On the way home from getting my muffler renewed on the old Impala, I was reviewing some work I am doing on leadership paradigms. Paradigms, models, mental maps, frames — these taxonomies are all ways of making sense, or organizing in a way that illuminates. That’s what language does for us.
But like all things, once we name them, we are caught. We don’t all have a great ability to hold things in tension, and we also tend to mistake the menu for the meal. As if having the language makes all things possible. And even with language, not all things are created equal.
So frames, maps, models… even styles… are one way to think about the way leadership functions. Whether you see leadership as a function of individual personality or as the function of a community, you can organize what you see in a map or model or frame. But frames, maps, models: the language is flat. The words imply that we can lay it all out there and see it and make choices. It’s not that simple. Actually, it’s complex!
The danger is that we talk about models and maps and absorb the implication. We can change styles like putting on clothes; we can alter our location by using a different map, then expect change. We expect functioning, enculturated, already formed leaders to simply swap a model or frame and so change the way they incarnate leadership. Not going to happen. And partly for this reason, I think I prefer the word “lenses.”
We see through lenses. They are something we use to see what is really going on. They impact what we see, yes — hopefully adding depth and focus. Words are tools for sense-making. Lenses are aids in our seeing; they aren’t something we choose (and granted the limits of this metaphor too. We can, after all, use different lenses).
No, the leadership shift we are experiencing is a result of changing cultural conditions, as well as something that the Spirit is evoking in response to needed change. Lenses will impact our seeing, and seeing our understanding. It’s critical that we understand what is happening, and whether models or frames or lenses we need to see – and we need to also see our seeing.
Ultimately we need new wine, more than a wineskin. The new wineskin will form as a result of the new wine. David could not wear Saul’s armor. There is a lot we will have to leave behind. Wendell Berry writes,
To see what may be had by loss of having,
To see what loss of time will make of seed
In earth or womb, dark come to light, the saving
Of what was lost in what will come –repaid
In the visible pattern that will mark
Whatever of the passing light is made.
(A Timbered Choir)
Most leaders in this day have some grief work to do; the longer they have been in leadership, the more likely this is the case. But what about the issue of new leadership. Where do we find them? How do we equip them? Can established leaders make this transition?
Some years ago I was pointed to a document by Andrew Strom considering leadership in this transitional place. Jonathan is the figure of interest, because he is the young transitional leader; he is the one whose loyalty is divided. He is caught between Saul and David, between one leadership paradigm and another. To make a huge jump, he can be seen as the young leader caught between the traditional (or inherited), attractional church and the missional-emerging church. (See Stuart Murray, Church After Christendom). (more…)