Friday, October 09, 2009

the undefended leader (b)

Volume Two is subtitled "training in the exercise of power" - and that is exactly what the book covers. Volume One was about locating the source of freedom as a leader and Volume Two moves on to articulate what it means to be a leader - and it is about power.

Simon Walker opens with describing the forces at work in the power transactions which come with leadership. Firstly we return to the back stage:front stage forces from Volume One as an effective leader will be in command of both stages. Secondly there is a discussion of strong and weak forces in leadership. For example, the British Raj exerted 'strong' force, while Mahatma Gandhi used 'weak' force to exert influence. So strong force imposes shape, direction, or constraint - exuding strong personalities, positional power and formal authority. Weak force resources people through affiliation, respect or trust - moving to create consensus, foster trust, offer an invitation, or make a sacrifice. There is room for both, a need for both. Thirdly there is a choice between 'expanding' and 'consolidating' forces. Expansion is when 'we extend our territory and possesions', while consolidation is when 'we stabilise and build up what we already have but could lose'.

Walker loves his sketched images(!) and on p29 he presents the image of a bicycle where these three pairs of forces are illustrated. I can't begin to describe it! But he then places these three pairs of forces into various combinations to create "eight different patterns of power, each with its own character." (31) He names these "patterns of power" as Commanding, Foundational, Pacesetting, Visionary, Consensual, Self-emptying, Affiliative, and Serving - each one with full and helpful descriptors. "These eight different strategies represent the full repetoire of skills that are involved in effective leadership". (33)

Then each individual 'pattern' receives a whole chapter of explanation, together with an example of such a leader. Rather regrettably, there was an over-reliance on American presidents and an under-representation of women (none!) in the examples which he used. But he must hear that critique all the time so I won't dwell on it because the substance of what he says is just so helpful. The "ecology of power" is examined with each pattern as the interplay of the three sets of forces is explained. Each chapter concludes with ideas on how to implement each strategy, some examples of that strategy, and when to use it. A feature of Walker's writing is his capacity to illustrate and apply what he says. The total combo is as insightful as it is practical.

For the record, Abraham Lincoln reflects the Foundational, Franklin D. Roosevelt the Commanding, Ronald Reagan the Affiliative, Jimmy Carter the Serving, Winston Churchill the Pacesetting, Martin Luther King the Visionary, Nelson Mandela the Consensual, and Jesus of Nazareth the Self-emptying. Naturally what matters is being able "to use the right kind of power at the right time on the right occasion." (53)

The Consensual discussion becomes interesting because in being collective in its approach, it is "highly non-Western" (108). The essence of this strategy is "to build up the strength of the relationships between people" (108) and then Walker speaks of a boss who urged him to 'look at the spaces between people'. "The health and strength of any organisation lays not in the capacity of any one of its people or its departments, or its vision or its growth, but in the strength of the bonds that exist between people." (108) So reassuring to read him say it like this!

Then the Self-emptying is intriguing because Jesus is the model offered. At one point, back in the Raj:Gandhi example, he asks "how can vulnerability work to change the course of events?" (122). This is 'weak' force - but it can be so influential. "Self-sacrifice is the conscious choice not to use force or to exercise power but instead to allow something to be done to you." (122). That is a long way from standing up for your rights with a show of 'strong' force! He advocates the "strategic use of weakness" at the right time - but in so doing a leader must be willing to suffer and must be able to bear the suffering without being overwhelmed...

A couple of useful final chapters. Ch 14 - Finding the Holy Grail of Leadership - and the need for a leader to "understand the kind of power she is using and whether it is the appropriate kind to use in that situation." (133) The leader's "signature" becomes the array of strategies they are able to use effectively - with the understanding that we aim to develop in all eight strategies to enable a "mobility" in leadership. Great tips on how to do this on p141-2. "assemble a council of wise friends" ... "every leader needs to have an area of her life in which she is being led" ... "practise being still" ... "lay down your power at major junctions of your life" ... Those attached to success and results will find the use of 'weak' force diffcult. Those frightened of failure will struggle with using 'strong' forces.

Then in ch 16 - The Hospitality of the Undefended Leader - Walker is in search of a "new way of thinking of what a leader really needs to be" (152) and he comes with the idea of a leader being "a host" - because it is about the kind of space which we create around us. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant. The most refreshing description of leadership I've heard in years. A host! So, at the core each of the eight strategies do something with the 'space around us' and between us and other people. "Used in concert, they offer a repertoire of social and emotional skills that allow a host to create and sustain a healthy, enriching, dynamic and (most importantly) humane space in which people can grow and give of their best." (152)

Can I close with a three paragraph quotation from p154? Well, I am going to anyway!

