Becoming a Different Kind of Leader
For the last three years I have operated under a job title I have made up for myself. I am the “Network Catalyst” for Nitrogen, a church health and multiplication network within The Wesleyan Church denomination. I live in Lowell, Michigan, a four hour drive from The Wesleyan Church headquarters, where I am based. The people I work with are spread out across the United States and Canada and range from potential church planters to denominational officials. I technically work with thirty-one districts, five colleges and universities, and we have targeted our largest cities across North America as the mission field we are being called to reach. One of the craziest feelings in my life and leadership in this last season is summed up by the phrase I am continually baffled with: “My life is crazy. I do not work with the people I live with and I do not live with the people I work with! How can this be???” The main reason for this funny relational dichotomy is the nature of the job I have but I also think there is something very connected to the nature of how I like to live and lead and who God is calling me to be.
In her book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead, Charlene Li defines open leadership as … “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.” Li does a fantastic job of conveying that the ordered world as we know it is crumbling, new technology is changing everything, transparency and authenticity are required, and most importantly that control, or at least the delusion of having it, must go out the window to effectively lead in our world today.
What was so interesting and transformational to me was the blending of leadership style and technology skills and tools in creating a new form or style or even kind of leadership all together. Li went above and beyond telling effective leaders how-to use technology to be more effective in today’s culture and really described a new kind of leadership that comes out of an ethos not just a desire to be a more effective or a higher functioning leader.
In chapter seven Li writes, “Leadership takes on a different dimension in a connected, networked world–that of being a catalyst for change both outside and inside the organization.” That call to be a catalyst is much more than figuring out how to use social media and every emerging communication technology to do your job. There is something in you that is a learner-leader where you begin to function and interact fluidly through the technology with yourself, others, your organization and the world you are living in. Again, I think this is much more than using the technology enough until you are comfortable with it but really moves towards an embodiment of the relationships, trust, influence, connectedness … a new kind of being in our world today.
Li broke down open leadership into two particular mind-sets or dispositions. She talked of the optimistic leader and the collaborative leader. In short the optimistic leader is curious and humble and the collaborative leader is connected, including, and confident. Li speaks of the ultimate blend of mind-set and disposition leading to the realist optimist (Made me think of Optimist Prime. I think he is a Transformer. Maybe there is a connection there?:).
Li defines the optimist realist as,
“The realist optimist is the most powerful and effective of the open leader archetypes, somebody who can see the benefits of being open but also understands the barriers. Realist optimists can work through the tough situations, has the collaborative mind-set and skills, and most important, knows how to overcome organizational obstructions by showing doubters the genuine benefits of being open and winning their trust.”
From reading Open Leadership, I can look at the last three years of my life very differently. I have been and would have continued to label my journey as “How an ENFJ can find a way to survive a directors role in an institution through adaptive social media and technologies skills and development.” But now I would say, God has used this role and season as a way to shape me into being a different kind of leader in our new ordered world, with crazy emerging technologies, demanding heightened transparency and authenticity, and most importantly knowing the whole time that your are definitely NOT in control. I really feel like there has been an underlying tension or struggle that I have been going through as I have tried to figure out how to lead in this last season, but I would say until reading this book I haven’t really understood, or more likely misunderstood the struggle. It has not been a tools and skills development struggle but a real becoming a different kind of leader struggle that God has really been transforming my life and leadership through.
 Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 4.
 Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 165.
 Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 175.