I often wonder why people are drawn into positions of leadership. I have experienced working with some good leaders, but I have had more experiences working with less-than-competent leaders. How did they get there? Who put them there?
This week’s reading was rich, deep, and fulfilling. It gave me hope. It made me smile. So I read it twice. What a great combination of Len Hjalmarson and Margaret Wheatley! Both are refreshing and radical. Both challenge the status quo. Both know how to write. Both have things to say about leadership that others need to hear. Both had things to say that I needed to hear.
Many years ago, a good friend of my brother-in-law decided to become a police officer. He was a very intelligent person with a good sense of who he was. After working in law enforcement for a while, he said to my brother-in-law something I will never forget, “Brad, I don’t think I’m insecure enough for this job.” It seems that many of those who go into law enforcement do so to exercise authority over others – in this case, that authority of law. It is sad to think that those who are hired keep our laws might just be one big group of insecure people. With news of police abuse that has surfaced in the news that past year, it would not be surprising if this were so. By the way, Brad’s friend went on to become the chief of police in his city and was, incidentally, a very good leader.
As I said above, I enjoyed the reading this week. But one section of the reading that really impressed me was a section that discussed “team versus community.” Len Hjalmarson writes the following impressive words:
A team is not the same as a community. When Ephesians 4 gifting is functioning in a community environment, it can be very difficult to tell who is leading. Leaders may be invisible, encouraging, empowering, and equipping as they work alongside others sharing similar tasks.
There are two types of ministry environment. In one environment a team or teams are formed to assist leaders to develop and implement their vision (purpose). In the second environment a community is formed around a shared sense of passion (belonging). In the team environment success is understood as empowering the group to reach agreed goals. In the community environment success is understood as empowering individuals to belong and to reach their creative potential.
In the team environment roles tend to be set in concrete and leaders are indispensable. In the community environment leaders may be invisible, and leadership roles and functions are often shared. At different times in the life of the community, depending on need and context and the empowerment of the Spirit, various ones take the lead depending on their competencies, deferring to the leading of the Lord. The key qualities in this context are those of Dorothy [from the Wizard of Oz]: humility and discernment.
Team or community? Which is the better model? In tribal societies, which tend to function more as communities than as teams, Hjalmarson’s words are spot on. Leadership positions change, depending on the needs of the community. And although there were “chiefs,” they usually only functioned as “chief” for a given season. Many people led, depending on the need and inclination of the people. And when decisions needed to be made, everyone had a voice and decisions were made when a consensus was reached. In his amazing book, Neither Wolf nor Dog, author Kent Nerburn writes about his experiences with a Lakota elder named Dan. Nerburn and Dan talk about many things. In Chapter 17 they talk about leadership. Dan speaks.
“There are leaders and there are rulers. We Indians are used to leaders. When our leaders don’t lead, we walk away from them. When they lead well, we stay with them.
“White people never understood this. Your system makes people rulers by law, even if they are not leaders. We have had to accept your way, because you made us Indians make constitutions and form governments. But we don’t like it and we don’t think it’s right.
“How can a calendar tell how long a person is a leader? That’s crazy. A leader is a leader as long as people believe in him and as long as he is the best person to lead us. You can only lead as long as the people will follow.
“In the past when we needed a warrior we made a warrior our leader. But when the war was over and we needed a healer to lead us, he became our leader. Or maybe we needed a great speaker or a great thinker.
“The warrior knew his time had passed and he didn’t pretend to be our leader beyond the time he was needed. He was proud to serve his people and he knew when it was time to step aside. If he won’t step aside, people will just walk away from him. He cannot make himself a leader except by leading people in the way they want to be lead.
“That’s why Sitting Bull was a leader. He was needed by the people and the people followed him. He was brave. He was smart. He knew how to fight when he had to. And he understood what the white man was all about. People saw that he couldn’t be tricked by the white man, so they followed.
“That’s why the U.S. government hated him so much. It wasn’t just that he set a trap for Custer. Anyone could have done that. It was because he was a leader and people listened to him, and he wouldn’t listen to the U.S. government. He listened to the needs of his people.”
I loved reading these words. They gave me hope and encouragement.
Too often, people in leadership stay in their positions even after they stop actually leading. The position becomes more important than the responsibility to the people who are being led. Their own vision becomes the important thing, and they live to see that vision become a reality. Consensus is no longer valued. The leader just does his or her thing. Something is wrong with this picture. However, this is the type of leadership we see everywhere today. I have seen this happen over and over again in schools and churches where I have served. One of the main problems with this type of leadership situation in that you end up serving the leader more than the people, and particularly in a church setting, this is simply wrong. It is backwards. It will destroy a community, a church, a school, an organization, a nation. God help us to be wiser than this.
In the conclusion of his paper, Len Hjalmarson talks about leaders being “hosts” rather than “heroes.” I agree wholeheartedly. He also writes, “Chaordic leaders are comfortable with paradox, and they lead by building consensus. Chaordic leaders empower the vision of all God’s people and leverage the power of networks, building a leadership culture. They are boundary-crossers and poets, who renew missional imagination and cultivate environments where people discover their callings in the world.” I love this. True leaders are those who are not about position but about service to others. May many rise up around us. May we be counted among them.
 Len Hjalmarson, Leadership in the Chaordic Age (PDF provided by George Fox University) 9.
 Kent Nerburn, Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder (San Rafael, CA: New World Library, 1994) 175-176.
 Len Hjalmarson, Leadership in the Chaordic Age (PDF provided by George Fox University) 10.