I am involved in one organization right now where there are attempts being made to effect some change in leadership style and responsibility so that has made me very sensitive to this issue. That organization needs some change but how do we do it without totally upsetting the apple cart? Or does the apple cart need to be totally upset?
Another organization I am involved with has recently started a series of "team leadership" classes for some of its more active leaders. (I think we figured we'd start with the more active folks first figuring that we couldn't mess them up too badly this first time through.) Although I have been involved in setting the curriculum for this series of classes, I can clearly see that I will learn much from going through the classes myself.
It is a decent sized class going through the curriculum and we are going to take several months to complete it. We have broken the class down into smaller "mentoring groups" which will meet in between the full class meetings. I am one of the folks leading a mentoring group.
Our first big meeting was yesterday and, just because of the way things were broken up, I had one of the smaller small groups. When a man showed up for the training who had somehow been missed and not assigned to a small group, he was given to my group. Now, you have to understand something ... this man is a leader of leaders. He has served at the very highest end of leadership of a major international program. He has 40 years of high level leadership under his belt. And here he is, at my table, and I am supposed to mentor him! Oh boy ... I chuckled nervously to myself.
Fortunately, it only took me a couple of minutes and I clearly saw God in the midst of all that. This gentleman had shown up and been placed by God in my group specifically so that I can learn more about this leadership thing which seems to permeate every aspect of my life these days. You have to understand, up until just a few years ago, I never even thought about leadership. Yes, I was in leadership roles both corporately and through trade associations and I was learning things from watching others but I was never really thinking about it.
It is my observation that many times churches and non-profits are way ahead of corporate America and trade associations in terms of understanding leadership. Now, that is a very general statement and I am sure it is not true across the board but it has been my experience. Corporate America still tends to have leadership that is very driven by the "position" of those involved. It is very much based upon the heirarchy of the players, something which I have never been a fan of. Trade associations, on the other hand, tend to have a unique situation all their own. Typically the leaders of trade associations are all leaders at their own companies, thrust into the responsibility of trying to work with their competitors for common good. We all therefore strive to get along with each other because we know that we have to if anything is going to happen. It tends to create a relatively flat leadership structure (which I like and appreciate) but also an atmosphere in which very little risk-taking occurs.
At the team leadership class yesterday, my smaller group got to talking about the differences in how today's younger generations respond to leadership compared to 40 years ago. The gentleman at our table with all of the experience had some great insight to share, affirming what I thought to be the case.
This goes back about 60 years but think back to the time when that group we now call the "greatest generation" was in their 20s and 30s. This was when they were just coming out of World War II and figuring out how to re-develop and drive this country forward. What they ended up with was leadership by position. Everyone got 100% behind their leader and they wanted to make that leader look good. They were fiercely loyal to the end and everything was very driven from the top-down. People worked for the same organization often for their entire career. They listened intently for orders, took those orders without question, and followed them. Great things happened.
(Yes, I am making a lot of generalizations here but cut me some slack ... generally speaking, this is how things went.)
Being a successful leader in that generation largely meant having the charisma and, oftentimes, good looks, to rise to the top and then giving orders and watching things happen.
Over the years, starting in the 60's, that has changed. It has been perhaps more of a gradual and consistent change than we think. I suppose there have been a few anomalies along the way. The 80's showed some return to very heel-clicking top-down leadership but things are dramatically different today.
Today's Gen X and Y folks are seeking more to be a part of things. They want to play active roles. They question and they look for purposefulness in what they're doing. "Don't just tell me what to do; tell me what the end result is to be, give me the tools and leeway I need, and let me figure out how to get there. Don't micro-manage me or demand that I do everything your way." They also seek authenticity on the part of those who are leading. They expect them to be sincere, of high integrity, and very transparent. They seek open, honest relationships.
Although folks trained in an old school top-down leadership style, as well as those who may be that way by their natural bent and personality, may find this difficult and even painful to adjust to, I really like it. The end result is that you have more input from your team members. More opportunity for them to provide their own creativity. But most of all, you have more buy-in from them. And, when you have buy-in, you will have more powerful and far-reaching results because everyone ends up pushing the common agenda they have created rather than just following a one-sided agenda that was cast for them. You also create leadership which is a living, breathing, sustainable and ongoing thing rather than something which dies with the leader.
Think of the early church. Things were done in teams. If the apostles were going to reach the world, they had to spread out, they had to create and bring proteges with them. They had to then spin off more teams and keep spreading.
Jesus knew all of this. He knew that he could not be the super leader carrying it all Himself, especially because He wasn't going to be around.
There is a valuable lesson there for us today, in all types of organizations, as we seek to develop leadership styles and models which will carry us into the future.