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

Ordinary Love*

Written by: on March 17, 2021

*the title of a U2 song written for the 2013 film “Long Walk to Freedom,” based on Nelson Mandela’s book.

We can’t fall any further if
We can’t feel ordinary love
And we can’t reach any higher,
If we can’t deal with ordinary love 

When we think of “front stage” leadership, Simon Walker’s description of “Commanding,” “Pacesetting,” and “Affiliative” strategies seem fairly obvious. Even the “Visionary” strategy seems like a fit from a “dynamic back-stage”[1] perspective. However, Walker places the “Consensual” strategy as an “attentive front-stage” style in which the leader “works collaboratively toward group goals… (and) may abdicate responsibility.”[2] Walker’s example for this strategy is Nelson Mandela.

Walker writes, “you might look at Consensual leadership and feel at once how weak and fragile it is….It feels more like a gentle, self-effacing and fundamentally collective approach….(The) essence of the PWC strategy is to build up the strength of the relationships between people.”[3] When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he faced the challenge of seeking to unite his country by securing support of his own people and earning the trust of the white population. “In that effort, Mandela’s obvious integrity, combined with the wisdom and moral authority he had acquired over the years of suffering patiently endured, gave his voice power and credibility.”[4]

What made Mandela successful, and what makes the Consensual strategy effective, is “strengthening the ‘spaces’ between people. In technical terms, this is what is known as ‘social capital.’…(The) notion that a community’s wealth lies not just in people’s pockets or their brains but in their relationships- their trust of and commitment to one another.”[5]

In his book, “Bowling Alone,” Robert Putnam explores social capital both for how it can bond people together in tight, inwardly-focused ways or bridge people, connecting them more loosely and more broadly. He also outlines how social capital, while sounding very positive, can also be understood and used in negative ways as well.[6] Social capital is a way of thinking about how different relational systems and spheres of influence intersect with each other.

Walker describes Mandela’s leadership as one with “a deliberate commitment to build the social capital of the … nation.”[7] This is statesmanship with a purpose that is much bigger than the leader. For Mandela, the challenge was crystal clear. During apartheid, social capital drained quickly due to lack of trust and the power structure which gave privilege to a few at the expense of the many. It was not enough for people to merely get along. The political structure had to be redeveloped. Mandela’s predecessor, F.W. de Klerk, was key in making this happen as he took steps to end apartheid knowing it would cost his personal and political power. Mandela built on this as he sought to unite the country.

I can’t fight you anymore
It’s you I’m fighting for. 

“The vision that must inform a PWC strategy and underwrite its values is one of a common humanity, that sees people as equally human, possessing equal worth and dignity. No other vision will prove strong enough to withstand our tendency to sectarianism.”[8] Last fall, Jer Swigart blogged about his participation in a peacemaking effort during a time of racially-charged tension in central Oregon. He wrote, “we need to learn to walk like Jesus, a truly differentiated leader, in relationship and ever at the pace of trust.”[9] Whether we are trying to unite a divided nation, heal a fractured church, or bring restoration in a broken family, the important work an undefended leader is to be strong enough stand in the tension as trust and social capital is being cultivated.

[1] These are broad-stroke generalizations from Walker’s diagram in “The Undefended Leader” page 192.

[2] Simon Walker, “The Undefended Leader,” (Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2010,) 192.

[3] Ibid, 265.

[4] Ibid, 264.

[5] Ibid, 266.

[6] Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020,) 19-22.

[7] Walker, 267.

[8] Ibid, 271.

[9] Jer Swigart, “Walk at the Pace of Trust,” dminlgp, October 6, 2020, https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dminlgp/walk-at-the-pace-of-trust/, accessed March 17, 2021.

About the Author

John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

8 responses to “Ordinary Love*”

  1. Jer Swigart says:

    Ahh. This is so good, John. And as I read Walker on Consensual Leadership, two things were happening inside of me. One: I was so compelled by a leadership style that centers relationships as valuable unto their own and as means toward something beyond the relationship. Two: I was irritated by how inefficient it is. The first I want to lean more into. The second, in which I’m triggered, invites me to ask the question “Why? Why am I triggered?” As I interrogate my restlessness, I have to admit that I’ve been groomed to prefer efficiency over relationships and that it’s okay if the pursuit of the destination costs people along the way. I lament that and seek to learn from the contemporary Mandelas.

    • John McLarty says:

      I definitely resonate with your irritation. At the macro level, we certainly would see achievement and effective results without paying much attention to relationship costs that might have been incurred along the way. I suppose that’s why Mandela is such a noteworthy figure. There just aren’t that many leaders like him, or the kinds of opportunities where the moment meets the person in just the right way. Who are the contemporary Mandelas? And would any of them be able to get traction in our increasingly divided and distrustful society?

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    I think think the magic of Mandela is his extended time of suffering. During his time in prison, he watched people and noticed all that surrounded him. Life, though extremely hard, was simple. He was stripped of any pretense, position, and platform and was thus able to rise without all the extra baggage many leaders carry. He was free. How many leaders do you know that are free? Walker notes the importance of leaders being free, and I believe that is our call as followers of Jesus. The more free we are, the better able we are to lead others to freedom.

    In the movie Invictus, Mandela gives the following poem to Francois Pienaar, captain of the SA rugby team, telling him how it carried him through difficult days. I have a copy of it on my bulletin board. I read it often. In many ways, these are the words of a non-anxious presence, a differentiated leader, forged through suffering and struggle.

    How would your leadership change if you increasingly allowed life struggles to speak into your life? How might that enable you to “strengthen the spaces between people” and build social capital in these highly divisive days?

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.


    • John McLarty says:

      I wish I knew how strengthen the space between people and increase social capital. I think part of my problem is that I lack the patience to recognize how this is happening in small ways. I’d rather preach a sermon one time and have that be it! You’re right about Mandela’s strength and patience coming from the years of struggle and suffering. I’ve been wondering this week about who those leaders are today.

  3. Greg Reich says:

    John Powerful! People are often viewed as tools needed to accomplish a task. I would think an undefended leader sees the task as a way to grow and nurture people. The accomplishment of the task is the result of the growth of the people. It seems Mandela saw the value in growing his people creating social capital as the avenue of healing a divided country. If his focus was more on the result and his own wellbeing than on the process needed to gain the result would the result have been the same?

    • John McLarty says:

      That’s a great question. What was it about Mandela that enabled him to endure the long years of suffering and struggle and come out ready to lead as he did?

      • Greg Reich says:

        Obviously we can all speculate at what kept Mandela moving forward. My assumption is one big drive behind his motivation was he much like Martin Luther King had a vision of what could be.

  4. Shawn Cramer says:

    One of your best posts. I see you integrating so many voices (Walker, Putnam, Mandela, and others in our cohort) that you’re coming up with your own voice. I’ve heard one pastor say something like, “Read one voice and you’re a photocopy, two voices and your confused, three and more and you develop your own voice.”

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