Having just returned from an inspiring leadership conference, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston’s text, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, resonates positively with me. Berger and Johnston offer twenty-first century insight into leadership practice. Specifically the authors focus on the importance of active listening (this is a social work term but clearly applies to Berger and Johnston’s leadership research), vision, and direction (without too much constraint). “When the authors address listening, for example, they suggest most people think good listening answers the question of “What does this message mean to me?” In reality, the authors say, excellent listeners should be asking, “What is this person’s purpose, intent, hope in delivering this message? What does this message mean to him?” As for vision, the authors write, “It turns out that a leader in a complex world needs a vision that is directional without imposing too much (or too little) constraint on people.” I would guess that the majority of leaders are just the opposite – they have a sense of “I talk, you listen” as well as their own (or the businesses) vision which is imposed with significant defined restrictions. A good understanding of human behavior (a combination of psychology, sociology, and systems theory) will reinforce Berger and Johnston’s premise. People want to be heard. People want an opportunity to use their creativity to problem solve and innovate, and people want flexibility in their schedules.
Even though research repeatedly indicates that workers/employees desire this type of leadership, directors/CEO’s/supervisors often miss the mark. Many of these same leaders have undergone leadership training and study, yet he/she still fail to execute a twenty-first century approach. Why is it so challenging? Perhaps the answer can be found through Berger and Johnston’s emphasis on David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework…the need for leaders to practice habits of mind that are “deliberately developmental” and grow “head space,” polarities thinking, action learning, adult developmental theory and more and woven these important topics together in a clear, lucid way. Rather than living a life of self-awareness and insight, leaders tend to be workaholics who don’t take time to practice habits of mind.
The authors use David Snowden’s Cynefin framework, which he describes in the Cognitive Edge. This approach involves sorting unpredictable and predictable elements into the complex, the complicated, the chaotic and the simple. The approach they propose involves our staying in the present and unfolding our actions as the present becomes clear.
- Asking different questions (instead of having the answers),
- Taking multiple perspectives (even when we disagree), and
- Seeing systems (including emergence).
There are several lessons on leadership to be taken from Berger and Johnston’s text – but specifically I want to apply their leadership work to refugee resettlement in the United States. In Goody’s article, Migrants and Refugees: Christian Faith and the Globalization of Solidarity, he points out how “we have not only lost a sense of empathy toward others in pain, but we have lost a sense of our interconnection with each other”. Goody goes on to say “The global challenges of migration are not only an opportunity for the church to express its values in new and creative ways, but it also provides creative opportunities for the God of life to transform the church and to deepen its commitment to the work of justice and peace”. This is exactly what the Cyafin framework proposes – ask questions, take multiple perspectives, and apply systems theory.
While the Cyafin framework is ideal, my research indicates that stakeholders developing programs and services for refugees in the United States are doing just the opposite. Rather than rely on refugees self-identified needs, experiences, culture, trauma, and spirituality, stakeholders take an “Americanized” perspective on what is needed to create a successful resettlement. Stakeholders create a resettlement system, expect refugees to “buy-in” to this system, and then are discouraged when the system isn’t working. Somali refugees report negative cultural beliefs and stereotypes about “social service involvement” – whether it’s the education system, children services, or mental health services. These cultural stigmas prevent acquisition of services. If stakeholders change their leadership method to the Cyafin framework, I believe the resettlement services and programs would be more appropriately tailored to refugee needs, which would in turn elicit buy-in from refugees. The struggle to connect stakeholder services to refugee needs is the inspiration for my artifact under development. My goal is to create an assessment tool (informed by Somali refugees’ definition of resilience) to be used in the first year of resettlement. Rather than rely on Americanized understanding of successful resettlement, it’s imperative to rely on refugees understanding of their OWN resilience.
I leave you with this thought as a fellow Christian – the extensive needs of Somali refugees points to this directive – “God wants our lives to overflow with mercy, love, and compassion — the marks of His kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we have a choice: respond to unsettling realities in fear and withdraw, or follow Him in responding to the greatest needs of our day with love and hope. We know salvation doesn’t depend on works, but we also know that caring for those in need is evidence of a faith that changes lives.”
 “Simple Habits for Complex Times Powerful Practices for Leaders.” Kirkus Reviews 83, no. 10 (May 15, 2015): 7.
 Groody, Daniel G. “Migrants and Refugees: Christian Faith and the Globalization of
Solidarity.” International Review Of Mission 104, no. 401, pg.317
 Groody, Migrants and Refugees; pg. 320