ideas further.

A Micro Mouse Approach to Building Community

The rodent not the pc accessory!

My conversation with a few friends over lunch today really exited me!

It seems we live in a “go large”, “live it large”, “bigger is better”, “big bang” world. At some level, we are all influenced by this mantra.

What if the opposite were true? Perhaps it’s the small things that have a big impact that have more potential for creating and sustaining change. I think someone called this the ‘micro mouse’ approach. If not, I call dibs!

The Church Mission Society was recognised by the Church of England as an acknowledged community in 2009.

Since then CMS have been trying to communicate what this means in practice, to our staff, members, mission partners and supporters but so far with only some success. Using the analogy of aeroplanes, one observer noticed that there was a big gap between the “leading edge” and the “trailing edge”. He was referring to the message of community and the lived reality of our members.

At the lunch table today, some of us were pondering why this might be, and what we can do about it.

As the conversation unfolded, it occurred to us that we may have been going about this the wrong way. We were thinking in terms of grand gestures. What is the big thing we can do? What’s the big programme? What’s the big event? What’s the big communication campaign? What’s the big publication? What’s the big (re)structure?

Perhaps what’s needed is precisely the opposite! We should be asking instead: “what are the small things we can do to help each other experience ourselves as community?”

We went round the table, asking each other this question; and, the suggestions started rolling in. I could not contain my excitement!

I was so enthused; I rushed up to my PC to write this blog. My excitement wasn’t so much for the idea of going small – but for the really interesting suggestions. I would like to capture these. So, please put your ideas as replies to this blog and let’s see how we can act on them together.

In relation to becoming a Mission Community… what are the small things we can do that can potentially have a big impact?

So far, we’ve got:

“Have meals together. Don’t label it as community, just eat together.”

“Have coasters or beer mats made up, with a simple message.”

“Give out community badges or fridge magnets.”

“Visit each other.”

“Set up a Facebook page to pray for each other”.

Join “We are saying yes” http://www.wearesayingyes.org/

Gender equality: Moving beyond legislation and political correctness

This morning at our usual staff gathering, the person leading our time of reflection celebrated the significant achievements of the early “Heroines of Christian mission”. It was remarkable to reflect how much these great women of God accomplished  in spite of the inequalities that existed; and continue to exist today.

This session sparked a lively discussion on how we should continue to work towards gender equality today. This is my reflection on the conversation.

History has shown that if we simply replace women with men – say in leadership roles – without tackling that society’s underlying assumptions about gender, change will, at best, be superficial. We can all think of examples of women leaders who resorted to ‘masculine/alpha male’ forms of leadership in order to be “successful” in a man’s world. While legislative approaches to diversity has been useful in advancing the cause of women, I’m dubious about whether a regulatory approach will ever lead to a paradigm shift.  At best, criminalising behaviour can lead to compliance or political correctness, but it also does drives discriminatory practice and attitudes underground.

What’s needed are ways of creating transformative change. This got me thinking about how everyone can play a part in making real change happen. Something that we can all do is to ask questions – questions that generate something new. They have the potential to co-create new realities.

Successful organisations are characterised by positive partnerships across gender relationships in which both men and women contribute from their strengths, and are recognised and feel valued for their contributions.

Generative questions have the potential to socially construct such positive relationships. If you are interested in trying this approach, here are some examples of questions that can be used, say at a team building meeting or something similar. Ask people to answer the following questions in pairs:

1. Think of a time when you felt a genuine appreciation and valuing of diversity, particularly in terms of gender. What made this possible? What stood out as significant and meaningful? How was mutual respect and trust gained?

2. What would you like to see more of, in order to support or improve across-gender working relationships?

3. As you look to the future, what would you like our team/organisation to look like with respect to gender relationships? How should this be manifested in terms of leadership action and how can we ALL bring this about?

4. Having had this conversation what are you personally compelled to make happen? Who will you discuss this with? At the end of the session ask each pair to feedback the key points from their discussion to the whole group.

Remember, the success of this activity rests on people being ‘given permission’ to act on ideas that come up. So, at the end of the meeting you might want to ask for feedback to the whole group; and for ideas and actions to be written up on a flip chart.

The essence of community… We think together, therefore we are.

In his famous book the Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) Paulo Freire wrote:

“Authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality, does not take place in an ivory tower isolation, but only in communication”.

The phrase “in communication”, could be substituted with the words “in relationship”.

What do we think? ☺

Physician, heal thyself…

I like to think of myself as a relational leader. Needless-today, this is easier said than done!

