Leadership and Ethics […] 2

To summarize the previous post:

  • It’s my theological contention that the Church needs to become a ‘self organizing’ system if it is to properly model the holy freedom God has given us post-Incarnation.
  • In Griffin’s ‘The Emergence of Leadership – Linking Self-Organization and Ethics’ – he posits that there is an apparent paradox in much of our thinking about groups: while they are actually made up of individuals, we attribute them status ‘as if’ they were single entities.
  • The attempt to resolve this paradox usually leads to us neglecting the ‘as if’ and seeing groups or organizations as single entities responsible ethically, led by a few key individuals. These leaders are then projected as heroes or villains.
  • Griffin proposes that we need to think differently about ethics, and this will mean we will think differently about leadership. I have taken this, in our situation, to mean that we must avoid projecting heroes or villains – which is still happening too often in ECs.

I want to think a little further about what leadership in a self-organizing context might mean.

Firstly, some thoughts on self-organizing systems. Griffin is keen to argue a position of ‘participative self organization’. What he means by this is a breaking down of the barriers between observers (leaders) and participants (followers), subjects and objects. A participative self-organizing system ’causes itself in moving toward the purpose which is intrinsic to the process’ – phrase I would interpret as an immersed-incarnational approach. This is in contrast to what he terms ‘systemic self organization’, which posits both an autonomous individual as external observer and a self-organizing system of which the subject is a part… and is viewed as ‘moving toward purpose which has originated externally by a leader’ – a phrase I would interpret as the ‘programme-driven’ approach.

In other words, Griffin sees that to model this emerging leadership in a self-organizing, self-renewing group, we need to actually fully take on board the significance of what Paul is saying in 1 Cor 12:14-27, that we are all part of the body of Christ. No one is external observer. Everyone is tied in to everyone else. We are connected. There are no subject/object divisions. This thinking can be developed to bring an understanding of ourselves as ‘human becomings’. Griffin argues that we need an understanding of selves as emergent persons in social interaction. In other words, we become self-aware not through introspection, but through interaction.

It is less ‘cogito ergo sum’ than ‘ (excuse my rather poor latin) ‘concero ergo sum’: I am, because I am connected.

Leaders then, cannot be seen as people external to the system. They are an integral part of it, and must participate fully in it. And, as is perhaps more of the problem in churches, they must invite others to be fully participative too.

So, secondly, what we can also take from Paul in his subsequent writing on gifts is that, as different gifts are exercised, different people take leadership; Griffin concurs with this. More interestingly though, he identifies the dangers that come with the multitude of leadership opportunities that are presented to us:

We, as groups of persons, in the on-going sustaining of our identity, together create a great variety of leadership roles […] at the same time. A great number of leadership themes of identity are available to us in all situations we find ourselves in. Because of the anxiety of the unknown and the uncertain, we often choose themes that protect us and provide escape from the anxiety.

What this amounts to in everyday life is a defaulting to the leader who seems to provide us comfort. Who cries ‘peace, peace’. When there is no peace. As Aldous Huxley proclaimed: “So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.” This seems to connect with the series of posts I did on Rollo May’s book ‘The Courage to Create’:

those we call saints rebelled against an outmoded and inadequate form of God on the basis of their new insights into divinity. The teachings that led to their deaths raised the ethical and spiritual levels of their societies.”

The opposite of those pioneering saints are those leaders who claim to be drawing us out of our anxiety, but are really emasculating us from our universal potentiality to lead in the situation where we are gifted.

To summarize then:

  • We need to be heading for participative self-organization
  • In such an organization, people are recognized as equal, and all as ‘becoming’.
  • As interconnected equals on a journey together to newness – rather than back into tradition – we will need to be interdependent. This will call for distributed leadership in which different people take a lead as their gifting requires. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you.”


4 responses to “Leadership and Ethics […] 2”

  1. James Noble

    Hi Kester
    so, call me a pedant if you will – but the question “leadership in a SELF-ORGAINSING” system seems self-contradictory.
    It’s like asking who is the “leader” of the blogsphere – or even of the alt.worship blogsphere. what makes them a “leader”? how did they get there?
    Well, people like you and Steve are leaders because people read their blogs – whatever you do to draw people counts as “leadership”. In any other self-organising system, I think the dynamic will be similar

  2. It’s precisely what ‘leader’ means in this new context that I’ve been wondering, and hope to bring some thinking to in these posts.
    In a world where there are self-organizing systems and networks there is, it seems to me, still a need for some form of leadership. The science of such systems backs this up. But what is vital is getting the nature of such leadership right. Too controlling, and the system dies. Too little, and the system decays into anarchy.
    Perhaps, to use a phrase from the books on emergent systems, the leaders’ job is to keep things at ‘the edge of chaos’ – where creativity is free-flowing, people are energised and released, but where some form of order is displayed.
    Actually, I’m not sure that this has connection with systems such as the bloge. What I’m hoping to address is leadership of face-to-face communities on the ground, which I am still convinced are the base unit of the church.

  3. David Lindsell

    The fact that you can ask that question says a lot.
    As I’ve said before movements make leaders, not leaders make movements.
    I started blogging and came here, amiong many other places. Kester could never demand obedience or obeisance.
    We’d simply click away, and that’s the beauty.
    Now where blogging will be interesting and cyberspace will become nasty is when churches catch up. Sermons go online with comment sections.
    I didn’t see you commenting on my blog today.
    Lots of my long-term churchy friends have already started a blogring and it’s edging towards that, but they can’t make any real claims.
    But your pastor checking whether you’d downloaded the cell group notes. Now, that is leadership in blogging.
    When house churches started creativity, spontaneity, relationships and celebration of life led to time shared together in God.
    Organised churches said “We’ll do house church” and set up chairs in a row in a home, covered a table with a veil, put up flowers and a bible on a table and the vicar took his dog collar off, smiled and sat at the front.
    Leadership, of the self-organising type, is a spiritual thing. It can be done right, it can be brutally parodied.

  4. Nice post!
    I still think we need to dump the word “leader” just because of the inherrant status and role it brings, not to mention the assumptions made by the non-leaders!
    And this is the distinction that needs to die too! Leaders and non-leaders, active/passive.
    Sorry, it gets on my… erm… man-boobs!