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

Hope for Leadership

Written by: on June 4, 2015


I often wonder why people are drawn into positions of leadership. I have experienced working with some good leaders, but I have had more experiences working with less-than-competent leaders. How did they get there? Who put them there?

This week’s reading was rich, deep, and fulfilling. It gave me hope. It made me smile. So I read it twice. What a great combination of Len Hjalmarson and Margaret Wheatley! Both are refreshing and radical. Both challenge the status quo. Both know how to write. Both have things to say about leadership that others need to hear. Both had things to say that I needed to hear.

Many years ago, a good friend of my brother-in-law decided to become a police officer. He was a very intelligent person with a good sense of who he was. After working in law enforcement for a while, he said to my brother-in-law something I will never forget, “Brad, I don’t think I’m insecure enough for this job.” It seems that many of those who go into law enforcement do so to exercise authority over others – in this case, that authority of law. It is sad to think that those who are hired keep our laws might just be one big group of insecure people. With news of police abuse that has surfaced in the news that past year, it would not be surprising if this were so. By the way, Brad’s friend went on to become the chief of police in his city and was, incidentally, a very good leader.

As I said above, I enjoyed the reading this week. But one section of the reading that really impressed me was a section that discussed “team versus community.” Len Hjalmarson writes the following impressive words:

A team is not the same as a community. When Ephesians 4 gifting is functioning in a community environment, it can be very difficult to tell who is leading. Leaders may be invisible, encouraging, empowering, and equipping as they work alongside others sharing similar tasks.

There are two types of ministry environment. In one environment a team or teams are formed to assist leaders to develop and implement their vision (purpose). In the second environment a community is formed around a shared sense of passion (belonging). In the team environment success is understood as empowering the group to reach agreed goals. In the community environment success is understood as empowering individuals to belong and to reach their creative potential.

In the team environment roles tend to be set in concrete and leaders are indispensable. In the community environment leaders may be invisible, and leadership roles and functions are often shared. At different times in the life of the community, depending on need and context and the empowerment of the Spirit, various ones take the lead depending on their competencies, deferring to the leading of the Lord. The key qualities in this context are those of Dorothy [from the Wizard of Oz]: humility and discernment.[1]

Team or community? Which is the better model? In tribal societies, which tend to function more as communities than as teams, Hjalmarson’s words are spot on. Leadership positions change, depending on the needs of the community. And although there were “chiefs,” they usually only functioned as “chief” for a given season. Many people led, depending on the need and inclination of the people. And when decisions needed to be made, everyone had a voice and decisions were made when a consensus was reached. In his amazing book, Neither Wolf nor Dog, author Kent Nerburn writes about his experiences with a Lakota elder named Dan. Nerburn and Dan talk about many things. In Chapter 17 they talk about leadership. Dan speaks.

“There are leaders and there are rulers. We Indians are used to leaders. When our leaders don’t lead, we walk away from them. When they lead well, we stay with them.

“White people never understood this. Your system makes people rulers by law, even if they are not leaders. We have had to accept your way, because you made us Indians make constitutions and form governments. But we don’t like it and we don’t think it’s right.

“How can a calendar tell how long a person is a leader? That’s crazy. A leader is a leader as long as people believe in him and as long as he is the best person to lead us. You can only lead as long as the people will follow.

“In the past when we needed a warrior we made a warrior our leader. But when the war was over and we needed a healer to lead us, he became our leader. Or maybe we needed a great speaker or a great thinker.

“The warrior knew his time had passed and he didn’t pretend to be our leader beyond the time he was needed. He was proud to serve his people and he knew when it was time to step aside. If he won’t step aside, people will just walk away from him. He cannot make himself a leader except by leading people in the way they want to be lead.

“That’s why Sitting Bull was a leader. He was needed by the people and the people followed him. He was brave. He was smart. He knew how to fight when he had to. And he understood what the white man was all about. People saw that he couldn’t be tricked by the white man, so they followed.

