After reading Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve, I have not stopped pondering the influence a leader has, whether or not they are near those they lead. The idea that a leader can have a major impact on an organization or family system indirectly is profound, especially that the effect can be just as much or greater when not attempting to directly motivate others. One of the primary metaphors from Friedman’s text carries over to biblical truth as well as to the content from this week’s text, The Leadership Mystique by Manfred Kets de Vries. The specific metaphor is that of the head and the body.
“I found an uncanny parallel that enabled me to put leader and follower together conceptually in a systemic way. The parallel lies between the latest understanding of the connection between the brain and the body in a human organism, on the one hand, and the effects of a “head’s” functioning on a “body politic” in a human organization, on the other… The functioning of a “head” can systemically influence all parts of a body simultaneously and totally bypass linear, “head-bone-connected-tothe-neck-bone” thinking. What counts is the leader’s presence and being, not technique and know-how.
The biblical representation of the head and body are found in multiple of the Apostle Paul’s writing but none is as poignant to Friedman’s point as Ephesians 4:15-16. “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Christ’s presence and authority directs the body and is a permeable presence, throughout. If the body is in fact one with the head, then the DNA is the same and there is continuity to the whole being. The body cannot be separate from the head to be alive.
Manfred Kets de Vries could easily have inserted the head/body metaphor in his recognition that “Problems in organizations start at the top; the CEO sets the tone and conveys his or her dysfunction down the ranks.” What is being conveyed throughout Kets de Vries text is that the most important role of any leader is to care for themselves. Their influence as the head of the organization will set the tone, the very DNA of their organization.
Focusing on the soft issues of emotions and intuition have not been the norm for business (or ministry) leaders. However, Kets de Vries argues leaders who understand their own motivations and what motivates those they lead are better equipped to thrive. Growing in emotional intelligence, a leader must first recognize and manage their own emotions. Then a leader must consider the emotions of others through active listening.
Beyond emotional intelligence, The Leadership Mystique encourages work-life balance and the practice whole living as key components of successful leaders. Leaders who set an example of self-care through balance influence their employees to do the same. Though Kets de Vries explains five attributes to motivating followers, the most influential is the leader’s modeling the behaviors they hope their employees will personify. The greatest influence a leader can have is to personally embody the attributes they want to communicate to their team, whether incorporating play, communicating vision, or modeling self-control. Regardless of the ways a leader promotes self-care, if they are authentically living a life of health, especially emotional health, they will create an environment where others begin to become more emotionally healthy. Just as Friedman found, the brain can communicate to the rest of the body and make change, so too, the leader can communicate to the followers toward making healthy change.
I have seen this time and again in ministry. The church is only ever as healthy as the pastor. The denomination is only as healthy as the leadership who are in positions of most authority. When leadership communicates health but is not embodying a healthy lifestyle, it is intuited by those around them. The false self never communicates in transparent ways like the authentic self.
Just a few days ago I was at a pastor’s training session for my tradition. The contracted group teaching the session were active pastors who have created several modules to help ministers turn around their churches. They spoke of self-awareness in the morning then went on to mission, vision and values conversations in the afternoon. The irony was that as good as the content was, there remained a lack of personal health by one of the leaders and it was obvious that some blind spots to them were showing in their presentation. The leader was frustrated about a petty issue with the mic, made a slightly undercutting remark about his co-leader and began to talk about a third non-related incident from the day before in an attempt at comedy. Yet the whole time I wondered what was going on that this was all coming out at a training event with people they didn’t even know. Why was the one leader so on edge? The leaders, empowered by the head leader in the room, were subtly creating an ethos contrary to their own training.
Thinking through the ideas presented with regard to the head and the body relationship, I come to my doctoral research. In my discernment toward creating an artifact, I want to do what is most effective for leaders in my organization. I originally intended to create a training for those currently in positions of leadership (those functioning as the head) to grow in their leadership health through inclusivity. Yet, as someone who is not the head, although I have influence, I am realizing it may be more influential to work with those who are just beginning in ministry leadership (more in the body role) while partnering with someone who has more influence and leadership than myself. Regardless, I will be working with leaders toward their own personal health as it relates to their influence on others.
 Friedman, Edwin H.. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 464-473). Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.
 Ephesians 4:15-16, NRSV