what we can learn from occupy

There’s something to be learned from the Occupy Movement for people in leadership across organizational types and sizes. There is something about this movement that speaks to postmodern milieu of the West. But it is not limited to the west at all. Indeed, the occupy movement certainly derives some inspiration from the Arab Spring, as well as what we’ve seen online through groups such ‘anonymous.’ The way we organize is changing. What I’ve referenced to above may be drastic examples. Still, leaders ought to pay attention to them and what they say about leading organizations of the future.

To begin, people want to have a voice. Whether the Arab Spring or the Occupy Movement, what we are seeing is a cry to be heard. It is also an accusation: current organizations do not allow them to be heard. To have a voice for the many does not always mean chaos. In fact, there is a lot to be said about the kind of consensus-oriented, coordinated action of these movements. Nonetheless, people, and young people especially, want to know that they have permission to speak up and their input be valued. In the vacuum of such contexts, people create their own and this what we’ve seen happen in these contexts. How can you ensure that people are heard?

Secondly, the plan is to not have a plan. The Occupy Movement, in particular, has been ridiculed for not having  a cohesive message, demand or… plan! But part of this is sparked by postmodern cynicism that says, “Nothing ever works out like you plan. You aren’t ultimately in control. So, why kid yourself?!” Can this be argued with? There is truth to this. People have heard the greatest visions, dreams and appeals and additionally seen how shallow they are. The proverbial “BS meter” of the population has increased exponentially. Does this mean we shouldn’t dream big dreams as leaders? No. Not all. Just look at the dreams of these movements listed above. Are they not grandiose? They certainly are. But they were crafted together, were realistic about their own limitations and control of the future. Yet, they still did tried! Do the visions of our organizations incorporate the voices of the whole? Or do they paint an unrealistic vision and uncontrollable outcome of the future?

You can read some more of my thoughts on the Occupy Movement here.
JE

Rezoning

When we started this church, one of our goals was to bless and serve the community that we were in as a church. I was convicted through a question posed in something I’d read which said, “If your church left, would the community notice?” We do this serving through a whole variety of events geared at sharing God’s love in tangible non threatening ways including neighbourhood parties, playing with kids in the park, Easter egg hunts, youth after school programs, etc. Our ability to engage the community has increased through a “community space” which our church leased just over a year ago across the street from the school where we meet Sundays. Getting the space was a succession of miracles, including getting the site rezoned to have a church group using it. In order for that rezoning to happen, the city does checks with the residents within several hundred meters of our building. At our annual community pancake breakfast last month, a woman came up to one of our pastors and said, “Someone came to our door asking us to sign a petition because they didn’t want the church in the area. But I told them, “The church comes to bring life not death. They have helped my children. I’m not signing this petition. So I started one of my own to support your church…” I didn’t know this person, and we didn’t get wind of either of these petitions. But I could not help but think that our presence in the community through acts of serving, helped give legitimacy to our being here. -JLT

 

Blame

Ever since society began, we humans have engaged in the fine art of scapegoating. We know that each of us make mistakes. But we don’t want to pay the price. So, what we do we do to avoid the consequences that come with our error? We blame someone else.

Sure, we’d like to convince ourselves that only children engage such blame-avoidance. But the truth is that we adults have mastered the craft. In most industries, it is known by the technical term: CYA.

Good leaders don’t blame others. Sure, leaders are usually easy targets and are often told, “Don’t take it personal.” But I say the opposite; good leaders take it personal. They are self-aware. They know their errors. They know when they make mistakes. They can withstand being held responsible for errors of the whole. And yet they still lead.

This does something for the person following. They see the risk the leader is willing to take, even risking herself for the sake of the cause. This kind of leader gains a respect and devotion few others will.

While one may perceive this as weakness, lacking cunning to avoid blame, the truth is that this proves strength. This kind of leader can absorb blame. It doesn’t effect this leader long term. Why? Because this kind of leader will be one of the few that has come to terms with human frailty and still thrives. This kind of leader has left the rat race of scapegoating. And as we all know, an exhausting race it is.

If you’re at fault, accept the blame. Humbly. But with your head high. This is a faster track to being a successful leader than typically gets credit.

– JE

Manna

I heard many stories that were less than encouraging as we embarked on starting a new church. The stats were something like two out of three church plants fail. Great. One writer said “Don’t plant a church unless you are ready to get ripped apart by God, having all your motives examined.” Wonderful. Another church planter said, “You will feel every Monday morning like you want to resign.” Most encouraging. What I decided to do to preserve my spiritual sanity was attach myself to a Biblical metaphor that would serve as a compass on this new journey. The metaphor I used was manna; the divine food the people of Israel ate in the wilderness provided each day supernaturally by God and gathered off the earth. It was enough to sustain them daily, but not enough to store (Sabbath excepted). Manna was God’s miraculous provision for them in the heat and the sand.  I decided to search my heart each day for where God had “shown up.” There was always a small sign of grace. A rough ministry week also holds our first youth event, which went well. A passing comment by someone on feeling connected to others, or that this church is really home for another person felt like provision. Sometimes it seemed like there was almost enough manna to store: On a week I despair of new life, several new believers happen to come and express interest in getting baptized. I gaze across the sand for those kinds of moments, and grasp the manna. Where has God been moving?  Where has the fire of the Spirit been lit? Where is hope taking hold? As I’ve continued to practice that discipline I’ve found I spend less time distracted by my own failures. And continually I’ve been reminded that I do not own the church.

Delegate

Leadership is more than being persuasive and charismatic. It is more than having a vision for doing better than any other has done with an idea. These days, the leaders that most inspire me are artisans of delegation. That’s right. I have come to the conclusion that delegation is an art form, a skill only learned through trial and error. And some people are craftsmen of this skill.

