“Leading is convening.” Peter Block
My kids have grown up with a few other families that are closer than kin, no matter where our lives have taken us, we have gone out of our way to stay connected to each other, to spend a couple of holidays together each year and on a occasion to vacation together. The parents are all best friends; the kids are all like cousins to each other.
And whenever we can get the whole crowd together it’s like all of our small nuclear families take on a “big family”, clan-like feel. Armed with numbers, they start doing things together that they could never do alone. Big touch football games on the beach, “Capture the Flag” games in a big grass field, and even more often than not, some kind of production for the parents.
When the kids were much younger (they are all teenagers today), whenever they would get together, someone (usually Kara!) would inevitably come up with the idea of putting on a play for the parents. After playing in the pool, or frolicking on the beach, the kids would disappear for hours on end to get their “script”, “roles” and “lines” down, only to reappear for the big moment.
Now, to be sure, the play was never very long…or involved. Indeed, there was far more going on behind the scenes than in the play itself. We parents could hear the kids in the other room, arguing over who was in charge, who gets to play what role, who gets to wear what costume and why the boys weren’t “playing along” with the girls. The debate, discussion, arguments and (yes, a few tears) in the planning process was most of the “drama”. But inevitably, “the Show (as it were) would go on”. The tradition continued through the years and last summer, as the kids grew older, “the play” gave way to making a “music video” (and that one was really good.)
Indeed, they are an imaginative, smart bunch of kids. They also have relationships built over years that lead them to enjoy doing big projects together. But the other ingredient is that within the group there a number of leaders who are willing to take a risk at the one thing necessary to bring about new creative endeavors: Convening collaborators.
And I want to suggest that this ability to pull people together, mobilize them into a working group and pull off a creative project is a critical component of leadership in a changing world.
In this brief series of posts on the To-Do List of the Leader of the Future, I have sought to set out the difference between the mental model of leadership that is often at work in our congregations and organizational contexts today and that which is necessary as we move into the future.
Leadership of the past was about “action”. It was about doing something. It was about some expert leader seizing the reigns of the chariot and single-mindedly driving the horses toward finish line. Leaders were expected to KNOW what to do and then do it. They were EXPERTS and they were ACTORS. The leaders were the “Best Practitioners”: the fast-drawing, gun-slinging marshal cleaning up the town, the visionary CEO turning around a company with a new plan, an inspiring President giving simple, clear messages, a Pastor who brings a new exciting program. Leaders of the past were the “best and brightest” and they accomplished goals through charisma, great ideas, or sheer will.
But as the world changes, the problems we face are far more complex. The issues that face our communities and companies and congregations are rooted in deeply entrenched, highly-cherished competing values. The challenges are far more systemic and the old answers aren’t working any longer. And one of the key skills of leaders of the future is to bring people together to “co-labor” through the mess and drama of all the various ideas, values, perspectives and agendas to come up with new creative ways of getting things done.
For community organizer and leadership guru, Peter Block, this act of “convening” is THE act of leadership. Bringing people together to enter the drama, share the work, listen and hang in with each other, build trust and come up with a new creative approach to an old stuck problem is what leadership is all about. For Peter Block, this means that the leader of the future is not some charismatic wonder, not some all-knowing expert, and not some official authority, but anyone…ANYONE… who is willing to get people together and say, “Let’s put on a show.”
Leadership is the capacity to initiate a future distinct from the past, a quality that distinguishes it from management…One way to encapsulate the leadership required to create an alternative future is to consider the leader as primarily a convener-not leader as special person, but leader as a citizen, sometimes with legitimate power, willing to do those things that can initiate something new in the world. In this way, "leader" belongs right up there with cook, carpenter, artist, and landscape designer. All of us can develop this ability with a small amount of teaching, and an agreement to practice-the ultimate do-it-yourself movement.So if the “Past Leaders To-Do List” looked something like this:
2. Act Expertly.
3. Act Expertly and Quickly (even by yourself, if necessary).
The Future Leader’s To-Do List looks like this:
1. Say “I don’t know” (about the problem in front of you).
2. Resign as the Resident Expert (and become the “Chief Learning Officer”)
3. Convene Collaborators.
In the next post, I’ll interrupt this list with a personal testimony about how hard it’s been for me to make the transition from the past to the future in my own leadership style and the friends who have been teaching me along the way.