Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An Artifact In Development

Written by: on March 1, 2019

Having just returned from an inspiring leadership conference, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston’s text, Simple Habits for Complex Times:  Powerful Practices for Leaders, resonates positively with me.  Berger and Johnston offer twenty-first century insight into leadership practice.  Specifically the authors focus on the importance of active listening (this is a social work term but clearly applies to Berger and Johnston’s leadership research), vision, and direction (without too much constraint).  “When the authors address listening, for example, they suggest most people think good listening answers the question of “What does this message mean to me?” In reality, the authors say, excellent listeners should be asking, “What is this person’s purpose, intent, hope in delivering this message? What does this message mean to him?” As for vision, the authors write, “It turns out that a leader in a complex world needs a vision that is directional without imposing too much (or too little) constraint on people.”[1]  I would guess that the majority of leaders are just the opposite – they have a sense of “I talk, you listen” as well as their own (or the businesses) vision which is imposed with significant defined restrictions.  A good understanding of human behavior (a combination of psychology, sociology, and systems theory) will reinforce Berger and Johnston’s premise.  People want to be heard.  People want an opportunity to use their creativity to problem solve and innovate, and people want flexibility in their schedules.

Even though research repeatedly indicates that workers/employees desire this type of leadership, directors/CEO’s/supervisors often miss the mark.  Many of these same leaders have undergone leadership training and study, yet he/she still fail to execute a twenty-first century approach.  Why is it so challenging?  Perhaps the answer can be found through Berger and Johnston’s emphasis on David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework…the need for leaders to practice habits of mind that are “deliberately developmental” and grow “head space,” polarities thinking, action learning, adult developmental theory and more and woven these important topics together in a clear, lucid way.[2]  Rather than living a life of self-awareness and insight, leaders tend to be workaholics who don’t take time to practice habits of mind.

The authors use David Snowden’s Cynefin framework, which he describes in the Cognitive Edge. This approach involves sorting unpredictable and predictable elements into the complex, the complicated, the chaotic and the simple. The approach they propose involves our staying in the present and unfolding our actions as the present becomes clear.

  1. Asking different questions (instead of having the answers),
  2. Taking multiple perspectives (even when we disagree), and
  3. Seeing systems (including emergence).[3]

There are several lessons on leadership to be taken from Berger and Johnston’s text – but specifically I want to apply their leadership work to refugee resettlement in the United States.  In Goody’s article, Migrants and Refugees: Christian Faith and the Globalization of Solidarity, he points out how “we have not only lost a sense of empathy toward others in pain, but we have lost a sense of our interconnection with each other”.[4] Goody goes on to say “The global challenges of migration are not only an opportunity for the church to express its values in new and creative ways, but it also provides creative opportunities for the God of life to transform the church and to deepen its commitment to the work of justice and peace”.[5]   This is exactly what the Cyafin framework proposes – ask questions, take multiple perspectives, and apply systems theory.

While the Cyafin framework is ideal, my research indicates that stakeholders developing programs and services for refugees in the United States are doing just the opposite.  Rather than rely on refugees self-identified needs, experiences, culture, trauma, and spirituality, stakeholders take an “Americanized” perspective on what is needed to create a successful resettlement.  Stakeholders create a resettlement system, expect refugees to “buy-in” to this system, and then are discouraged when the system isn’t working.  Somali refugees report negative cultural beliefs and stereotypes about “social service involvement” – whether it’s the education system, children services, or mental health services. These cultural stigmas prevent acquisition of services.  If stakeholders change their leadership method to the Cyafin framework, I believe the resettlement services and programs would be more appropriately tailored to refugee needs, which would in turn elicit buy-in from refugees.  The struggle to connect stakeholder services to refugee needs is the inspiration for my artifact under development.  My goal is to create an assessment tool (informed by Somali refugees’ definition of resilience) to be used in the first year of resettlement.  Rather than rely on Americanized understanding of successful resettlement, it’s imperative to rely on refugees understanding of their OWN resilience.

I leave you with this thought as a fellow Christian – the extensive needs of Somali refugees points to this directive – “God wants our lives to overflow with mercy, love, and compassion — the marks of His kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we have a choice: respond to unsettling realities in fear and withdraw, or follow Him in responding to the greatest needs of our day with love and hope. We know salvation doesn’t depend on works, but we also know that caring for those in need is evidence of a faith that changes lives.”[6]

[1] “Simple Habits for Complex Times Powerful Practices for Leaders.” Kirkus Reviews 83, no. 10 (May 15, 2015): 7.

