Thursday, March 08, 2007

Healthy Congregations and Servant Leadership

"I believe it is possible for us to get better in chaos, suffering, and difficulty, rather than getting worse." (International Journal of Servant Leadership, 2005 vol.)

How is the above remark a healing thought for you?

I've been giving the above comment some reflective thought as I've been engaged in some consulting work with local congregations and our presbytery recently. These are anxious times in our culture as well, and that anxiety is certainly present in many churches.

A congregation struggles with a merger, or a down-sizing of staff, a church experiences loss or gains in membership, perhaps a church envisions a whole new opportunity to grow in concert with a strategic building expansion, or a regional church governing body faces conflict with a particular church and its attitudes toward the entire denomination in light of theological disagreements. The examples of change and organizational transition could be endlessly multiplied. How do leaders cope? "Being calm and courageous no matter what" can be a call to deeper servant leadership and organizational health.

Three questions keep surfacing for me as I try to grow in my own leadership capacities:

1) What is a healthy organization?
My ongoing work with Edwin Friedman's work in "Generation to Generation" and training with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center in its clergy clinic for healthy leadership has brought this question into much sharper focus for me.

2) What would it take for our organization (or church) to fulfill their mission and reach their vision while developing healthy members who share their gifts and talents with greater joy?

3) What kind of leadership could make this happen?
This is an exciting and challenging question in all organizations today.

For many years I have been drawn to the work of Robert Greenleaf, author of "Servant Leadership" and mentor to a generation of business, non-profit, government, education and religious organizations. As I move deeper into my own growth as a healthy, self-differentiated leader, I find the following definition of leadership compelling:

"Servant-leadership is....
an understanding and practice of leadership
that places the good of those led
over the self-interest of the leader.

Servant-leadership promotes the valuing and developing of people,
the building of community,
the practice of authenticity,
the providing of leadership for the good of those led,
and the sharing of power and status
for the common good of each individual,
the total organization,
and those served by the organization."

It's an inspiring definition, but as the "International Journal of Servant Leadership" reports,
most organizations that view themselves as servant organizations may be, in fact, simply positive versions of a paternalistic organization. In such an organization, the leader functions as a parent figure who treats others as children. Sadly, too many churches willingly adopt that view of leadership and remain in a dependent relationship with a leader- figure they hope will provide all the vision and answers for their needs. "What will you do for us?" is generally the tacit or openly expressed question, instead of, "How can you help us transform to become the kind of people we need to become?"

What is a healthy organization? A dependent group of people, who are not being developed as strong people runs counter to healthy leadership, and ultimately weakens relationships and effective achievement of vision.

Six levels of organizational health and vitality have been posited, which I will only briefly summarize:
Levels 1-2: Org#1 and Org#1 Exhibit poor organizational health according to the vision of
of Servant-leadership
Levels 3-4: Org#3 and Org#4 Exhibit limited or moderate health and vitality
Levels 5-6: Org#5 and Org #6 Display excellent optimal health and functioning

In the first levels, there is a profound inertia or inability to move or change. Often the church or group operates only on the energy of the past. It lacks energy and health to move toward the future. Theologian David Buttrick puts it this way: "No wonder our churches cling to the past-they have forgotten the excitement of God's unfolding future. Without some bright future vision, a people cannot change."

In the second level (Org#3 and #4) there is gradual or incremental change. This church or group can change, but it will begin to rest on a plateau of "good enough", dulled by its own achievement and success, with an ever-growing contentment with being just a little better than the rest.

Third, there is the quantum/ongoing change of Org #5 and #6 which calls for a new level of thinking and and leadership and behavior. It's the view of leadership that Ron Heifitz calls adaptive leadership in his wonderful book "Leadership Without Easy Answers". This type of organization embraces ongoing change and growth and seeks to mature as a servant-leadership culture.

"A sailor without a destination has trouble discerning a good wind from an ill wind."
Seneca 65 A.D.

If you don't know where you're going, what do you do when the storms come?

Increasingly, I am convinced that at all levels of culture (including the church), we must focus on healthy organizations and healthy servant-leaders.

In a recent letter from the Board of Pensions, the health provider of my denomination, it was stated that less than 25% of ministers get regular health check-ups. Not a good trend for leaders. But then, when was the last time your church sought out an extensive spiritual health check-up for its functioning as a healthy congregation?



Post a Comment

<< Home