Keep Asking “Different” Questions!
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Kevin Johnston, cofounders of Cultivating Leadership, and coauthors of Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, challenge their readers to understand the new complexities of leadership within today’s context and present them with tangible resources to aid their organizational strategy. They dare their readers to ask the question, “How can I prepare for something that doesn’t exist?” The authors invite their audience to enter into a paradox universe and find comfort in the ambiguity of complexity. They suggest, “Superb leaders have long known that they need to find ways to ‘think anew and act anew’, especially as their plates become ‘piled high with difficulty’; however, knowledge does not always lead to execution. For many, the ‘new’ becomes overwhelming and paralyzing, because it causes leaders to adapt. However, as Berger and Johnston assert:
Leadership is about gathering people together – even people with quite different goals and understandings – and helping them build bridges that take everyone to a new place. Understanding other people’s perspectives is a central tool in bridge building, because until you know how others see the world, you’ll have little opportunity to influence or learn from their perspective.
Ambiguity requires leaders to operate from a stance of collaboration; instead of isolation. Albert Einstein said it best. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Berger and Johnston challenge readers to adapt situationally and respond specifically. Hence, their perception of leadership is tied to the idea of adaptability, curiosity, and partnership.
The authors delve into the idea of leaning into the idea of the possible verse the probable since the possible places leaders into the realm of the ‘what ifs’, instead of the ‘what should’. They observe, “…coping with the probable is what humans and human systems are most oriented toward. Dealing with the nearly endless number of things that are possible is beyond our easy reckoning and requires new approaches.” Dealing with the possible challenges leaders to pose different questions and look for different answers.
One of the greatest problems that leaders face is leading from a place of assumption, instead of understanding. This occurs when leaders ask questions for the purpose of confirmation, instead of curiosity. Berger and Johnston reveal, “One leadership skill that you might not even see as a leadership skill at all is the power of asking different questions, which pulls against the stereotype of leaders having all the answers.” This doesn’t lead one to immediate answers, but develops one’s ability to see the full canvas of the situation and develop a strategy that works in tandem with the whole picture. “As they say to trainee ER doctors: ‘Don’t just do something. Stand there!’” This requires one to stand still long enough to evaluate the full spectrum.
Dennis Tourish, author of The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective, supports the theories of Berger and Johnston and suggests, “Different models of leadership are required. The concentration of power in the hands of a few has not been a successful experiment in decision making.” This is why asking different questions brings all voices to the table and creates organizations that are robust in perspective and praxis. According to Berger and Johnston:
Asking a different question enables a whole new set of thoughts and behaviors, and that enables two things at once to happen: (1) it helps you give feedback so that other people can hear it and (2) it helps you learn more so that you can be a better leader. Both of these create the conditions for success in a complex and volatile environment.
Before one can implement various ideas, one must entrust themselves before an audience with diversified perspectives. My thesis delves into the multifaceted conundrum of the perceived exodus from the church and challenges leaders to understand this exodus as a beginning; not an ending. As I’ve sought to listen to varied voices and display them within my text, I’ve come to find surprising aspects of insights from pastors and leaders. I’ve realized that before I can gain their trust and aid them in bridging the generational gap, I must first understand the emotional impact they’ve gone through and seek to step into their shoes. I have the privilege of seeing both sides of the coin since I pastor Millennials and I find my generational home within this construct. However, I’ve had to lean in and lean down in order to hear the whispers of the wounded church. I’ve learned that “…curiosity and inspiration are mind-sets that we can control. By fueling those mind-sets, we unlock countless opportunities.” I still reside in a world where there are heightened frustrations against Millennials and assumptive accusations. However, I’ve learned that when I approach from a stance of transparency and collaboration, I lead the way for others to approach Millennials from the same stance.
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 9.
Albert Einstein, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein,(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 474.
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 42.
Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2013),7.
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 66.
Tina Lynn Seelig, Insight Out: Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World (New York, NY: HarperOne, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2015), 31.
8 responses to “Keep Asking “Different” Questions!”
