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

Becoming a Different Kind of Leader

Written by: on October 22, 2015

Becoming a Different Kind of Leader

For the last three years I have operated under a job title I have made up for myself. I am the “Network Catalyst” for Nitrogen, a church health and multiplication network within The Wesleyan Church denomination. I live in Lowell, Michigan, a four hour drive from The Wesleyan Church headquarters, where I am based. The people I work with are spread out across the United States and Canada and range from potential church planters to denominational officials. I technically work with thirty-one districts, five colleges and universities, and we have targeted our largest cities across North America as the mission field we are being called to reach. One of the craziest feelings in my life and leadership in this last season is summed up by the phrase I am continually baffled with: “My life is crazy. I do not work with the people I live with and I do not live with the people I work with! How can this be???” The main reason for this funny relational dichotomy is the nature of the job I have but I also think there is something very connected to the nature of how I like to live and lead and who God is calling me to be.

In her book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead, Charlene Li defines open leadership as … “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.”[1] Li does a fantastic job of conveying that the ordered world as we know it is crumbling, new technology is changing everything, transparency and authenticity are required, and most importantly that control, or at least the delusion of having it, must go out the window to effectively lead in our world today.

What was so interesting and transformational to me was the blending of leadership style and technology skills and tools in creating a new form or style or even kind of leadership all together. Li went above and beyond telling effective leaders how-to use technology to be more effective in today’s culture and really described a new kind of leadership that comes out of an ethos not just a desire to be a more effective or a higher functioning leader.

In chapter seven Li writes, “Leadership takes on a different dimension in a connected, networked world–that of being a catalyst for change both outside and inside the organization.”[2]  That call to be a catalyst is much more than figuring out how to use social media and every emerging communication technology to do your job. There is something in you that is a learner-leader where you begin to function and interact fluidly through the technology with yourself, others, your organization and the world you are living in. Again, I think this is much more than using the technology enough until you are comfortable with it but really moves towards an embodiment of the relationships, trust, influence, connectedness … a new kind of being in our world today.

Li broke down open leadership into two particular mind-sets or dispositions. She talked of the optimistic leader and the collaborative leader. In short the optimistic leader is curious and humble and the collaborative leader is connected, including, and confident. Li speaks of the ultimate blend of mind-set and disposition leading to the realist optimist (Made me think of Optimist Prime. I think he is a Transformer. Maybe there is a connection there?:).

Li defines the optimist realist as,

“The realist optimist is the most powerful and effective of the open leader     archetypes, somebody who can see the benefits of being open but also             understands the barriers.  Realist optimists can work through the tough situations, has the collaborative mind-set and skills, and most important,        knows how to overcome organizational obstructions by showing doubters the genuine benefits of being open and winning their trust.”[3]

From reading Open Leadership, I can look at the last three years of my life very differently. I have been and would have continued to label my journey as “How an ENFJ can find a way to survive a directors role in an institution through adaptive social media and technologies skills and development.” But now I would say, God has used this role and season as a way to shape me into being a different kind of leader in our new ordered world, with crazy emerging technologies, demanding heightened transparency and authenticity, and most importantly knowing the whole time that your are definitely NOT in control. I really feel like there has been an underlying tension or struggle that I have been going through as I have tried to figure out how to lead in this last season, but I would say until reading this book I haven’t really understood, or more likely misunderstood the struggle. It has not been a tools and skills development struggle but a real becoming a different kind of leader struggle that God has really been transforming my life and leadership through.

[1] Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 4.

[2] Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 165.

[3] Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 175.

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

10 responses to “Becoming a Different Kind of Leader”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Phil, in your opinion, if the new world with all its technology and “social-centricism” (I just made that up…) did not force us into “open leadership,” would it still be the best leadership methodology to embrace? When she wrote this book 6 years ago, much of what we live with today was just predicted then. She was reading tea leaves (with remarkable accuracy I might add) but now it’s real.

    If the world was unplugged, would open leadership still be the way to go?


    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Jon, Without the technology … yes … in a different time or era … no. I think we are in a day were the realist optimist is prime and collaboration and optimism or vital and whether technology is available or not I doesn’t make as much difference as the “open culture.” My only argument with this however is that it could be technology that has made our culture this open and is actually something that cannot be separated from the culture???

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      My answer is yes. Open leadership is a mindset, not a model. Jesus had the open leadership mindset in a world with no technology. Li connects the concept of open leadership to actionable examples of this type of leadership in today’s world, where digital and social media is used by large percentages of people that engage with organizations. I think today’s digital world helps leaders to be open, and it is more noticeable when leaders aren’t open. Social media helps, and in many ways, forces leaders to be more open.

      • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

        I would agree that Jesus created an open culture around him. Sonlife Ministries develops one of Jesus’ core values or foundations of ministry as “expectancy.” I think the realist optimist definitely creates expectancy around the life, network, or organization they lead. I do think in the height of the modern industrial era “openness” was not a value or a part of organizational design. I believe it has a is leading to its demise. But I think the modern industrial era needed tight, closed, transactional leadership to realize its greatest potential. I think this is why I am so into transformational leadership:)!

  2. Dave Young says:

    Phil, This book seems to have been a great confirmation for you that your leadership isn’t unique, but right on track with where current leadership is heading. It’s good to have confirming voices along the way. Do you think you’ll stay in denominational leadership? If you do what are you doing to stay closely related to the pastors you’re trying to influence and lead? While technologies give a platform to communicate doesn’t physical presence continue to have a big role in leadership? Wondering.

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Dave, “Do I see my self continuing in a denominational role?” That is a crazy question to see on this post today. I am at a gathering of leaders from the Global Alliance for Church Multiplication (GACX) and am pondering that exact question. I greatly question a denominations ability to be fully “open” and move with how God is wanting to move in our changing culture. It is a funny place to be as a realist but yet optimist. I would say the relational pattern I most commonly follow is a couple face to face connections, then google hangouts work great, and intermittent phone calls, texts, and emails deliver I higher level of relational context than I had suspected. We have probably 2-3 events a year additionally where I cross paths with the planters, pastors, and leaders I work with … and even though there is the live/work, work/live tension … overall I am surprised by the level of relational connectedness.

  3. Mary Pandiani says:

    Your posts continually reflect a desire to be that “learner-leader…[that brings about] a new kind of being in our world today.” As you reflect what Li has to offer both in the world of social technology as well as leadership, your writing describes how you put on the clothes to see what fits. What works, you keep. What doesn’t, you don’t. And all the while, your “being” stays in the essence of who God made you. You demonstrate what it means to be a “learner-leader.” I appreciate learning from you.

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    Phil i understand your feelings and i am glad that you are able to be transparent enough to admit that leaders sometimes don’t know what is going on. You make me feel comfortable because i too feel like “God what is going on” and Lord when is there going to be great break through? But there is a method to the madness Phil. And you will see why you are where you are now and what that person was for you being there! Blessings keep the faith!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Nick Martineau says:

    Phil, Nice job articulating the significance of your leadership journey and how Li has helped you understand. You really are in an interesting Leadership role as you engage other pastors. Your ability to understand and think through the best way for your to lead your church planters was powerful to read. Like Mary said you are an excellent learning leader and I think that’s what is needed in this culture. Thanks.

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