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

Who then Why then How

Written by: on October 21, 2020

If we were to journey into the fray with family therapist and organizational thought-leader, Edwin Friedman, we would likely move with the cadence of the word “self.”

Self-differentiation from the surrounding emotional processes.

Self-determination of one’s values.

Exposing one’s self to vulnerability.

Self-regulation of emotions.

Leadership in liminality demands a proper sense of self. Frederick Nietzsche famously pined, “The one who has a why to live can bear almost any how” (adapted for inclusive language). First why, then how. I would add that only the one who has a “who” can obtain a why. First who, then why, then how.

As Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza contemplate effortless action, they posit, “letting go of the need to know, stepping away from at the activity of problem-solving, and turning off the stream of data paradoxically enables new knowledge to emerge” (Not Doing, 178, emphasis mine). Someone whose sense of self is found primarily as a knowledge expert and problem-solver, will counterintuitively hinder knowledge and problem-solving because they can not differentiate their person from their work. Without answering the “who,” ideas aren’t simply ideas, but an element of personhood. Risk isn’t risking an idea, but risking their very self. The soul of the person without a self, joins in with Cheap Trick to sing,

I want you to want me

I need you to need me

I’d love you to love me

I’m begging’ you to beg me

There remains little creative capacity for the common good into the unknown without first finding a self.

Creative problem solving requires Renner and D’Souza’s “letting go,” of the status quo, of the thinking that resulted in the current moment, of the simple, myopic solutions. If one were to let go, they would only be left with themselves. Would that be okay? Only if one has labored to answer the “who” in their lives. If stripped of labels, causes, camps and titles finds the leader without a self, then they are a leader at risk. Obsessive doing and analysis paralysis both stem from an improper sense of self.

Not so for the Christian leader. Identity in Christ moves beyond cliche, and continues to form, shape, and mold.

Those who have the One who will never fail or forsake, have greater reserves to draw on to risk and fail.

Those who have the One who holds them in His hand, have greater reason for confidence to let go.

Those who have the One who for whom and through whom all things were made, have greater reservoirs for creative solutions.

First who, then why, then how.


Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Doing: The Art of Effortless Action (New York: LID Publishing, 2018).

About the Author

Shawn Cramer

6 responses to “Who then Why then How”

  1. Greg Reich says:

    I agree a sense of who we are is needed in all aspects of leadership. I finds that many Christian leaders fail to grapple with the deep side of who they are before realizing who they are on Christ. I am a big proponent of learning our identity in Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to mold us. I also I know from experience that unless a leader takes the time to really know themselves and own who they are, their character flaws, their biases, their wounds and scars will eventually cause them to crumble under pressure. Knowing who we are in Christ Is easier said than done. What are ways you as a leader have come to know yourself? What practical tool has been the most beneficial in showing you who you are in Christ?

  2. Dylan Branson says:

    That identity in Christ is the foundation of being able to let go. I think that’s one thing that’s so unique and special about the Christian faith. We’re called to die to ourselves, but Christ fills us anew with His Self. And what’s special is that even if we lose ourselves to Him, the old self is seen through new eyes. We learn to see our secondary identities through Christ’s identity, to see the broken image made new and whole again.

  3. John McLarty says:

    I’m not seeing much of this being modeled in the high levels of leadership today. Lots of “what”-centric thinking- click-bait to stir an emotional response, little to no self-reflection or self-regulation. How can we engage with those in our networks to think more about who, why, how- rather than what?

  4. Darcy Hansen says:

    When I applied for an associate pastor position at my mega-church, I knew I would likely be the least qualified and only female applicant. I sat in the initial interview and shared who I was (becoming) in Christ and why I was applying for the position. The problem, at the end of the day, was that they wanted a canned pastor, one who has already been doing the why and how without really knowing the who. I think in large part this was because the church, herself, actually forgot who she was in Christ. She was performance driven and longed more for likes and butts in the seats than for lasting transformation for the people who were already present. Much of this stemmed from the leadership. Somewhere along the way, they had sold their souls so they could check off the boxes of how many “souls had been saved.” That slide from knowing who we are in Christ to becoming lost in a false identity is very subtle; it doesn’t happen overnight. What structures do you or Cru have in place to help prevent distorted perceptions of self within leadership positions? What invitations exist to remind people who they are in Christ?

  5. Jer Swigart says:

    This makes me wonder how faith leaders have been groomed to understand their “who”?

    As John discusses in his post this week, the “who” is seemingly fused with the “what” very early on. If the “why” is clear to some, it may not be clear all. Instead, the emphasis seems to be placed on the “how.” Busyness, alongside innovation (in my view), are the badges of honor worn by the leaders who live out this tangled mess of who/what/why/how. The innovation, through this knot, may be more connected to misunderstood identity and consumerism than it pours out of a strong, healthy understanding of the “who” and the “why.”

    I think your ordering (who, why, how) is a proper ordering for innovation. Yet it seems that so few operate out of this alignment. How do we begin to untangle the knot and guide folks toward the alignment that you suggest?

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    I love that word ‘fray’. Reminds me of the movie, ‘The Grey’ with Liam Neeson and a poem that his character recollects at its climax.

    Just kinda see someone in that scene who knows the difference, who knows himself, untouchable regardless. Oh man, there’s much to it.

    Love the perspective on ‘the One'(Jesus). And, those who have (know/known by) the One. ‘Those who have the One who holds them in His hand, have greater reason for confidence to let go.’ I really want to know more about what this means?

    And, this One who faced the Fray on our behalf, ‘full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14)

    Hope I didn’t take anything out of context. Really appreciate the encouragement your posts bring, increasing the capital of innovative imagination!

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