Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On children's sermons

I received an emal from a pastor asking about children's sermons. He just accepted a call to a church at which he'll need to deliver a children's sermon as part of the worship service pastoral duties. I think that's a great thing. And I appreciate his seeking counsel on how to do it well.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Leaving well

I’ve consulted with several clergy during their transitiong into and out of a congregational call. As I’ve observed clergy working through the issues of leaving their congregations I’ve noticed some common issues. Whether the clergy are leaving under duress or because they feel stirrings of restlessness, certain issues seem common to the nature of leaving regardless of the circumstances. Leaving a congregation involves the murky process of discernment, and clarity rarely comes instantly or easily. In many cases I’ve witnessed clergy who have left their congregations emotionally before they began thinking consciously about leaving.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On the future of the church and seminaries

In a recent conversation with a group of folks in theological education who were pondering the relationship between the academy and the Church I was asked what I thought the future of congregations would look like. My response was that I have no crystal ball and would be suspect of anyone who offered a definitive answer to that question. But apparently there is a robust cottage industry in prophetic proclamations, futurists, tarot card readers, fortune tellers and latter day channelers of Nostrodamus. So, I ventured that if I had a guess about the future of the church I could risk a prediction.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thoughts on change

At a recent conference on congregational leadership I was again struck by how the level of energy (anxiety?) in the room increased when the topic focused on change. This is natural, of course, since one of the critical functions of the leader in any system is bring about positive change on several levels. In fact, it is likely that the new leader in any system will enter with a mandate to make changes in the system--notwithstanding that any attempts of consequence to do so on the part of the leader will likely meet with resistence if not outright sabotage.

This too is natural in that the nature of emotional process in any system includes the force of homeostasis, and homeostatis resists change at the most fundamental levels: those that upset the balance of dynamics that have established patterns of relationships, structures of power, and those systemic structures and processes that inform identity (like culture and practices).

At the conference I attempted to offer some nuance in our approach to understanding change by depicting types and levels of change. An important question for the leader becomes, "what kind of change am I trying to bring about here?" The graph below depicts different kinds of change according to their level from easy to bring about to harder to achieve. From top to bottom these levels of change take a short time to bring about (e.g., programmatic) to a long time to realize (e.g., evolutionary).

The lower on the pyramid (which may depict a metaphorical iceberg) the type of change the more it is a type of "fundamental change," the kind that affects emotional process.

Change at any level invites anxiety if not reactivity. Depending on the resilience of the system, change at any level may bring a minimal or a great deal of anxiety and reactivity. Systems with a low tolerance for change can experience major crises with attempts at even benign programmatic changes.

Few of us remain in work and ministry systems long enough to bring about change at the more essential levels, those that impact developmental or evolutionary change, which shifts the emotional process in the system, including homeostasis. The typical tenure of most pastors is four to five years. For program staff, in most congregations, even less. The system in which we remain the longest is our biological families, with our family of origin providing perpetual influence through the power of multigenerational transmission of emotional process.

I suppose one implication is that if we desire to make meaningful changes of significant influence, the place to put our energies is in our families.

Copyright (c) 2010, Israel Galindo

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What do you want to fix?

Once, a colleague at work stopped by my office to review a communication glitch he was having with a staff person I supervised. The nature of the staff person’s work interfaced with my colleague’s office, but they’d had a history of finding it difficult to work together.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 12: Tactic 9. Defect in Place

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Defect in Place. This is a potentially tricky tactic that must be practiced at the right time for the right reason. Essentially, defecting in place is when a leader chooses to fail to “act as the leader” by not taking responsibility, or engaging in rescuing, for something people are demanding of them.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 11: Tactic 8. Kickstart the Resources

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Kickstart the Resources. Edwin Friedman identified this as a basic tactic leaders need to practice to help bring about healthy change in the system. The second part of this tactic is to contain the toxins in the system—namely persons who are willful, engage in sabotage, and lack respect for boundaries.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 10: Tactic 7. Feed the Neurosis

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Feed the Neurosis. Neurosis is a manifestation of anxiety characterized by symptoms that include insecurity, irrational fears, hysterical reactions, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and phobias. The systems leader does not have to engage in psychoanalysis here. What is necessary is to identify a pattern of functioning that is counterproductive, anxious, and “irrational.” Some of these behaviors seem to be “learned” while others may appear to be personality-based. The issue here is, how does one address these behaviors in order to be effective in working relationships?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 9: Tactic 6. Sabotage the Saboteur

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Sabotage the Saboteur.  Whenever the leader moves purposefully toward realizing a vision or moving the system toward responsible actions of integrity, he or she can count on sabotage. Sabotage takes many forms, often surprising ones. Additionally, it is difficult to anticipate who, in their reactivity, will play the role of saboteur. It can be friend or foe.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 8: Tactic 5. Taking a Dumb Pill

