Recently, the Emergent Network accepted the resignation from their National Director and announced that they would not be filling the position. In a thoughtful, interesting move that has inspired considerable conversation about the future of the whole “emergent” concept, Brian McClaren makes this interesting comment that gets to the heart of the “organizational” conversation: "We know how to run traditional organizations. We don't know how to run networks. [But we know] there's a place for leadership in networks."
So, what is the place of leadership in networks?
I believe that this is the single question that must be answered in order for organizations, especially organizations like churches that have had a long history of centralized leadership, to become more decentralized and “starfish-like”.
In Brafman and Beckstrom’s book, The Starfish and the Spider, they highlight what they call “Rule #8”. Or what I have called “Really, Really Important Rule #8”:
“Shared values ARE the organization.”
In a Starfish organization, the shared values or “ideology” is the “fuel” of the organization. When the shared values change, the organization changes. In fact, the only way to change a Starfish organization (for better or worse) is to instill new values. And that “ideology-instillation” work cannot be underestimated. (Indeed Brafman and Beckstrom see this as the primary missing ingredient on the war on terror and they have even been asked to consult with the US military on it.)
Instilling and protecting the shared values, “ideology,” “DNA,” or “intelligence” in every cell is the primary work of leadership in a network. And nowhere is this more crucial than in the work of the mission of Christ in an increasingly diverse, de-centralized, “flat” world. (Indeed “Rule #10” is “flatten or be flattened”. In other words, this just may be a matter of organizational survival for the church as we know it.)
If churches are going to become “hybrid-combo” organizations that effectively carry out the mission of the Kingdom of heaven, then the primary work of leadership is shared values-work.
While this certainly includes lots of communication (what Brafman and Beckstrom call "maintaining the drumbeat of the ideology"),
it is also about education, (teaching the values)
inspiring mutual discipline and accountability (keeping the values) and
wise collaborative discernment (determining when missional effectiveness requires change. As Collins and Porras have written in Built to Last, the first task of leadership is determining “what will NEVER change” and then being willing to change EVERYTHING else.)
Now, in an institutional model with a highly centralized leadership, one can argue that shared values can be “enforced” through power, position or other incentives. But a decentralized network requires VOLUNTARY submission to shared values. Indeed, the values must truly be “shared.” And the work of leadership in a network is about cultivating the healthy environment for those shared values to guide all creative, energetic, decentralized endeavors.
In the scriptures, we see this “Rule #8” concept put forth by Paul in some of the strongest language of the New Testament.
What we are calling “shared values”, Paul terms as the “same mind”. And that “same mind” is more than thinking the same way, but also about common cause, common care and a shared commitment to look out for the others. Paul continues:
Creating a network that fulfills these verses is certainly leadership challenge enough. Keeping decentralized cells working in collaboration for a greater mission and keeping one cell from “eating” another and destroying the body cancer-like is a huge task in any organization.
But that is not all that “Starfish leaders” must do. Which is where we will pick this up next post.