It sounds simple: ask someone to do a job, so you don’t have to.

But it is so much more than this.

Leaders that delegate well have found that success is not found in always getting the credit. This alone says something about the character of a leader. If you’re in it to get all the credit, get the publishing deal, get the pats on the back than you will not be this kind of leader. It requires a certain amount of confidence. Because, if done well, you won’t always be the one getting the acclaid.

What is more, true success in delegating well means you are constantly working yourself out of a job. Leaders that delegate well can bring alongside, model, train, debrief and, eventually, let go and empower the other. It is placing confidence in others, showing them the path and allowing them to find their footing. Effective delegation means that others own the dream; they desire the project to go as well as she or he who envisioned it. It assumes that you, are not only a starter, dreamer and voice but can teach, train and empower. This is what happens behind the scenes of a good team and a good outcome. – JE

The Fun Theory

During the last few weeks I have had several conversations with emerging leaders who are beginning to reflect on the impact leadership is having on them.  They are reflecting on questions about what friendship looks like when you are a leader, or how to cope when everyone seems to only want to talk to you when they want something, or how you cope when the buck stops with you and you have to take responsibility for making the call.

There is no denying that there is a cost to leadership – there are issues to be reflected on and worked through and to not do so can leave us with shaky foundations.

But leadership can also be great fun!  As leaders our task is not only to ‘manage’ things and troubleshoot, but to envision, to draw forward, to push boundaries, to create, to imagine how things could be better.  I love the work of the guys at www.thefuntheory.com. They believe that you can change peoples’ behaviour for the better by making it more fun.  As a leader is this something I can employ as I seek to inspire and change peoples’ behaviour?  How much fun is allowed in your place of leadership?  Can you instigate more?

JK

Faith cultures

I think a great deal about cultures: I much prefer one airline over the others in my country, because of what I perceive as very different corporate cultures. All faith communities also have a culture. When I walk into a church, I get an immediate sense about the culture present. In the church world I wander in, I’m often discouraged by the culture I encounter: Too often it seems focused on a particular family group, dominated by white folks past retirement age. A church I visited a while back was lamenting the fact that their church was declining because it was “out in the country” too far removed from an urban population. My thoughts went to a church a few kilometers up the road from them that was thriving and building an addition. It seemed to me that “out in the country” had become an excuse which made it nearly impossible for them to see their potential in that rural community. The church had an identity rooted in an old self-understanding which produced a very tired, uninviting culture to anyone who was new in the neighbourhood.

What are you doing as a leader to keep the culture of your community current and inviting?
JLT

436 million

I googled ‘leadership’ and received 436 million results and ‘no’ I didn’t check out all of the sites. Ironically this huge number suggests to me that either we know a lot about leadership or we don’t know very much at all.

Neither of my parents were world renowned leaders. Both had a simple grade 8 education, didn’t travel much, weren’t well read, couldn’t give a spell binding speech and didn’t have any disciples. Yet I know they were leaders in the tiny community I called home. On occasion they stepped out and went in a direction which wasn’t the accepted norm. People in the neighbourhood watched, some voiced their opposition and ridicule but then a few brave souls would quietly follow in those cutting edge footsteps.

Besides setting intermittent bold examples they also opened the doors of their home to every one of my teenage friends. The hungry hordes were always welcomed with a smile and there was food on the table to be shared. They loved those kids. Even if I wasn’t home my friends would spend time with my parents.

Leaders, big or small, love the people around them. Leaders take calculated bold steps when necessary. Leaders set good examples which others want to follow. Leaders make positive contributions to their community. Mother Teresa, Churchill, Martin Luther King as well as Orton and Nancy were leaders.

Who are the leaders who set an example for you? – BB

Call them by name

Yesterday I called out to some colleagues walking ahead of me on the sidewalk and they ignored me. We were in attendance at a national conference taking place on a nearby university campus. All 600 of the conference attendees were heading off to lunch. I called out, “Good Morning!” but they kept walking. “Sure, go ahead and ignore me”, I cried with all of the sarcasm I could muster but they kept walking. “I see you, you know.” Now the people around me were starting to smile uncomfortably but my colleagues just kept walking. Finally and with just a hint of desperation I called out their names. They stopped, turned around, saw me and smiled.

Too often I simply call out to people expecting them to recognize my voice; or I expect my voice to cut through their conversation because I can be loud; or certainly they will stop what they are doing because my agenda is obviously very important after all I am a leader.

That brief moment on the sidewalk was yet another example for me about the importance of calling out to people by using their names. The response for which I was hoping, and perhaps needing, only came when I used their names. In that moment they realized that loud voice behind them was for them; they gladly stopped, delayed their going to lunch and engaged me. Using people’s names is a simple thing. I really must do it more often. – BB

Shed a Tear

It’s been 5 days since the accidental death of a 14 year old boy from one of the faith communities to which I relate. I didn’t know the boy or his family. Yet here I sit with a soul weighed down by sadness. 

Leaders are impacted by the pain around them. Leaders have emotions but we still must lead in the midst of the crisis. We don’t get to be paralysed by the tragedy which affects the people in our community. People count on us to lead, to offer them emotional support, to provide a listening ear, to be an understanding sounding board as they find their way through a dark place which has no road map. Each leader must find that delicate balance which allows them to be emotionally present with others without becoming emotionally distraught. Too little emotional connection and people will assume you are cold and shallow which means they will miss seeing your leadership qualities. Too much emotional display will convey that the trauma has overtaken you and this is typically not an endearing quality in a leader.

Different cultures have different expectations of their leaders in the midst of grief. Yet I will argue that in any culture allowing your followers to know that you have emotions is a good thing. Let them see that you are human as you lead, even in the midst of their tears and yours.