Leadership That’s Relational

Maybe its our cultural love affair with individualism that distorts our view of leadership. Say “bold leadership” to someone and I wager that on the inner screen of their mind will pop up an individual who sticks up and stands out. Leadership comes from within the individual, it seems. Not wrong. Just limited.

This, I submit, is a deeper truth: bold leadership is relational. It comes from human interaction. Most often leaders do not stick up and stand out. Leadership is taking a stand within relationships—“this is what I see;” that invites a stand from the other(s), “what do you see?” Or, often the reverse, “what do you see?,” then, “This is what I see?” From the interaction, synergy occurs, an insight surfaces, next steps appear, a direction forward emerges. Leadership comes, not primarily from within a individual, but from a community of interactive, respectful relationships.

For pastors, it may look like this.

In sermons, “This is what I see in this text or where I think the Spirit in this text speaks to us;” implying, “What do you see in this text? How is God engaging you through this text?” From the internal dialogue, not voiced, synergy is occurring, perhaps awakenings and new resolves. Through these faithful interactive relationships of text, preacher, people, I believe the Spirit is at work leading.

In committee meetings, “This is what I see [as the problem, as a direction to take, where this discussion connects with our mission, etc.]” An invitation is implied, “What do you see [making sense of our dilemma, possibilities, etc.]?” Back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes as pastor you hold back, first wanting the insights from others before you offer you own. From the synergy, likely new options forward will appear.

In pastoral care, “Ted and Martha, this is what I see [or what I hear or wonder about, etc.]?” The invitation, “What do you see [getting clearer, becoming more complex, possible options for action, etc.]? From the synergy, new awareness, next steps, a direction may be discerned. It’s the way of “a leading.”

Little risks, undramatic, mutual “stands”—spoken and heard—within relationships is where I look for bold, creative leadership to break forth.

2 Responses to Leadership That’s Relational

  1. Jim Strickland says:

    Hey, Mahan,
    Great thoughts on leadership. Many thanks.
    Jim

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  2. Liz Canham says:

    How do you get the sermon hearers to see their role as continuing to think on the issue? My experience is that people who like what you say tell you so, but they don’t ask you to go further or to hear what they think. People who don’t like what you say just go away and forget about it. Inviting dialogue seems key. But how?

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