DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Clarifying Leadership

Written by: on March 15, 2014

On the one hand, Making Room for Leadership by MaryKate Morse[1] is a challenging read. One cannot read the book without being introspective and evaluative of one’s own leadership. We see ourselves; we are confronted with misconceptions, ignored inadequacies, and confronted with the need for change. On the other hand, Morse writes with interminable clarity in portraying leadership as the power of influence. We can all relate to the “sandbox” experience. Morse’s illustrations throughout the book bring to mind sandbox memories of significant negative impact on the development of our sense of worth and identity. The clarity that Morse gives us is twofold: first, the unfortunate reality that these memories are not all from childhood and youth. The adult “sandbox” of social interaction provides plenty of opportunity for the negative power of influence. Second, leadership, the power of influence, can be a shared experience that allows for all the participants (players) to make a positive contribution. One of many key concepts in the book is Morse’s clarification of authentic leadership:

[L]eadership that catalyzes a group toward deep change and moves its members in positive, energizing directions-involves the group acting together. A leader helps give form and direction, but everyone, regardless of gender, age or amount of experience, has the right and responsibility to be part of the influencing process.[2]

Through creative and insightful leadership concepts and applications, Morse accomplishes the leadership aspirant’s desired outcome:

… understand yourself and your sandbox better. You will understand your own power and how to use it well, without chasing anyone away or retreating into the shadows. And you will learn practical ways to experience satisfaction in the ministry of making a difference.[3]

Although it is truly a journey, Making Room for Leadership, addresses how power and influence through leadership can make a difference. I am one of those who Morse refers to “who wants to make a difference yet knows [and has experienced] that wanting and making are two very different things.”[4]

Space: The concept of “space” as the manner in which leaders exert influence was a new and innovative thought for me. The concept relates to how leaders “occupy” the task or assume the role of leader. The book title indicates that we ought to intentionally provide leadership “space,” Making Room for Leadership. Leadership is inherent and will naturally take place in every social context.[5] If room is not made for leadership, it will be taken, occupied by those who want influence. It is significant how the “physical body” occupies leadership space. Leadership is a process that occurs predominantly through physical presence in a social setting. Morse notes the significance of the physical presence of the leader – of all of which is clearly read and understood by those in the social setting. She makes the following observation:

It is how you enter a room, position yourself to speak, modulate your voice and use your eyes, while at the same time assessing others who are sharing that same space. It is an assessment of the power quotient of each person in the group. Leadership involves stewardship of one’s own physical being and the physical being of others.[6]

We have all experienced the significance of body language, however, Morse adds dimensional space to how the body controls and influences in leadership context. Understanding the relational nature of the bodily impact in leadership will lead the way to authentic group sharing and participation in leadership. Again, Morse brings clarity to “body space” through the leadership exhibited in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus exhibited servant leadership. Jesus is the incarnate expression of God’s love and redemptive power. His bodily presence was bold when needed, as in the cleansing of the temple or pronouncements against the religiosity of his day, yet he occupied a the space that revealed love and redemption, “the power of a community of redeemed persons.”[7] We can, as Morse states, “model” servant leadership.

Charisma: I am skeptical of charismatic leaders … perhaps because it is one aspect of leadership that I perceive charisma as being controlling and too often, I have seen it misused. In reading about charismatic presence,[8] perhaps more than any other aspect of leadership, I personally felt intimidated. Morse notes that charisma is inherently a neutral quality of influence, however, we are often suspicious the display of emotional and strong feelings that tend to be coercive.   Being transparent at this point, it is not uncommon for me to feel this way. John P. Kotter in Leading Change cautions that “Charismatic leaders are often poor managers, yet they have a way of convincing us that all we need to do is follow them.”[9] Fortunately, Morse indicates that charisma is not a necessary element of leadership, however, when properly understood and used she notes, “Charismatic leaders create meaning for others. They say what others feel, and they say it very well … Creating presence isn’t about glitzy manipulation … It’s about attentive awareness for the benefit of others.”[10] Perhaps a good mix is when servant leadership and charisma are evident together. Morse notes the significance of being a “nonthreatening servant leader, so people trust the process of change.”[11]

Touch: The chapter on “Visceral Marks of Presence” provides a wealth of insight and practical application of leadership space. Interaction through visceral presence in our relationships has a great impact on leadership. Greeting in Tanzanian culture is supremely important. You always take time to stop and speak to ones you pass by on the street. Touch is important. Often when I would great a pastor, he would reach out and take my hand – we would literally hold hands while talking and maybe walk down the street hand-in-hand. The handshake is important. MaryKate notes that grasping with two hands,[12] in Western culture is an indication of intimacy – in East Africa culture, however, it can be taboo. Once in a crowd following a worship service, people were pressing in on me; as I shook hands with several people, an emzee (elderly respected gentleman) approached close to my left side. As I was touching someone with my right hand, I made a simple jester to reach him with my left hand; he noticeable and somewhat forcibly pushed my hand away. In the crowd, I made a serious cultural mistake; one never extends their left hand in this manner of greeting. In fact, the left hand is seldom extended even in such actions as placing an offering in the gift basket. One must understand the culture. One of the most interesting things we experienced concerning touch was to observe two men (or two women) walking along holding hands.

Learning to manage the power of influence; I can begin in the sandbox where “…power used well is potent beyond imagination. Power used poorly corrupts individuals and communities. It breaks down relationships. Power used well is transformational.”[13]

[1] MaryKate Morse, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., 246.

[3] Ibid., 81.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 146.

[6] Ibid., 165-167

[7] Ibid., 195

[8] Ibid., 770

[9] John P. Kotter, Leading Change (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1996) Kindle, 1960.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Kotter, ibid., 785

[12] Ibid., 1118

[13] Ibid., 1808

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