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Taking a Dumb Pill. The Systems Ju-jitsu tactic of “taking a dumb pill” can serve several purposes. For one, it can keep the leader from overfunctioning through thinking for other persons. When a parishioner or a staff person asks for advice in the form of, “What should I do about this?” they are in effect choosing to underfunction (by not thinking for themselves and avoiding taking responsibility) and inviting the leader to overfunction (do my thinking for me and solve my problem). Getting into the pattern of consistently thinking for others, by giving “advice,” only keeps people dependent and powerless. What leader wants to cultivate a group of persons who lack the ability to think for themselves and take responsibility for their jobs? While being the fount of wisdom for others may feel good to the insecure leader, in the long wrong it is burdensome. Yet many insecure leaders perpetuate these patterns of dependence that eventually burn them out.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 7: Tactic 4. De-triangle

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called De-triangle. O.k., so one can’t really get out of triangles, especially if you’re the leader in the system. That’s because leaders occupy a position in the system that is the point of multiple systemic triangles, many of which are structured in the system and come with the job. But one can engage in Systems Ju-jitsu with triangles. When leaders get triangled they usually are being asked to take responsibility for something that doesn’t belong to them. Therefore, the goal of the de-triangling tactic is to foster responsibility on the part of another. De-triangling tactics set boundaries and help the leader refuse to take responsibility for other people’s relationships (the other side of the triangle).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 6: Tactic 3. Kick up the reactivity

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Kick up the Reactivity.  I witness many leaders expending a lot of energy trying to avoid conflict, working hard at “lowering the anxiety,” or trying to keep peace among all parties. My challenge to leaders when I see this is, “Good luck with that,” or, “Keep trying, I’m sure you’ll do it” (see Tactic 1).  I also think those actions are often misguided in that they are informed by two wrong assumptions: (1) that conflict is bad and should be avoided at all cost, and (2) that the leader’s job is to lower the anxiety and keep the peace in the system. Edwin Friedman once suggested that clergy should try to bring out the reactivity in the system as soon as possible into their tenure, just to get it out in the open. Granted, Friedman was characteristically subversive and outrageous, and sometimes it was hard to know if he did so to merely make a point or was being prescriptive.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 5: Tactic 2. Join the resistance

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Join the Resistance. This tactic is in the true spirit of Ju-jitsu, rather than taking on opponents directly, redirect and join them! The tactic is as simple as agreeing with critics and siding with the enemy. Simply, this tactic removes the adversarial stance and avoids a battle of wills. As they say, “It takes two to tango,” so, just refuse to dance. In times of anxiety the reactivity will sometimes take the form of pursuit in the form of criticism. In other words, someone will “make it personal.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 4: Tactic 1. The Paradox

In this part of the series we focus on The Paradox. This move is a type of reversal where the leader or therapist prescribes the symptom or moves the patient or subject toward the behavior or feeling opposite of the desired goal. For example, a wife who wants to stop nagging is encourage to increase the amount of nagging. Parents who want to stop their teenager from swearing are encouraged to get the teenager to swear more. One common example is to recommend “Try harder,” to an overfuctioner who is feeling exhaustion at trying to change the system.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 3: Characteristics of the Tactics

We continue our series on “Systems Ju-jitsu.” Before exploring the specific tactics leaders can use it will be helpful to identify their characteristics. These characteristics will help highlight why the tactics are legitimate for systems leaders. These tactics have the following characteristics:

  • They are legitimate actions
  • They focus on bringing about change in the system, not changing others
  • They focus on realizing progress in the system (getting the system unstuck)
  • They are informed by systemic emotional process
  • They are responses that help regulate the leader’s own emotional state, thereby avoiding reactive responses like willfulness or overfunctioning.

With the next blog entry we examine specific tactics of Systems Ju-jitsu. 

Monday, May 31, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 2: The Use of Tactics

We often claim that systems theory is not about learning techniques, rather, it is working on self and about understanding and respecting emotional process. But leaders are also, but virtue of their function, called to bring about change in the systems they lead. The nature of this change, however, takes on a different stance than “management.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 1

The martial art Ju-jitsu is referred to as “the art of softness,” or, “the way of yielding,” Jujutsu evolved among the samurai of feudal Japan as a method for defeating an armed and armored opponent without weapons. Due to the ineffectiveness of fighting an armored opponent, the most efficient methods for neutralizing an enemy took the form of pins, joint locks, and throws. These techniques were developed around the principle of using an attacker's energy against him, or redirecting, rather than directly opposing it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Five concepts on leadership

I’m delivering another presentation on leadership this week. Sometimes an invitation to speak comes with the requirement to follow the theme of the conference or event. That’s a hit-or-miss prospect. I thought we were gratefully past the millennial-themed emphasis (leadership in the new millennium, etc.), but apparently not. The invitation was to speak on “leadership in the 21st century.” The dilemma for this speaker is that I don’t think the “new century” is a factor of significance in thinking about leadership. The point being that it misses the point.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Homeostasis finds a way

One phenomena of the power of homeostasis is that whenever a leader attempts to bring about change he or she will most certainly encounter sabotage. While we can find some comfort in the notion that reactivity is unimaginative, and therefore predictable, sabotage has a thousand faces. The fun thing about sabotage (if one can be non‐reactive about it), is that while we can expect it, we will always be surprised at the forms it takes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Factors for bringing about organizational change