The walk of shame!

A number of years ago, there was a spate of computer thefts where I worked. I came back from lunch one afternoon to find my laptop missing. My Secretary, who was visibly agitated, announced that someone from the IT Department, noticed that my laptop wasn’t secured to my desk and had decided to “confiscated” it.

I telephoned the IT Manager to ask for an explanation. He said he had decided to “make an example” of a Director so that others would comply with security protocols regarding IT equipment.

I told him that the point was well taken, and asked for the return of the laptop. “That’s fine”, he said, “but you have to come up and get it so that we can tell you what you have done wrong”.

The thought of having my wrist slapped in front of the whole IT team did not appeal. I sat motionless for a full 15 minutes wondering how to respond to, what seemed to me an over-the-top and authoritarian action!

I have to admit, my first instinct to pull rank.

My second thought was to appeal to a higher authority – my boss!. “Well, that’s outrageous”, he said. “You should give him what for”. “However”, he said, “you are always going on about relational leadership”. “How would you manage this situation in a relational way?”

It seemed that my credibility as a ‘relational practitioner’ was at stake!

I realised that I could either adopt a linear or reflexive approach.

In linear thinking, the questions I would ask myself were: “How can I defeat the IT Manager? How much will it cost me to defeat him? What resources do I have available to me? Is it in my best interest to risk these resources in order to beat him?”

In a reflexive mode, the kinds of questions I could ask would be: “What kind of person will I become if I win this fight with the IT Manager? Regardless of who wins, what kind of community are we creating by “fighting”? What will it cost me if I defeat him? What will I miss most when the fight is over? What kind of organisational culture would I create by pulling rank?”

I telephoned the IT Manager and asked him to return my laptop. He told me that for this to happen, I would have to come to his office to get it. We compromised with him meeting me in my office, but without the laptop.

When he came, I started the conversation by saying that I appreciated his sense of duty and responsibility. “Most managers would just claim the lost on our insurance, whereas you have taken the loss of out computers personally”. “However, what did you hope to achieve by confiscating the laptop?”

“I wanted to show you and others that what you did was wrong, and others will learn from this”, he replied.

I explained that this action had the opposite effect on me, and that my instinct was to retaliate.

I said that, on reflection, I could understand his frustration, and offered the support of the ‘HR’ department to ensure that staff become more responsible for their IT equipment.

His reaction surprised me somewhat: “I am tired of the way some of your director colleagues insinuate that the IT department gets in the way of our mission with our demands. What we do is just as important!”

Have heard his concerns, which BTW went beyond just me not securing my laptop to my desk! We went on to have a positive conversation about how mutual accountability could be respectfully invoked in our organisation, and brainstormed a few things we could try.

After that conversation, the IT manager promptly returned my laptop, and even locked it for me.

The next day, I talked to my HR team about how we could support our IT colleagues in what they saw as a pressing organisational issue.

Two months after this episode, the IT Manager asked if I could help facilitate a conversation with other staff members that would enable him to write an IT strategy. He confided that he was sceptical about a previous “whole system enquiry event” I had organised, but was persuaded about its validity and (my motives for instigating such events), by the way I had behaved, conversed and acted over the laptop encounter!

Consequently, the IT Manager asked if I could help him organise a “whole systems inquiry” aimed at helping him to put together the organisation’s IT strategy.

As I turned out, we ran a successful event called “A life-giving IT strategy”. As a result of this day, both the IT department and all staff began to reframe the notion that knowledge management is NOT merely about technology, data storage and retrieval BUT more about how knowledge is shared and acted upon through relational activities.

Jesus and social constructionism!

He went into His father`s business
He lived at home until he was 33
He was sure His Mother was a virgin, and His Mother was
sure he was God

He never got married
He was always telling stories
He loved green pastures

His first name was Jesus
He was bilingual
He was always being harassed by the authorities

He talked with His hands
He had wine with every meal

He called everybody “brother”
He liked Gospel
He couldn`t get a fair trial

He never cut His hair
He walked around barefoot
He started a new religion

He had to feed a crowd, at a moments notice, when there was
no food
He kept trying to get the message across to a bunch of men
who just didn`t get it
Even dead, he had to get up because there was more work for

Acknowledgement: I don’t know who penned this. I first heard it from a dear friend Cecil Wilson and found this version on the web today.