“That’s why the U.S. government hated him so much. It wasn’t just that he set a trap for Custer. Anyone could have done that. It was because he was a leader and people listened to him, and he wouldn’t listen to the U.S. government. He listened to the needs of his people.”[2]

I loved reading these words. They gave me hope and encouragement.

Too often, people in leadership stay in their positions even after they stop actually leading. The position becomes more important than the responsibility to the people who are being led. Their own vision becomes the important thing, and they live to see that vision become a reality. Consensus is no longer valued. The leader just does his or her thing. Something is wrong with this picture. However, this is the type of leadership we see everywhere today. I have seen this happen over and over again in schools and churches where I have served. One of the main problems with this type of leadership situation in that you end up serving the leader more than the people, and particularly in a church setting, this is simply wrong. It is backwards. It will destroy a community, a church, a school, an organization, a nation. God help us to be wiser than this.

In the conclusion of his paper, Len Hjalmarson talks about leaders being “hosts” rather than “heroes.” I agree wholeheartedly. He also writes, “Chaordic leaders are comfortable with paradox, and they lead by building consensus. Chaordic leaders empower the vision of all God’s people and leverage the power of networks, building a leadership culture. They are boundary-crossers and poets, who renew missional imagination and cultivate environments where people discover their callings in the world.”[3] I love this. True leaders are those who are not about position but about service to others. May many rise up around us. May we be counted among them.

[1] Len Hjalmarson, Leadership in the Chaordic Age (PDF provided by George Fox University) 9.

[2] Kent Nerburn, Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder (San Rafael, CA: New World Library, 1994) 175-176.

[3] Len Hjalmarson, Leadership in the Chaordic Age (PDF provided by George Fox University) 10.

About the Author

Bill Dobrenen

I am a husband, father, and educator. I love my wife, my two amazing children, and my students. My dissertation research is on the importance of Traditional Native-American Tribal Leadership Practices. Being in the LGP program is a gift from God for me during this season of my life. I look forward to another great year with my LGP4 cohort.

10 responses to “Hope for Leadership”

  1. Julie Dodge says:

    Great post, Bill.

    As I read about your brother’s friend, the police officer, I was reminded of hearing once upon a time that pastors and police officers often have similar personalities. Yet your brother’s friend hit a key note – which you head back to at the end of your post. When we are “leading” or taking authority from a place of insecurity, we do so poorly, We seek personal recognition and abuse our power. Our status becomes more important than our mission. But those who are secure, don’t have the great need for recognition and power. For me, that security comes from my faith, knowing that God really is my source. So I can err (not intentionally) but God is big enough to handle it. It’s not about me, but about Him. And so when any of leads from a place of security, we are more likely to become the invisible leader that allows others to step forward and contribute their strengths. I like that.

  2. Julie,

    Thanks for your insightful comments. Yes, there are too many insecure leaders; this is a sad reality. It is too bad that people, especially Christian leaders, don’t take the time to get to know who they really are since then they could minister from a place of strength rather than from a place of insecurity. Also, we don’t have to have it all together, and if we are honest, none of us does. That is why we need to surround ourselves with a competent team. But if we are insecure, we won’t do that, and thus begins a vicious circle of loneliness and ineptitude. Sad but true. God help us to know ourselves and our own limitations!

  3. Michael Badriaki says:

    Bill, I loved your post. As I read it from my home here in Uganda, I was also smiling like you. It is great to read refreshing ideas about leadership. I have been a part of numerous discussion about leadership since I arrived in Uganda and I have more meetings to attend where we are going to discussing the challenges about leadership. Something is amiss about the issue of leadership. I agree with you when you write: “I have seen this happen over and over again in schools and churches where I have served. One of the main problems with this type of leadership situation in that you end up serving the leader more than the people,…”, Serving the “big person” is such a set back and needs to change.

    Thanks much!

