Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Leadership & Management

Len Hjalmarson emailed me a pithy little quote a week or so ago, that keeps popping back into my thoughts on a regular basis:
"Leadership is about creating change, whereas management is about creating stability."
This brief statement is one of those short little sentences that creates an "a-ha" moment when you stop and think about it.

Many moons ago, when I was a volunteer leader under George Mercado, one of my main areas of responsibility was the worship and creative arts endeavours of our youth group (the group was over 100 teenagers at the time). As my seminary days came to a close, and my internship at the church was ending, I was working proactively to "pass the torch" to one of the older teenagers, so that there wouldn't be a gap in ministry when I went into fulltime pastoral ministry somewhere else (BC, as it turned out).

Peter had been in the band since its inception (almost four years), and was a very humble and deeply spiritual guy, as well as being quite musically gifted and well-liked by pretty much everybody in the youth group.

I told Peter something to the effect of, "This will be your area of leadership. Don't feel any pressure to copy what I've done. Make it your own."

Which is exactly what Peter did, brilliantly. Except...

He started changing things that I'd been doing for four years. And he started making these changes almost immediately. And suddenly, even though I had been totally serious about letting Peter "make it his own", I discovered that I was feeling uneasy, even resentful, about the changes.

I realized that, deep down, I felt threatened by the changes. "What, you mean what I did wasn't good enough?" Or, "Did you think I sucked as a leader? Is that why you're changing stuff so quickly?" NOTE: I never actually said this out loud! It was simply a barbed-wire tornado in my thinking.

Stupid, selfish thoughts, really. God used this moment in my life (I was about 27 or so) to show me a bit more of what "dying to self" meant when it came to releasing younger leaders, and allowing them to flourish in the way that He had gifted them.

The irony is that much of the struggle that I have had over the years in ministry has been precisely what Len's quote articulated. Many ministry positions are called "leadership", but functionally, what they really want is "management" or, to use another business term, "franchise". Change, innovation and creativity are not welcome, unless it's a creative way of breathing new life into old programs. The greatest good is seen in successfully franchising numerous identical expressions of the same thing.

When Christians want to apply a cookie-cutter approach to ministry, it's more like running a Tim Horton's franchise; they all look exactly the same. That doesn't require real leadership; it requires management, stability, and enforcing the status quo.

True leadership is about change. It's about staying fluid and flexible. It honours past traditions but is not beholden to them. It blesses the efforts of managers and franchisers, but is not emasculated by slavery to programs. True leadership is about new wineskins.