Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hacks and Professionals: Which are you?

In his book, A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman wrote about the tendency of ineffective leaders that exhibit the tendency to seek the “quick fix” and who obsess over methods, techniques, and successful programs. This, in contrast to effective leaders who can engage in the hard work of leadership that focuses on bringing the kind of challenge to a system which leads to growth. He said, "The difference between a professional and a hack is not in their degree or training. Both may do what they do with polish; but the hack is not transformed by his experience." (A Failure of Nerve, p. 88).

I think that’s a challenging word to congregational leaders. It speaks to the dependency of so many leaders on fads and packaged programs that provide the promise of the quick fix for quelling the anxious voices who want to be entertained rather than challenged, who want to have “the answer” that satisfies rather than struggle with the questions that challenge, and, who cater to the whining voices of those who cannot tolerate being "bored" by engaging in the very practices and disciplines that lead to growth through the engagement of mind and affections.

The biggest liability for any system whose leader provides the quick fix is that it removes responsibility, denies accountability, and caters to the most anxious and dependent in the system. In the end these actions are inimical to the very processes and experiences that foster growth. In such a system there will never be growth and development toward maturity.

Being Transformed by Our Experience

For ministers and congregational leaders, a disciplined and sustained engagement in the practices of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-practice is what makes a difference in moving from novice to wisdom (or in Friedman's terms, from hack to professional). They guard leaders from being perpetually" blown here and there by every wind of teaching" and becoming distracted from the seemingly unrelated series of experiences day in and week out. Mature leaders are transformed by their experiences as a product of intentional reflection for meaning-making. They are lifelong learners who are inner directed, agents of their own learning, and who know that meaningful learning is more about the cultivation of insight than it is the acquisition of other people's knowledge.

Friedman’s words certainly challenge the congregational leader's own lack of personal and professional growth. I often tell search committees to value personal maturity over “experience.” Some people have years of “experience” but seem to have learned little from it.

Similarly, I witness too many resident congregational educators who seem to spend their careers running a Sunday School or other programs as the end-all and be-all to what constitutes Christian education. Too many seem to not have been transformed by the very discipline they are engaged in: education. For example, too few congregational educators seem able to articulate a well-defined philosophy of education that informs the basic educational questions:

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