Those of you who know me will realise that I’m not into psychometrics and personality tests. These are limited to what humans know about personality, statistics and the nature of existence – which is not much. I also don’t like how these ‘tools’ are used (in power play) to fix people and place them between a rock and a hard place!

However, this does not stop me from wondering… if the Lord did the Myers Briggs indicator, what would Jesus be?

Getting your children to do their chores the postmodern way!

Do you set a timetable/schedule for your children to do their chores and homework? How’s that working out?

When I speak to other parents about this, the hotspot is normally – problems with ensuring that the timetable is followed. I think we all know that shouting doesn’t work, especially with teenagers. Mine have mastered the art of (their words) “blanking me”.

During one of my long drives to work, I thought, “Well, I am an HR and Organisation Practitioner by day – how can I apply what I know about people management with my own children?”

I could simply use the traditional management “carrot and stick” approach – by punishing non-conformance (before anyone reports me… not literally with sticks… grounded… no TV… no allowance, etc) or rewarding conformance with incentives. Kind‘a like giving the dog a treat for performing a trick. I know bringing up children can be a bit of a circus sometimes but I don’t really want to think of my kids as performing ponies! Anyway, they’re on to us – see attached of pic of Parlov’s dog.

It occurred to me that the long-term solution might be to try and create a family culture where our espoused values are lived out even in the family context – not just when Children in Need is on.

Which family doesn’t like to think of themselves as thoughtful, socially responsible and caring? Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a secret to make these values “live” in the home setting too?

It occurs to me that there are three ways of doing this. Please forgive the jargon:

The Modernist approach: Rules based – regulate through punishment and incentives.

The late-modern approach: Win their hearts and mind through (pop) psychology.

Postmodern: Co-create a shared reality through conversations and inquiry!

I love Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations. She cites Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” In it, a character is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” He answers, “Gradually, then suddenly.”

This reminds me of the arcade game – with the 10ps being pushed to the edge… You put your money in 10p at a time, slowly and before you know it, your fiver’s gone! How did you lose it? “Gradually, then suddenly.”

This principle can be applied to whether we succeed or fail in co-creating the practical realities we want in our home life.

Post-modern or just common sense? Our relationships fail or succeed, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time.

Susan Scott points out that “the on-going, robust conversation is not about the relationship. The conversation is the relationship.”

In the end, the secret’s no secret at all. We create the family reality we want – one conversation at a time. Talk to each other. Listen – really listen by this I mean listen to understand, not to argue. Ask questions. Be curious.

However, we need to be mindful that every conversation is part of the journey (to success or failure). And any one of these conversations could be the tipping point. That’s why it is important to treat each and every conversation as the one that might be the ‘suddenly’ conversation!

Leadership as Paraklesis

The Greek word ‘paraklesis’ loosely means to come alongside to encourage and help. One definition reads… “That which affords comfort, solace or refreshment.” I like it.

It occurs to me that this sums up the notion of ‘relational practice’ really well.

From Hero to Zero

The ‘hero’ model (leader with all the answers) is changing faster than we can shake a stick.

Increasingly, the notion of ‘hero’ and ‘command and control’ is being replaced by the idea that leadership should be concerned with creating positive social patterns of relationship that enables groups of people to act collectively and purposefully.

It has become axiomatic that change is rapid and constant. To adapt to the pace of change, organisations need to be more flexible and agile. One way of doing this is to push decision-making “down the hierarchy” and to introduce ways of aligning people with strategic goals. There is no better way of doing this than co-creating these goals!

Indeed, as globalisation and the information revolution threaten to overwhelm us, there is a need to pay attention to the wisdom of groups, and, to help people collectively make sense of the bewildering array of information. In this context leadership should be about engaging people in inquiry and creating the conditions for collective possibilities. To do this, the leader needs to be able to create a culture that genuinely supports participation through empowerment, trust and collaboration.

In the present economic climate, it is tempting for leaders to unilaterally implement turnaround strategies based on hard economic facts and to leave the soft human solutions to later, when there is the luxury of time.

This is knee jerk city. The research on employee engagement does not support this view. There is ample evidence that it is more effective to integrate hard economic-based change strategies with relational practice. This moves us away from the ‘either-or’ argument (eg, profits or people; survival today or building for tomorrow) to a more holistic ‘both-and’ position.

Seeing believing!

I have seen it work and that’s why I am telling this story! The opportunity to hear the voice of the whole system they are a part of, brings out the best in people -— dialogue becomes more collaborative, visioning becomes more creative and owned, and energy is unleashed in the form of voluntary action.