IVP - Online Pulpit - December 2012 Archives

December 21, 2012

Not One of Us

by Wes Balda

A church we know made an exciting and risky decision to bring in a dynamic, proven, enterprising and innovative leader, in a fairly counterintuitive move. He had a few quirks—in his case these went with the territory. These were not big quirks, just the small kind which always annoy a few people but are easily covered with a modest dose of grace.

The quirks came with his success—they helped make him what he is. The board apparently backed this venture, together with other, less formal leaders within the group. The remaining followers formed no initial or overt resisting constituencies, nor did they alternatively jump into the mix with energy, passion or excitement. Just the usual “wait and see” of busy people, probably preoccupied with their own issues.

Fermenting change had been bubbling below the surface of this organization for at least a decade, with shifting tides of discontent balanced by hopefulness at times. There appear to have been some longstanding, passive-aggressive tensions between various factions, though always moderated within a veneered culture of civility.

Like all of us, this leader came with his own personal history of successes and failures, acclaim and criticism. We all bring some, more or less, for better or worse. It’s called managing sin—our own and that of others. (Ch. 6 of Handbook for Battered Leaders) Bruised and bloody from some previous sojourns—he wouldn’t have bled if he hadn’t led—he and his family took courage, assumed the risk and showed up.

Fairly quickly, about half the group members departed, some in semi-organized factions with the usual attempts at self-vindication, others wandering off to try something different. (The latter types, when churches are involved, seem to do this as a life pattern. Ten years ago we lived in a small town with many ecclesiastical options where constant movement like this seem to occur as part of the local culture.) A church planter captured the concept in his first year taking over another congregation by claiming he “grew it to half its original size.”

Those followers who remained generally jumped in with commitment and energy, trying new things and demonstrating courage and resilience of their own. A few years passed and the leader’s performance delivered essentially what he had been hired to do, while keeping the organization solvent. Rumors of board discontent popped up once or twice, and one day the leader simply disappeared from sight. Months passed. No announcements were made and even the website remained unchanged. One source quietly mentioned a “leave of absence.”

At this writing, no communication has occurred regarding the leader’s whereabouts, the process, the plan, the evolving narrative or the future. We are left only with what could be a poster child for profound organizational dysfunction, perhaps a “community of systematic self-delusion,” as mentioned in Battered Leaders. Within this “cocooning” group a small culture of shared expectations, comfortable behaviors and tacit complacency had formed and reinforced itself. The outsider leader challenged the community culture and it didn’t work.

What about the deadly triangle that the largely hidden, uncommunicative and anonymous board created between leader, followers and themselves? Battered Leaders discusses triangulation—a near constant in dysfunctional organizations where leaders get battered—and the complexities that third parties contribute to an organization.

What are the tools that will help the rest of us address these situations? As leaders, are there subtle signs that define the risk threshold for taking on a leadership task that can stop us from repeating the pain this leader endured (and quite likely continues to endure)? How do we say no to the “widow[er] maker” jobs that Peter Drucker warned against?

wbaldaOP.jpgWesley D. Balda (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is president of The Simeon Institute, a nonprofit organization creating crisis management capacity in the U.S. and internationally since 1992, and has also led executive management and Ph.D. programs at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 8:23 AM

December 5, 2012

If You Haven't Bled, You Haven't Led

By Janis Bragan Balda

Everywhere we go when people find out we have written on the subject of “battered leaders,” they have a story to tell. It’s amazing how many people identify with the subject. Even mentioning the phrase results in heads nodding and sometimes more painful signals of despondency, such as shoulders sagging. Every leader seems to remember being beaten up at some point.

Recently we had dinner with a woman who has a wealth of experience in fundraising and fund development, both as a consultant and as staff for an international development organization. When she found out about the book, she immediately identified and then related (after a little encouragement) the experience that still mars her ability to participate in leadership in her church.

Her story involved leading a team on a short-term mission trip. Despite experience in this type of leadership, sharing the task with someone she knew well and respected, and lots of prayer, she met with such blatant resistance from two or three people, that the trip was a disaster for the leaders and has so hurt her that she will not lead another one.

What happened? A couple of people decided to dig in, asserting their own will and refusing to be led. No amount of negotiating, seeking common ground or prayer seemed to resolve the matter. The end result was a burned leader, someone who cannot see her way to serve in this capacity again. She is still seeking answers to what went wrong—and doesn’t seem to have any even though the incident occurred over a year ago. But she moves forward in other ways and doesn’t let this experience define her as a person or as a leader in the other capacities.

This is just one example of hundreds we have heard. What is your story? How have you learned to cope with negative responses that have resulted from attempting to lead? What ways have you dealt with the pain and disappointment that comes with finding resistance? When you are offered new opportunities, do they remind you of past experiences, inducing fear or anxiety rather than hope and excitement?

More often than we think, this is a common experience. Knowing that the apostle Paul met the same challenges offers us encouragement, and by looking at his response to the church at Corinth we can gain some insights into the leader-follower dynamic.

We see for example, leadership did not eliminate suffering in Paul’s life, rather it sometimes inflamed it. And while certain believers in Corinth discredited Paul for enduring suffering, he knew it ended up for their benefit: “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort (2 Cor 1:6 NIV).

Paul’s response to the suffering he endured—which occurred in large measure because of what the believers thought of him and acted out toward him—was to see it in perspective. He saw how his responses benefited them and also how he gained understanding through it. Hopefully we too can gain personal insight and awareness so that like Paul (2 Cor 6:6) we find among our “credentials” knowledge (gnosis) or a “grasp of truth” (NEB), “insight” (Phillips) or “understanding” (NIV).

Handbook for Battered Leaders is designed to help us along that path.

JBaldaOP.jpgJanis Bragan Balda (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University) is professor of management, currently teaching at Fuller Seminary and UCLA Extension. She formerly taught at St.George’s University in the Caribbean and George Fox University. Dr. Balda also established the Peter F. Drucker Society of the Caribbean at SGU while working as a principal at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 1:39 PM