Sunday, July 8, 2007

Through The Looking-Glass

"Okay," said the Younger, "but let's assume that if we're going to talk about 'leadership', we have to agree on what makes someone a "good" leader, or a "strong" leader, or an "effective" leader, as opposed to what makes someone a weak leader, or whatever."

"Fine," replied the Elder, "pick a couple of opposites, just for the sake of argument, and let's start there."

The waitress interrupted them briefly to take their order. As she disappeared again in the bustle of the busy cafe, they resumed their conversation.

"Well, just to get things started, let's use terms like 'strong' versus 'weak' leaders," suggested the Younger. "Is that a reasonable place to start?"

"As good as any," concurred the Elder. "How would you describe a leader who you'd consider 'strong'?"

The Younger paused briefly, looking towards the pedestrians passing their outdoor table, without really seeing them. "Well, the obvious would be that a strong leader would be decisive. He or she would also have a clear sense of where they were going – what their goals were – and would be able to get people on board with seeing that vision come to pass."

The waitress returned with their drinks, and the conversation was briefly but appreciatively put on a momentary pause, as each took a moment to savor the taste of their favourite ale.

The Elder broke the silence first. "So, now you want to combine 'visionary' and 'strong' in your metaphor for leadership, then?"

"Why not?" shrugged the Younger. "A strong leader would need to be visionary. Goals, strategy, and implementation would be key characteristics."

"So a 'weak' leader would then be – what? Just the opposite?"

"Sort of," the Younger began cautiously, careful not to commit to the line of thinking too quickly. "I think a weak leader would be one who didn't know where he or she was going, and lacked the cojones to get things done. I mean, it's good to get input from the whole team, but the leader who doesn't have a strong sense of where they’re going already, runs the risk of getting scattered, side-tracked by others' vision, or fail to really get some momentum going towards the goals and strategies. That would be a 'weak' leader."

The Elder took another quaff of his pint, gazing benignly at the rustling leaves in the trees over the cafe's outdoor patio. "So, would it be safe to say that strong leadership is result-oriented?"

"Ahh... Ultimately, I guess so, but I wouldn't put it so bluntly." The Younger paused to reflect a moment. "Maybe it would be best to say that a strong – but wise  leader would include people in the decision-making process, but without actually compromising what he or she knows needs to be done."

The Elder glanced back at the Younger, tempted to challenge that conclusion, but decided to leave it for another time. Instead, he leaned over the table and suggested, "Let's substitute a different set of words for 'strong' and 'weak', shall we? How would you describe, say, a leader who is either 'mature' or 'immature'?"

"That's more of a character question, than a skill set, isn’t it?" the Younger pointed out, watching the facial expression of his friend across the table.

"Yes," smiled the Elder, "but just humor me on this one, okay?"

The Younger leaned back in his chair. "Well, let's see. A 'mature' leader... I guess he or she would be comfortable with who they are, and in who they are in Christ, so 'confident' would be the first thing that comes to mind."

"Could 'confident' also be seen as 'non-threatened'?" asked the Elder.

"Of course," shrugged the Younger, impatiently, "and the 'immature' leader would be just the opposite: unsure of themselves and their identity in Christ, and easily threatened. A mature leader would be more relaxed and patient with people, and an immature leader would put programs ahead of people and not notice the damage he or she was doing long term."

There was a significant pause, as the Elder again gazed at the leaves in the trees, the passers-by on the boulevard, and the bustle of the sidewalk eatery, enjoying his pint of ale. The Younger sensed something was afoot, and could only contain himself so long. "Okay, where are you going with this? I agree that all leaders should have good character. Isn't that what St. Paul was getting at in the Pastorals? What are you driving at?"

The gaze of the Elder returned to  the eyes of the Younger. "Well," he began, "I just can't help but notice that the characteristics of what you label 'immature' most closely matches what you also described as 'strong'."

"And I wonder, is it possible that a truly strong leader might actually reflect your idea of 'mature', coupled with your version of 'weak'?"

The noise of the busy cafe seemed to recede into the far distance. For several moments, nothing was said.

Then the Elder continued, "What if a truly strong leader is one who is un-threatened enough to actually, honestly listen to the input of those around them, precisely because (a) they are secure in their identity in Christ, and (b) they know they need the voices of others to adequately hear what God is saying to the whole group? What if the 'weak' leader is really the one who insists on his or her own personal vision, and is too threatened to consider the voices of anyone else?"

"Maybe it takes more cojones to NOT insist on the leader's 'vision', or 'strategy', and to trust that the Spirit speaks through the Body, hmm?", he concluded, gesturing with open hands.

The Younger sighed. "I'd still like to see something like that actually functioning. I mean, I'd like to believe you, but I guess I need to see it first."

The Elder smiled and nodded. "Of course, that only makes sense." Then he paused, frowning. "What was it that Ghandi once said about change?"

"You must become the change you want to see," quoted the Younger. Shaking an accusatory finger at the Elder, he continued, "Nice try, but I want to see it first. Then I'll be more likely to do some risk-taking in that vein. Next week, then?"

"Wouldn't miss it," agreed the Elder, with a wink. "You're buying next time, if I'm not mistaken." And with that, they signaled the waitress for the bill.


  1. I just realised that in Dutch context the Elder is most likely younger than the Younger....

  2. I look forward to the next conversation and agree that the younger should buy the next pint.

  3. Thank you. Thank you for taking something we all can sense but can't quite distinguish and making it visible to our eyes.

  4. I really liked your distinction between strong leadership and mature leadership. There was a time (not that long ago) when I would have advocated strong leadership. I am grateful to have learned the kingdom perspective of mature empowering leadership.

  5. Robby, thanks for this story, it is revealing and captures the heart of what discerning, servant leadership should be.

  6. Interesting and well said.
    Being a "younger", I too want to see it modeled but I also know that if I'm not seeing it, then maybe I should be the first...

  7. Outta the park, Rob. I'm still watching it sail, wondering where it'll land next week!

  8. Jamie Arpin-RicciJuly 12, 2007 at 8:27 AM

    I've been meaning to leave a comment for a while. This is just great stuff. I hope it is the beginning of many.


  9. Thanks, everyone, for the encouraging words.

    I originally mentioned the concept for this post to Wendy about a week before it got posted, and we kicked the idea around for a few days whenever we were driving back and forth to the YWAM base.

    I was having trouble writing it in a way that I liked, until I settled on the conversation format, got a firm mental picture of the patio section of Winnipeg's King's Head Pub in my mind, and it just kinda flowed from there.

  10. So you're blogging less, but what you are blogging are gems!
    I was in a Bible study today and one of the things we talked about was how Paul claimed to boast in his weaknesses, and since most of the group are pastors or church leaders, it dawned on us, "How many leaders actually boast in their weaknesses."

    Now I'm not entirely sure what boasting in my weakness means, but I am sure that most leaders don't do it. Including me.