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Habits-Complex-Times-Practices-ebook/product-reviews/B00T0392IY/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_hist_4?ie=UTF8&reviewerType=all_reviews&filterByStar=four_star&pageNumber=1

[3] http://integralleadershipreview.com/13366-819-jennifer-garvey-berger-and-keith-johnston-simple-habits-for-complex-times-powerful-practices-for-leaders/

[4]        Groody, Daniel G. “Migrants and Refugees: Christian Faith and the Globalization of

Solidarity.” International Review Of Mission 104, no. 401, pg.317

[5] Groody, Migrants and Refugees; pg.  320

[6] https://www.worldvision.org/christian-faith-news-stories/matthew-25-prayer-reflection

About the Author

Jean Ollis

11 responses to “An Artifact In Development”

  1. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean!

    I was interested in your comment, “…and people want flexibility in their schedules.”

    So right you are! My daughter graduates college this May, and we were chatting about her plans after graduation. Her number one thing in looking for a job was flexibility. When I pressed in, she said the same for her friends.

    If us bosses don’t figure this out about this generation, we will be in for a lot of heartburn and frustration, plus all the good workers will be working for someone else…

    Thanks for your closing remark, “evidence of a faith that changes lives”. Amen!

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jay! You are absolutely right – research shows employees given flexible scheduling are actually more productive and report more satisfaction. I know that for me it’s a huge motivator!

  2. Hey Jean, your artifact sound amazing! Do you have organizations that are looking to use your assessment tool?

    Your approach is very similar to mine with regards to missions.

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jenn! At this point I don’t have any stakeholders planning to use the tool, but those I’ve interviewed clearly tell me that they haven’t approached this tool the way I have…I think they will be excited to give it consideration.

  3. Jason Turbeville says:

    I am intrigued by the idea of changing the ideal resettlement from an American view of success into one the Somali refugees will buy into. What is the biggest difference you have seen and how do you think those in charge will respond to the changes?

    We have a fairly large Somali refugee population in Ft Worth as well, this could be a nationwide thing you are creating!


    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jason! Great questions! I think the most significant difference is American values (type of housing necessary, value of employment, parenting (this is huge) roles and husband/wife cultural roles, education, and faith). Refugees feel targeted by stakeholders in their parenting choices, childcare concerns, and exercising their faith practices. American jobs and schools are not sensitive to their (Muslim Somali’s) prayer rituals “Praying five times a day is considered the second most important of Islam’s five pillars, after professing that there is no god worthy of worship but God and that the Prophet Mohammed is God’s messenger.”

  4. Trisha Welstad says:

    Jean, I love how you are applying the reading directly to your artifact. The first question that came to mind as I read about the Americanization that stakeholders approach refugees with was, do you think that the stakeholders are looking at the resettlement program with a need for high-control based on fear? I can only imagine that those in the communities would be afraid of that which is different and foreign and so would implement programs that have the least amount of impact/change for the larger culture. What do you think? In some ways, I as I am thinking of it, there is a parallel with my research- helping those who have not been welcomed well to be able to be at home and thrive in a place where technically they have been told they belong.

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Trish! The stakeholders are certainly approaching it with high control – whether it’s fear or ignorance I’m not sure…Either way we are doing such a disservice. Of course it’s easiest to expect full assimilation culturally, but in the end the Americanized system isn’t helping with resettlement. It makes me think of South Africa and its ability to recognize 11 national languages. We can’t even wrap our heads around having two language options available in the U.S. THAT, I believe, is about control – losing power by accepting different cultures. Big Sigh! There’s much work to do!

  5. Kyle Chalko says:

    great job Jean.

    There are so many systems at play when it comes to dealing with your issue, It makes it seem overwhelming. But there is an underlying opportunity thought and it’s huge. I think you are doing a good job at approaching your situation and seeing to find other underlying issues wrong with the system. Your artifact will certainly help reveal things.

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Kyle! Thanks for your thoughts…I always see a need for ongoing “program evaluation”. When we cease to do so, we cease to progress. I’m hoping my artifact, developed out of program evaluation, can serve as a form of progress. I appreciate your support of my topic and direction.

  6. Hi Jean,

    I love your artifact, an assessment tool to be used in the first year of resettlement. It made me think that you would really benefit from having a conversation with a friend of mine, Anne Woolger from Toronto. She has been immersed in refugee resettlement issues for 30 years (since we graduated from seminary together).


    At one point she developed a toolbox of resources for agencies which might have direct connection to the assessment tool you want to develop. DM if you would like a connection to her; she would love to connect.

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