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.