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

Simple Leadership Paradox

Written by: on March 10, 2019

Confucius once said that “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”[1] Not sure if this statement is entirely true, but it does have truth to it. In today’s world, most lives are filled with a degree of complexity that challenges our straightforward approach to it. For instance, a single mother working two jobs to provide for her kids, keep them in private school while juggling school and making sure she and her children have are also involved in some degree in ministry to maintain their Christian foundation is strong.

Could she only work one job? Yes, however, being the sole provider for herself and her children, there may occur occasions in which additional finances are needed. However, she is also working extra to provide a better future for her children.

Could she put them in public school instead of private school? Yes, but she will have to deal with the ill-prepared school public school systems in her area, and the possibility of gang recruitment as her kids walked to school in their middle-class neighborhood.

Could she wait on pursuing schooling herself for another opportune time? Yes, statically she should have adapted to life and become just another number in the welfare system. However, her desire to have a better life for her family required some sacrifice. It required being up in the wee hours of the morning to do homework and yet preparing the kids for the day. It required months of Saturday mornings in a classroom rather than at the park with the kids. Instead, her core support system of her parents, sister, brother and brother-in-law made sure in her limited absence on schooling were filled with the adventure and life experience she would give them.

She saw her life through the decisions she made and the experience she saw lead by other and yes a life that could have been simple was built into the beautiful, complicated story of sacrifice, strength, reluctance, and triumph. Sometimes, the simple things are the best. Although there is some room for the occasional bit of complication, for the complexities of life challenges and causes some individuals to develop in ways they did not know were possible.

This week as our cohort engaged in the reading of the “Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders” a reflection on those sixteen years as a single mother took center stage and gave revelation to simple leadership paradox experienced personally in the context of being a ministry leader today.

What is the meaning of the phrase simple leadership paradox? Simple leadership paradox is the capacity to lead from a modest position in complexed situations in a way that seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps promotes a definite conclusion and resolution.

Leadership is not undemanding in the 21st century; “lots of what leaders are called on to think about and lead these days is not simple. It is not the straightforward piece-by-piece tightening of an assembly-line process. Things are complex, and that complexity is growing. There is a huge difference between simplifying your message or processes and believing in a simple world.”[2]

Can one lead from such a position as the simple leadership paradox? According to Confucius and Berger, the answer is yes, but only with the right tools like new muscles and new ways of making sense of the world around you”[3] can such a feat be accomplished.

In a previous blog, Cerebellum Reboot the main focus was to retrain the brain on how to read, dissect and comprehend books. However, now the focus is equipping the mind to simplify deductive reasoning for effective leadership.

In the book, the cause and effect relationship is evaluated, in particular how it contributes to our leadership functions. For years cause and effect in life and ministry have been effective tools; however, in retrospect, the resolutions to some issues could have contributed to a more complexed and complicated reality.

Prime scenario, a senior pastor resigns from a local church without solid information or reasoning behind the resignation members and church leaders put together their conclusions without knowing all the facts and begin to speak their presumed truth of history repeating itself. Next, a church consultant arrives to assist the church through the process of healing and restructuring based on the limited information derived from that same uninformed pool and new members are affected by those decisions. Thus, new systems are created, and sermons are done to educate the members on the right thinking yet the infectious root remains unrevealed and audience and membership until to decline.

It is an instinct of man to fix problems without having the complete; “this is a marvelous quirk of our brains, the way we jump to conclusions and solutions, and it is probably a key piece of what has made us so effective as a species. In times of complexity, though, it is much less helpful, because we have a hard time remembering what actually happened, with missing bits and all. Our brains have remembered (or created) a causal loop that we do not think about; we believe it”.[4]

Sometimes, it is best to kiss complexed situations in leadership. Just keep it simple, sweetie!

  • Do not complicate things with a one size fits all processes and systems. Every situation is different with its hidden complexities.
  • Try not to engage the cause and effect relationship in complicated situations; it is unreliable and unpredictable.
  • Take a step back to see the whole picture alongside others so they can assist in filling in the blanks.
  • Leadership does not mean leaders are on an island all lone. Therefore, leaders should recruit others to guide, walk alongside, push and hold them accountable.

Lastly, remember “in a simpler world, perhaps unilateral power held by a single, smart, capable leader could rule the day. In a complex world, it takes a collective sharing of power, creativity, and perspectives to become agile and nuanced enough to lead into the uncertain future.”


[1] Philosiblog, “Life Is Really Simple, but We Insist in Making It Complicated,” Philosiblog, January 10, 2012, https://philosiblog.com/2012/01/10/life-is-really-simple-but-we-insist-on-making-it-complicated/.

[2] Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders (Stanford, California: Stanford Business Books, an imprint of Stanford University Press, 2015), 36.

[3] Ibid. 35

[4] Ibid. 37


About the Author

Shermika Harvey

2 responses to “Simple Leadership Paradox”

  1. This is a a great reflection on Berger’s book and I like the examples used to illustrate the need to change our thinking and strategies to succeed in complex times. I particularly like the fact that leadership is not like working alone on an island but it’s about bringing others on board for collective sharing of power, creativity, and perspectives to become agile and nuanced enough to leade into the uncertain future.

  2. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Powerful post, Shermika. I love the review and correlation of Berger’s philosophy as compared to your own life. The KISS reflection is perfect and I appreciated your bullet points as well. Well thought-out post, Shermika. You’ve made some very positive decisions in your life. Thanks for sharing….

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