I have always loved the metaphor of the sandbox. Perhaps it is because I spent so many hours in the sandbox as a kid (and then as a dad). I know how sandboxes work and I know that some kids gravitate toward group play while others stake out their boundaries—literally; a quick squeeze of the hands in the damp sand creates an instant fence. Cross my fence, steal my toys, or touch my houses, castles, roads, or trenches and you will know the feeling of sand in your eyes. At a young age, a person’s leadership style quickly begins to form.
In her book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, Charlene Li stresses the importance of one’s sandbox. A sandbox is not one-size-fits-all nor is it a free-for-all. Boundaries must be set and rules and limits must be in place and understood. The same kids that cannot play well with others in the literal sandbox exemplify those adults that cannot play well with others in the leadership sandbox. 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.” This requires a person to have the character traits of humility and confidence, which do not always coexist peacefully in a person. They must also have the ability to inspire people, while at the same time relinquishing the need to be in control. “The open leader needs to be a catalyst, the inspiration for people to pull together and accomplish things together.” Perhaps this is the reason open leadership is so rare; it seems to go against human nature as some feel the constant need to be in control and a truly inspiring person is hard to find. That’s ok, many good things go against human nature. As followers of Christ, we are constantly confronted with doing what comes naturally from our selfish human nature or doing what we know God is calling us to do. The good news is that God is in the business of transforming our nature.
Wouldn’t it be great to see more open leadership in the church? What would it look like? I think it would look a lot like Li’s “New Rules of Open Leadership”.
- Respect that your customers and employees have power.
- Share constantly and build trust.
- Nurture curiosity and humility.
- Hold openness accountable.
- Forgive failure.
In the church, we could look at these points as follows:
- Love and respect everyone. God has empowered each person, lay and clergy alike, with specific gifts, abilities and contributions that are to be developed and employed in the life of the church.
- Never stop communicating. The moment people don’t know what you are doing or why you are doing it, they will begin to distrust you.
- Let God work in your midst in such a way that others are drawn-in to see what is happening. Never take credit for what God is doing. Humbly give the praise to God and point people toward him.
- Be accountable. Give permission to speak into each other’s live in love.
- Forgive failure. Without a freedom to fail, there is never really freedom to succeed. Learn from mistakes and move forward.
I realize this may sound naive, but so what. What do we have to loose—other than the stress and hurt of maintaining the illusion of control. Redefine your sandbox and play nice for the Kingdom.
 Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 107.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 197.
 Ibid., 14-15.