An image that has haunted me, not only from Hong Kong but also from the many temples that I have visited, is of a mother or father that are pushing their child to kneel, incense in hand and bowing before a golden image that is so beautifully decorated, immaculately polished yet unable to provide the answers that these families are looking for. This week I have been thinking about families and the legacies they leave behind. Watching a youtube lecture by author Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries1, he noted that when reviewing a company he doesn’t like to take a 360 view of the company but rather a 720 degree one. What he meant by that was he wanted to interview the family of both the leader and the employee to discover what kind of leader this company had. Obviously this has been met with some resistance. Hearing critique from not only employees and employee’s families, but also from the family of the CEO as well could potentially be embarrassing.
Ancestor worship is truly about bringing honor to the life that was lost but has been taken an extra step to include the spirit world as well. For Asians, family legacy includes those that have past away and the ongoing reputation of those still alive. Honor and shame indeed play a role in this mix. When a family member dies and the family comes together it is traditionally the responsibility of the oldest son to take leadership of the family. Coming before the body in the presence of the whole community is seen as honoring the past, present and future stability of the family. I know it is western of me to ask the question, “Is this truly honoring the family member that died or just a show for the community?” As leaders we find ourselves in situations that we represent the “company” and must act in a way that might be different that how we would normally act in order to honor the denomination, church, or business.
Kret de Vries writes, “To some extent, of course, we are all impostors. We play roles on the stage of life, presenting a public self that differs from the private self we share with intimates and morphing both selves as circumstances demand. Displaying a facade is part and parcel of the human condition. Indeed, one reason the feeling of being an impostor is so widespread is that society places enormous pressure on people to stifle their real selves.”2 He goes on to say, “Fearing discovery of their fraudulence, they burden themselves with too much work to compensate for their lack of self-esteem and identity. Work/life balance is a meaningless concept to them.”3
I can probably make the statement that we have all had moments that we felt like a fraud doing the work that God has called us to. I was 27 when I pastored my first church. I remember after one of the first few board meetings I came home and said to my wife, “can you believe they are asking me for advice about marriage and about finances…they have twice my age and experience.” Who does it honor to pretend to be the one with all the knowledge?
Working cross culturally I have promoted my lack of resources and knowledge as an asset to come humbly into a conversation of leadership. A reviewer of the book Leadership Mystique4 stated, “He addresses issues of multiculturalism and notes how effective leadership naturally allows for this…that is they are true to their vision and values and provide employees the opportunity for self assertion to produce a personal sense of effectiveness and competency.”5
The last thing any of us want is for an “expert” to come and evaluate our ministry, our work, or our leadership. Manfred Ket de Vries’ 720 degree survey of us would be a humbling event. My kids were little I remember them telling people that my wife was a teacher and I didn’t work. I looked at them and telling them I had a job (overcompensating) told them all the things I did in ministry and when finished my daughter, “oh, someone pays you to do that.” Living in China my family of influence has extended to some young men and women that have worked alongside us for many years. Modeling leadership in a country that teaches everyone to follow has had its challenges. The “tell me what I should do today” questions used to drive me crazy. As many of us know, training a leader means walking with them for years, letting them watch you at work and play. Seeing you scold your children and argue with your spouse reminds one of the glass house we sometimes live in. “The leader must thus walk the talk and empower and enable his followers to do likewise.”6 As I lead by what I say and what I do, I hope that those that follow are changed and transformed not by my authoritative words but by my transformational heart. 7
1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VEypCeMCIE accessed November 12, 2018.
2 Manfred F R Kets De Vries. “THE DANGERS OF FEELING LIKE A FAKE.” Harvard Business Review 83, no. 9 (2005): 108-16.
4 Kets De Vries, Manfred F. R. The Leadership Mystique : Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise. 2nd ed. Harlow, England ; New York: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006.
5 Bryan Love. “Manfred Kets De Vries: The Leadership Mystique – a Users’ Manual for the Human Enterprise. Prentice Hall, Great Britain. 2001.” SA Journal of Industrial Psychology 28, no. 3 (2002): SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 01 October 2002, Vol.28(3).
7. At some point I need to admit that I was planning on buying this book on Kindle…but that was not meant to be. Thanks to many reviewers, videos and quotes sites I believe I was able to understand some of the basis of his thoughts.