Wednesday, May 07, 2008

To lead or to plant petunias?

There are lots of things I'd like to write about, but frankly at the moment I am too busy to write. And too busy writing to write for fun. Sounds awful, but its really OK. I like what I do. But one of the thoughts that has been swirling in my head for some years - really ever since I did my MBA dissertation on Systems Theory and the Church - the art and science of church leadership.

The basic premise of my dissertation was that for churches and other NPO's the organic systems metaphors are most helpful. Top down authority structures are unlikely to work with volunteers. So I was looking for learnings with people like Peter Senge and "The Learning Organisation", and Peter Drucker who famously described the product of an NPO as "a transformed human being". Beautiful. I also liked Wheatley's thoughts on the organisation as organism driven by 2 key determinants: the need to self-determine and the need for one another. The promise and the paradox of community. She summed the challenge to live in this tension very nicely:

It seems that whenever we bargain with life and seek to satisfy only one of its two great needs, the result is a quality of true lifelessness. We must live within the paradox; life does not allow us to choose sides. Our communities must support our individual freedom as a means to community health and resiliency. And individuals must acknowledge their neighbors and make choices based on the desire to be in relationship with them as a means to their own health and resiliency.

Since I completed that study, I have become a lead pastor within a new church. And so I have had the chance to practice what I preached. Its not perfect, but I try to live in the tension. Mainly I do this by investing in the people around me - Senge's Five Disciplines are probably most influentual to me in trying to create the Learning Organisation:

…organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.

The Five Disciplines are:

Systems thinking
Personal mastery
Mental models
Building shared vision
Team learning

Personal mastery is probably the main one that doesn't really sound like what it is! Senge says it best:

‘Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs’.

Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively’

It goes beyond competence and skills, although it involves them. It goes beyond spiritual opening, although it involves spiritual growth.

Personal Mastery is a special kind of proficiency. It is not about domination or authority, but rather about calling. Vision is vocation rather than simply just a good idea. People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’. It is a process. It is a lifelong discipline. It requires high amounts of reflection at an individual and corporate level and that is sometimes (often!) painful or boring or time consuming. People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, their growth areas. BUT they are deeply self-confident.

Anyways, I try to approach this task of promoting the 5 Disciplines through relational coaching and maintaining 'span of care' across the leadership of the organisation. That means leaders caring for leaders and caring about their growth. Also drawing people together to envision one another.

Thats an interesting dynamic sometimes - people understandably resist the time squeeze that spending the time to distil vision really takes - and this is part of the prompt to write something (even something this unfocused!) - actually it came out of reading this article in todays Leadership Weekly email and pondering on the sustainability of this kind of time-intensive ministry and then thinking about how that would be received in my context! Four guys in team ministry. Seems like a fun environment, although I think one that a volunteer-heavy scenario would struggle with. This defintely has the luxury of fulltime staff attached to it! Some plusses and minuses which they are pretty frank about - I like the way they don't focus on the perfect organisation but acknowledge that you basically pick your problems with organisational structure. Every choice has both understood and unacknowledged consequences - mostly you get to decide which problem to eliminate rather than to deal to them all! And I liked the band metaphor in terms of an organic creative process (they obviously never watched the Commitments!)

Anyway some nice thoughts along the way which were stimulating and interesting - and it made me write something! Albeit that it really offers no conclusions...


BJ said...

I'm not offended that no one has wanted to comment on this rant! It really was an intended brief reflection that turned into a trip down (academic) memory lane.

One person told me in person that he thought it was intereting but that he only makes sarcastic comments on blogs! I take that as meaning nothing sarcastic leapt to mind...

Another asked whether it was motivated by any particular event(s) which was a sweet reflection of concern at my mental state. But, no the team I work with is great - I just don't think the 4 pastor team model would work that well in a primarily voluntary environment based on my experience. People say they don't want "top-down" leadership, but the reality is that they don't have the time to fully engage an organic model of ministry as volunteers. Organic ministry takes more face time than I think most people in western societies have available. So you have to make some compromises somewhere.

I nearly blogged some more, such was the enjoyment of tapping these topics. But then I though "nah, its boring". But one thing it has stimulated in me is a desire to reflect a little more on the corporate disciplines we have going on to see what more Fifth Discipline and organic systems theory stuff could be added to the context I work in. Its been really interesting to reflect on how much of what we do has been driven out of that period of study and to see the 5 Disciplines showing up in places I hadn't made the connection on.

Doing an MBA by distance was quite a challenge. Its nice to know the work and personal effort was worth it. Cos you don't always know with education whether it will be any use in the future.

Karen said...

Hey, Brett --

It's always good to find information that I've never heard of before, that suggests it might throw light on several avenues of my life. I reserved Senge's (first) book at the library, and look forward to seeing if I can build a paradigm that helps explain the interface between a dynamic creative life and intense home educating family life in a way that goes beyond the typical "How to get it all done" homeschool books, none of which seems to be quite right...

Please write more, anytime.