Jennifer Garvey Berger and Kevin Johnston, cofounders of Cultivating Leadership, and coauthors of Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, challenge their readers to understand the new complexities of leadership within today’s context and present them with tangible resources to aid their organizational strategy. They dare their readers to ask the question, “How can I prepare for something that doesn’t exist?” The authors invite their audience to enter into a paradox universe and find comfort in the ambiguity of complexity. They suggest, “Superb leaders have long known that they need to find ways to ‘think anew and act anew’, especially as their plates become ‘piled high with difficulty’; however, knowledge does not always lead to execution. For many, the ‘new’ becomes overwhelming and paralyzing, because it causes leaders to adapt. However, as Berger and Johnston assert:
Leadership is about gathering people together – even people with quite different goals and understandings – and helping them build bridges that take everyone to a new place. Understanding other people’s perspectives is a central tool in bridge building, because until you know how others see the world, you’ll have little opportunity to influence or learn from their perspective.
Ambiguity requires leaders to operate from a stance of collaboration; instead of isolation. Albert Einstein said it best. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Berger and Johnston challenge readers to adapt situationally and respond specifically. Hence, their perception of leadership is tied to the idea of adaptability, curiosity, and partnership.
The authors delve into the idea of leaning into the idea of the possible verse the probable since the possible places leaders into the realm of the ‘what ifs’, instead of the ‘what should’. They observe, “…coping with the probable is what humans and human systems are most oriented toward. Dealing with the nearly endless number of things that are possible is beyond our easy reckoning and requires new approaches.” Dealing with the possible challenges leaders to pose different questions and look for different answers.
One of the greatest problems that leaders face is leading from a place of assumption, instead of understanding. This occurs when leaders ask questions for the purpose of confirmation, instead of curiosity. Berger and Johnston reveal, “One leadership skill that you might not even see as a leadership skill at all is the power of asking different questions, which pulls against the stereotype of leaders having all the answers.” This doesn’t lead one to immediate answers, but develops one’s ability to see the full canvas of the situation and develop a strategy that works in tandem with the whole picture. “As they say to trainee ER doctors: ‘Don’t just do something. Stand there!’” This requires one to stand still long enough to evaluate the full spectrum.
Dennis Tourish, author of The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective, supports the theories of Berger and Johnston and suggests, “Different models of leadership are required. The concentration of power in the hands of a few has not been a successful experiment in decision making.” This is why asking different questions brings all voices to the table and creates organizations that are robust in perspective and praxis. According to Berger and Johnston:
Asking a different question enables a whole new set of thoughts and behaviors, and that enables two things at once to happen: (1) it helps you give feedback so that other people can hear it and (2) it helps you learn more so that you can be a better leader. Both of these create the conditions for success in a complex and volatile environment.
Before one can implement various ideas, one must entrust themselves before an audience with diversified perspectives. My thesis delves into the multifaceted conundrum of the perceived exodus from the church and challenges leaders to understand this exodus as a beginning; not an ending. As I’ve sought to listen to varied voices and display them within my text, I’ve come to find surprising aspects of insights from pastors and leaders. I’ve realized that before I can gain their trust and aid them in bridging the generational gap, I must first understand the emotional impact they’ve gone through and seek to step into their shoes. I have the privilege of seeing both sides of the coin since I pastor Millennials and I find my generational home within this construct. However, I’ve had to lean in and lean down in order to hear the whispers of the wounded church. I’ve learned that “…curiosity and inspiration are mind-sets that we can control. By fueling those mind-sets, we unlock countless opportunities.” I still reside in a world where there are heightened frustrations against Millennials and assumptive accusations. However, I’ve learned that when I approach from a stance of transparency and collaboration, I lead the way for others to approach Millennials from the same stance.
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 9.
Albert Einstein, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein,(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 474.
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 42.
Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2013),7.
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 66.
Tina Lynn Seelig, Insight Out: Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World (New York, NY: HarperOne, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2015), 31.