Leadership and Missional Communities

Blind-spots. You can’t know what you don’t know. Not until someone shows you, then you know what you didn’t know before.

Andrew Olsen showed us some leadership blind-spots which, on reflection, are some areas in which I could have benefited if I had known about them earlier.

1. Human nature defaults to pecking order and scapegoating.

This is why groups of good people, that started well and co-operatively, ended up devolving, quietly drifting apart, “losing interest,” or loudly arguing, fracturing, or ending. I thought that if we consciously figure out good ways to go forward, that the Spirit’s leading and logic would make that apparent to all. But it’s the sub-conscious primate-brain that short-circuits us. We THINK we differ on “the issues,” but IN FACT as soon as there is a group loyalty there is a subconscious drive to have our place in the pack, and to protect and galvanize our pack by expelling “threats.” This sinful human nature lies at the base of all our conflicts, all our groups!

Maybe some missions failed because we trusted each other to be good, and failed to properly acknowledge our sinful human nature. 

2. Human nature needs to be managed by good civic ground-rules.

Everyone knows what is right. It’s just that we struggle to do it. So a leader can form good civics by asking three basic questions, and letting the people shape the civics. “How do you want the meetings to be?” safe, not talking over the top, honest, etc. “How do you want us to relate to each other?” Respectfully, listening, honest, friendly, etc. “How do you want the leader to conduct the group?” Keep us on task, safe processes, etc.

So now the leader’s job becomes clear: he/she is accountable to the group to make the group behave like we all know we should. And we have given the leader authority to do it. The leader uses these civic ground-rules (which we chose!) to make us behave better towards each other. If he doesn’t, he fails and we tell him off. If she does, we all perform much better towards each other.

Maybe some missions failed because we failed to set up solid ground rules that manage the human nature. 

3. Parallel Thinking Grids overcome Oppositional thinking.

How quickly arguments get out of hand! Brain research tells us that when we feel under threat, adrenaline is released which interferes with the function of the frontal lobe, the part only humans have, used for reflective and rational thinking. We default to primate-brain, pecking order. So as soon as adrenaline kicks in, stop – we are no longer physiologically capable of understanding other viewpoints!

Oppositional thinking (he said / she said) is our default way of dispute resolution, and it creates adrenaline in no time!

Alternatively, if the leader makes us think in parallel ways, it keeps us together, and tables far more information on both sides of the issue. In parallel thinking, the leader makes us all park our points of view. Then all together, we all brainstorm as many reasons for ‘A’ as possible, uninterrupted. Then we all brainstorm as many reasons against ‘A’ as possible, uninterrupted. Then we all brainstorm as many reasons for ‘B’ as possible, uninterrupted. Then against ‘B’. Then we all consider all that info together and mention what has become obvious, without defending our observations. Then we all name the obvious actions to take.

At no point did we become oppositional, we stayed together throughout. No adrenaline, so we can empathize.

In fact  brainstorming by using a thinking grid like this gives you 5-10 times more useful info, than just brainstorming “pro’s and cons.” This is because the “value-finding” part of your brain is different from the “danger” finding part. The thinking grid makes you stay in one part for an extended period, which triggers a spiraling creativity. You also spark off each other by being collectively in that brain-space together.

Parallel thinking grids are one of the most powerful tools to manage sinful human nature, and also create synergistic thinking. I wish I’d known that before!

Maybe some missions failed because we used oppositional thinking processes that ended in adrenaline, and failed to use parallel thinking modes enough.

4. Leading well requires skills to be learnt.  

I under-estimated the complexities. I had two tools – prayer & logic. I thought if God prompted and it made sense, that would win the day and all would follow. All I had to do was be clear. Ba-poww! Wrong!

I’ve already mentioned the skills of setting up good civics, and parallel thinking grids. I also learnt about: value-creating questions; shortest possible time negotiation; commentating on thinking and social processes; techniques for stimulating imagination; delegation; reflection; and finally the ability to teach all this too.

I did not know all this! And that’s just the skills of leading a group to do it’s tasks.

I also under-estimated the complexities of getting the tasks themselves done. There’s all the interplay between the setting, the staff, the clients, management of operations, admin and logistics, communications and command, relationships, conflict resolution and peacemaking, strategy planning and execution, priorities, stages of formation.

Yikes! A bit more info on all that would have helped. Did Jesus have a handle on all that stuff? Well, now that I think about it, yes he did. It doesn’t mean he formed a company, but he had a wide repertoire of those skills and more.

Maybe some missions failed because one or more of these many elements were not tended to properly, because we just didn’t learn about them, or because we had too simplistic a model of what was happening. 

5. Teams Dysfunction at different levels

Patrick Lencioni gives this pyramid of dysfunctions of a team: Absence of Trust > fear of Conflict > lack of Commitment > avoiding Accountability > inattention to Results.  As soon as this was described, I suddenly saw the dysfunctions that made sense in the various groups I was a part of, and then I could work on it. Until I saw it, the group “just wasn’t working” and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Maybe some mission groups failed because there was one of these foundational dysfunctions. 

6. Flat leadership structures do not mean laissez-faire

Laissez-faire means, “whatever.” That’s not flat leadership, that’s just flat! It’s no leadership. That can be OK in a partnership where there is mutual initiative, but when more people are involved, relationships become more complex, and group-loyalty engenders pecking order in the primate-brain. Therefore trust has to be worked at, otherwise the weeds of fear and sinful human nature will choke the garden of community. As soon as we give someone responsibility we require them to lead in that area, and, as we’ve seen, people can lead well or poorly.

Flat leadership is not an oxymoron. The group can defer to each others’ expertise in different areas, and there can be a co-ordinating leadership that asks questions and facilitates the whole group expertly, without dominating. And that kind of leadership has to be conscious, or else it will be blind-sided by the above issues.

When the group defers to someone’s leadership in an area, each area-leader would benefit from understanding all of the matters listed above.

Maybe some missions failed because there was no leadership, leaving them defenseless against the entropy of primate-brain defaults.

7. Hierarchy can be used to serve

If you have a hierarchical leadership structure, you can use it to serve, or to dominate. From the Arbinger Institute we learned about “out-of-the-box” thinking vs “in-the-box” thinking. This is not about creativity, but empathy. Being “in-the-box” is relating to people from within your own frame of reference. Being “out-of-the-box” is relating in open-hearted ways, being other-centered. It’s the mindset that says no to manipulation, and yes to service. Conversely, in-the-box thinking can turn the most gentle method into heartless manipulation. Being out-of-the-box is an important overlay to all leadership skills.

Maybe some missions failed simply because leaders were “in-the-box.” 

I’ll be going through these in more detail at a public meeting for SUNO (Scripture Union Neighborhood Outreach.) 730pm, Tues Nov 15. Venue TBA.