Bringing about organizational change isn’t rocket science, but it’s not easy either. Those who step into a leadership position that requires engaging in institutional and organizational development in effect and by default will need to bring about changes on several levels: administrative, cultural, organizational, relational, and in processes and structures. In other words, institutional development is systemic. It requires addressing change in everything all together at the same time.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Five personal resources for leadership

Purists of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) tend to eschew all notions or frameworks of individualistic perspectives to therapy or interpreting families or organizations (like “personality type” or “traits” schemas). They prefer a consistent “systemic” approach that focuses on the system over the particulars of individuals in the system. More weight is to be given to the position and functioning of an individual in a system than on his or her personality because both are more a product of the system than of the individual. By and large I lean

Sunday, January 24, 2010

If a leader's job is not about bringing about change, then what's a leader good for?

A sharp student in my systems theory class was struggling with the idea of how trying to bring about change in a system is not willful. He had accepted the idea that a leader's job is not to “change the system.” But he was trying to reconcile that idea with the fact that leaders do bring about change in systems: organizational, developmental, change for the better, change toward maturity, change of perspectives, etc. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Five ways to become a popular leader

Every once in a while I need to challenge someone by asking, “Do you want to be liked or do you want to be effective?” In one sense it’s a false choice, but in another sense, leaders often will have to make a choice about their function. If the personal need to be liked, affirmed, or appreciated is the primary concern of the leader, effectiveness in how the leader functions in the system will be compromised. For those who choose being popular over being effective, there are five sure ways to accomplish success:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How to Deal With a Wall

One of the first dollars I made on a job was knocking through a wall in a New York City brownstone. I used a sledgehammer and it took me an entire day. I was twelve years old and I was paid a dollar in the form of a 1922 silver Peace Dollar. Not a bad deal for a 12-year-old, especially since I’ve still got that coin and its value has increased over the years.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Choose principles over feelings

Self-differentiation is all about functioning. One manifestation of the extent to which one is functioning in a self-differentiated manner is how well one can separate feeling from thinking. I recently consulted with a normally steady and effective staff person who found herself stuck on a particular issue. In this case she knew the right thing to do, and was able to quote the company guidelines that needed to direct her action, yet, she was second guessing herself.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Best book critique ever

I received a gracious email from Brian Gumm who is a student at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA. He graciouslly shared his review of my book The Hidden Lives of Congregations. It is a fine example of a book review, including a responsible and clear critique (a component too often missing from student book reviews). I offer it here as (1) a positive example of a well written book review, and (2) another opportunity for shameless self-promotion.

You can read his review on his Restorative Theology blog.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

When triangles are “bad”

One misunderstanding about basic concepts of Bowen Family Systems theory has to do with assigning value statements. For example, the notion that overfunctioning is “bad.” Overfunctioning, like other behaviors are not “bad” or “good,” they are merely functions, symptoms, or manifestations of emotional process played out in the way people relate to one another. This is why it’s more helpful to observe function in the system than it is to assign motives to people’s behaviors.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thoughts on congregations as communities of faith

Congregations are, primarily, authentic communities of faith—despite the fact that they are also organizations. That’s an insight worth keeping in mind for every congregational leader. The tendency for leaders too often is to address congregational issues from an administrative approach in an attempt to control outcomes. Symptomatic of this tendency is the popularity of management books among clergy. Administration and management can work at one level, at the organizational level, but they will not work at the “communal” level. (Read an excerpt on what makes a congregation a real faith community from the book The Hidden Lives of Congregations ).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Truisms worth remembering during times of acute anxiety

All systems experience episodes of acute anxiety but systems manifest it differently. Relatively stable, resiliant and high-functioning systems seem able to respond to episodes of acute anxiety. In contrast chronically anxious systems which lack resilience will tend to be reactive in the face of acute anxiety. That is, they have little tolerance for challenges, lack capacity for self-regulation or imaginative responses to handle times of acute anxiety.

While it is more helpful to assess the emotional process at work at the systemic level it can be helpful to obserse how symptomology is being played out in the individuals in the system. When facing reactivity at the systemc level congregational leaders will need to respond to how it affects the individuals in the system. Needless to say, those individuals in the system who have a low capacity for self-differentiation and for managing their own anxiety will tend to be the ones most symptomatic (i.e., the ones who "act out").

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Repertoire

Functioning at a high level of self-differentiation is the golden fleece of most congregational leaders who are students of BFST. Especially in times of acute anxiety and systemic reactivity effective leaders will work on focusing on the repertoire that will help them navigate the storm. In no particular order, here’s “The Repertoire” experienced systems leaders tend to follow:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Checking your prejudices

One important educational task is to help students uncover their prejudices. Prejudices cause students to “pre-judge” ideas, concepts, and truths and, when unchecked, can block learning since learning requires the accommodation of the new to the old: adding new knowledge to existing knowledge; dismantling old structures in order to build new ones, or giving up beliefs in order to embrace new truths.