Friday, December 14, 2007

Shades of Grey

The other night, after a church meeting, I found myself on the receiving end of some 'observations' about my leadership. Feedback is something that I really value and so I was all ears. However, it seemed that on this occasion I was being subjected to a somewhat binary assessment of my leadership style. My own experience of controlling leadership has made me extremely keen to resist this approach myself, and yet that was exactly what was being suggested.
After struggling for a while to grasp how this interpretation might have been arrived at it dawned on me that I was in a no win argument. You may have been in one of these conversations yourself, when you find yourself being drawn into a debate which is based on the false assumption that there are only 2 polar opposite positions to adopt, the issue is either black or it's white. But anyone who exists in the world of real human beings knows that things are rarely black and white, rather we are constantly dealing with shades of grey (with the occasional spalsh of colour if we're having a good day).
This particular conversation centred on the power dynamics of leadership, with the suggestion that if the situation is not one of utopian democracy then by default autocracy prevails. Of course the reality of leadership is, in the language of Blanchard, 'situational'. If the building is burning down the office don't sit down to discuss the best way of evacuating - somebody dictates orders. But if a bunch of highly gifted jazz musicians are jamming together it may be difficult for someone in the audience to work out who the leader is. This is perhaps best expressed in the continuum offered by Tannenbaum and Schmidt (left). In the context of church there are very few scenarios that would excuse a leader operating at the autocratic end of the scale but that doesn't mean that the body therefore is as liberty to function entirely in the zone of self-definition. I really do hope that at every opportunity I afford the maximum possible freedom to those God has privileged me to serve with leadership.

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