    • Michael,

      Thanks for your kind words. I am glad that my post made you smile.

      All too often, especially in churches, leaders are almost worshipped. This is sad and borders on idolatry, which is not a good thing at all. This is one of the reasons I attend a liturgical church. In these churches, the main course is not the sermon; rather, it is the Eucharist. And frankly, that is a much better meal. I have had my share of cult-like churches and hope and pray that I will never be in another one.

      I pray that your trip will be fruitful. Let’s get together to compare notes on your return.

  4. Deve Persad says:

    Hey professor, as I read your post, I couldn’t help but think of a conversation that I had with a colleague on Thursday. He’s been on staff, part time, at his church for the last 3 years. A church that he has been part of for over 30 years. Last year a new senior pastor came in, a self-described control-freak. The more I hear about what’s happening the more your words ring true for this situation and too many others: “One of the main problems with this type of leadership situation in that you end up serving the leader more than the people, and particularly in a church setting, this is simply wrong. It is backwards.” This last year, for my friend, has been all about serving the leader which has increasingly drawn away his time and joy in serving others…so sad indeed.

    • Deve,

      Thanks for your comments.

      The saddest thing of all about the situation I mentioned and the one your friend finds himself in is that the leaders in question actually expect others to serve them. Something is very wrong with that picture, especially for a Christian who should know better. When will these people wake up? Maybe this is the reason so many churches are losing members. Maybe there will be a day when people finally decide to quit following phony leaders. I look forward to that day.

  5. John Woodward says:

    Bill, what a great post with a whole lot to think about in the area of leadership. I especially appreciated the Lakota reference, and the very concept of a leader “being a leader” – not voted on or serving for a set time. What a great concept of a leader. It reminds me of so many people that have been asked to lead (especially in church situations) for all the wrong reasons or without any aptitude! It is really frustrating when the church needs direction and instead we put in people because they have been a part of the church for 40 years, not because of their inherent ability to guide or their wisdom or their passion for people. And then we wonder why our churches are all screwed up or dying! I really appreciated these articles, they really fired me up as well. It will be interesting to see if indeed this is the direction that our churches take in the coming years!

    Ok, see you in a few hours! Great work. We will talk more!

    • John,

      Thanks for your good words. You are right; sometimes the wrong people are put into leadership. I have no doubt about that. It is my view that we should not attend churches where there are self-serving leaders. Perhaps if there were a boycott of bad pastors, something would change. At least for me, this is a given. If I walk into a church where humility is not obviously present, I will walk out as quickly as I walked in. Maybe that is why I like working with Native people so much. Usually, they are humble and wise people who do not boast about how great they are. The Lord help the church to be wise about its leaders.

      See you very soon, my friend.

  6. Ashley Goad says:

    Bill! I loved this! I absolutely loved reading your blog, as much as I enjoyed reading this week’s articles. The differentiation between heroes and hosts was groundbreaking for me. I’ve been reading so many books about how we Americans want to be the heroes, so much that we overrun those we work with to impose our perceived needs and wants. We don’t take the time to listen or hear others. And we do so all for the pat on the back or the recognition? That seems so artificial and unauthentic. We must be the change, Bill. We must embody the change we want to see in the leaders of our society. Can we do it?

    Such good work, Bill. I cannot wait to read your dissertation!

  7. Bill, really like you bringing in the whole Indian leadership style. As you may know, we Americans know so little about that style of leadership and community life. I love the idea that when a leader ceases to be leader he understands it and moves aside. And the fact that different leaders rise up who are needed a different times to best serve the community is brilliant. Though this may not be a practical application for our current governmental system I can see how we can learn to do this within the loose configuration understanding of church leadership. May we as leaders continue to understand that our goal is not to accomplish our vision but to complete the mission that God has given us. And in doing so may we empower those around us to go higher and further then we might be able to. Truly the leadership that is needed is one that is able to both service as foot washer and as lead person. Thanks Bill.

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