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Another great post. Your connection to Millennials and your assistance in helping church leaders ask difficult questions is vital. i am glad you are taking up the challenge. I also think that you have understood correctly that part of your task is to listen intently and openly to church leaders who come from a different generational perspective. Your ability to garner their trust matched with your skill at communicating to your own will help bridge that gap and move the Church toward new horizons in the complex world we live in. What are the questions that you think you need to help older church leaders ask right now?
Thanks so much, Dan!
I really appreciate that question – that “different question”. Lol
In all seriousness though, we need to start asking different questions in response to what we see, what we hear and what we experience. This past week, the UMC passed a vote that excluded thousands of pastors and leaders from serving in the denomination. They stripped them of their titles and removed them from their presence. Reverend Adam Hamilton has been one of the strongest opposing voices in regard to the vote. He’s faced persecution, opposition and been cursed out for his stance. However, he’s asked different questions and responded to the reality of the church. He revealed that ¾ of Millennials and Gen Z support same-sex marriage and are in favor of the LGBT community being a part of the Christian church. This is the reality – it’s the heartbeat of emerging generations and the church needs to hear the truth even if they differ.
For many, they question why these generations are leaving the church in droves; however, many are not willing to hear the real answers. They want the church to remain “safe” and a social club to the select few that they deem worthy to enter the doors. However, the church is turning the corner with this new generation of leaders and becoming a hub for all. It’s no longer a question of doctrine, but love displayed. If the church doesn’t listen close and ask different questions, especially in regard to inclusion, they will lose many more people and find themselves with a congregation that is safe from culture, but uninfluential.
Yes, I reference the UMC vote in my post this week.
Also, I started reading the next book on our list. It comes at the sexuality issue in a way that asks new questions, possibly ones that either side of the UMC debate are not considering at least overtly.
Keep it up.
I loved your post this week, particularly when you mention a new way of looking at the reality of the exodus of millennials from church. Seeing it as a beginning not an ending is a great example of approaching the same issue with a completely new orientation.
I think this is why Charles Taylor and others see the secular age as a positive thing for church. They are stepping back and looking from the balcony to see the faithfulness of God at work in our world, knowing that secularity actually puts those of us who love Jesus on the same playing field as all other competing constructs. And in my experience, love always eventually prevails. So I think it is a hopeful place, and I see the exodus of millennials as being something that will jumpstart new expressions of faithfulness.
Thank you so much! I love what you wrote, especially when you stated, “They are stepping back and looking from the balcony to see the faithfulness of God at work in our world, knowing that secularity actually puts those of us who love Jesus on the same playing field as all other competing constructs.” Yes! Secularity has the ability to compel us with the love of Christ because we’re pressed to the needs of the culture. Glad to partner in prayer and ministry with leaders like you who are walking alongside with Millennials and trying to lead many to Jesus.
Hi Colleen! As the founder and leader of a business/ministry, this book was probably quite relevant to your day to day work. When approaching the concept of feedback, how do you manage that with your team? I thought Berger and Johnston had excellent research/action steps relating to systems theory and active listening. Your thoughts?
Thanks for the great question! I really loved the polarity map and their idea that polarity is imperative for organizations to thrive.
They suggest, “When any of us is faced with a polarity, we might have the urge to solve it. Most leaders have this reflex. The trouble with polarities is that they can’t be solved; one of the defining characteristics is that you can’t do without either the left or right side” (Berger and Johnston, 97). One of the polarities of LOUD is the church. LOUD is not the antithesis of the church, but it’s a different kind of gathering that expresses Christ. We don’t hold to a specific denomination or statement of faith – we simply create hubs of relevancy and application to reach the skeptic and searching. We show and preach Jesus through practical topics and engagement.
We recently discussed creating a pastoral program that reached pastors and leaders from various denominations. However, when we asked different questions and sought to form resolutions, we realized that part of what makes LOUD unique is the dichotomy that exists between the outside culture and the Christian church. If we ministered to all, instead of concentrating on those in their 20s and 30s, then LOUD would become a church, instead of something different.
Great post Colleen. I liked your point about the insanity quote. When I was reading about unpredictable results, that made me think “Hey! so im not insane if I do the same thing and expect different results.”
Also, can you share that source for the Albert Einstein quote. I recently had someone tell me that he might not have said that actually.