"Undefended leadership is about a kind of generous hospitality: a giving of ourselves to the world that transforms it, an opening-up of space in our lives in which the 'other' is welcomed and, indeed, utterly changed. As such, it is a task that depends on the 'space' available within the leader that others can be invited into. The quest to become undefended leaders is a quest to cultivate this interior space within ourselves, as well as the fluency to become welcoming hosts who can enrich our guests.
We've come to accept an idea of leadership in which the character of the leader is virtually irrelevant to his task as leader. The concept of undefended leadership contradicts this and insists that the right character is the primary attribute required. We've come to accept an idea of leadership in which the leader is strong and powerful and 'does things' for her followers. The concept of undefended leadership, however, says that first of all the leader must be led. Leadership is not a primary activity but a secondary one. A leader is not a leader first but a follower. First and foremost, she must be focused on the source of the love and grace that gives her security and sets her free.
Undefended leadership subverts expectations of power and self-sufficiency in favour of a life of vulnerability and dependence. It declares that the first steps taken by the undefended leader may not be on the metalled road to the trainnig school but on the rough path of personal discipleship. It is on that journey that the process of formation is begun. Undefended leadership begins not with the amassing of skills and the acquisition of power but with the humility of learning to trust and to receive. It insists that the leader must begin by receiving. Only then can he go on, enabled to give to others. It is only out of this kind of life that the freedom and power to act greatly can come." (154)

Admittedly, I am in the midst of a major transition in my working life as I move out of senior leadership as a Principal. This trilogy is giving me such sight and insight. We all have our strengths and weaknesses as leaders. Simon Walker, with almost surgical precision, has touched my weaknesses (which I am wired to remember too easily) as a leader and provided some healing - but also touched my strengths (which I am wired to forget too readily) as a leader and provided some reassurance. The books have been a God-send...

nice chatting



Ali said...

Thanks for these two posts, Paul (and the third in advance).

We've been going through the gospel of Luke and many times the emphasis on grace in the life of Jesus reflects what you have been discussing here about the "weak" force. Last week, we looked at Luke 6:6-11 and how Jesus responded to the negative attitudes of the Pharisees. His willingness to accept the consequences (eventual death) of going against the powers-that-be speaks of "winning" through "losing". But this is only able to be done through trust in the eventual victory of God. The next section (vv12-16) then has Jesus choosing the apostles to carry on what the Pharisees seek to snuff out. The interesting thing, though, is that the apostles, as his representatives, are to respond to opposition in exactly the same way, and likewise, are killed.

What a paradoxical leadership style! As a result, I've been re-thinking leadership myself, and it has been very encouraging. But reading what you are summarising from these books, you are adding further dimensions - "eight patterns of power" - and I'm simultaneously curious and worried: do I read these books after all or merely concentrate on the one "pattern" I need at the moment?

Anyway, I'll keep reading your posts while I decide :).

Paul said...

Wonderful examples from the Gospels, Ali.

If I understand Walker correctly, he would argue for a 'mobility' with our leadership. A certain 'pattern' will be required of us in a certain season - but we need to mobile enough to adopt another style in another season. No one expects us to be masters of all eight patterns - but maybe two or three?

So - yes, I'd concentrate on the one pattern for the moment (as you put it) ... but read and understand the others while you do so.

Good stuff!

BJ said...

Paul, these are important posts not just because they point to a series of books which I am also hearing great things about, but because they move beyond the (frequently) dichotomous approach to leadership in the church:

(a) The Cult of leadership driven perhaps too much by an attention to celebrity leadership books, conferences and business models;

(b) The Leadership Luddites whose clarion call, just give me the Bible, is appreciated for its attention to first things, but is as deficient as would Biblical Studies be without Theology!

There is ample room for a synthesis, indeed even that word suggests a dualism that need not be present. So many great leadership ideas are biblical ideas, many biblically sourced ideas are situationally bad ideas for specific situations and so many leadership ideas are just good ideas! Ultimately what is needed is a strengthened commitment to a theology of leadership that will provide a values set that will allow the leader to make wise choices concerning leadership ideas (from wherever they are drawn). And as part of that values set the simple truth that a leader like any disciple "is" before he or she "does" - in other words a leaders acts "out of the overflow of the heart". Luke 6:45

Paul said...

Well said, BJ

It is exactly this integrated anti-dualism which I have enjoyed so much about Simon Walker's approach. Unreservedly a Christian, yet peddling wisdom for all without plunging to extremes.