Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ongoing Training: Leadership and Anxiety

Steve Brown used to tell me that I needed to develop a mean streak. For those of you who don't know Steve, he's a radio preacher. He thinks he's "got a voice like it came from on Sinai", but that's not really true. He's got the voice of a cranky old tarheel who smokes a lot, has sinned his share, and has experienced forgiveness beyond his wildest expectations. He's got the voice that communicates "sit down son, and listen up, and you just might learn something." So when Steve spoke, I generally listened.

But mean streaks don't come easy to me. I'm something of a people pleaser...I like being liked after all.

Now I take this one day training seminar on Leadership and Anxiety in the Church. It's all about how to apply Bowen Systems Theory in the church context. Too much to fully explain in one post, but the general thesis is this -- every organization constitutes an emotional system (family, church, workplace, etc). Each of us gets cast in a role in the system. Now here's the a system, all the parts influence each other. In other words, in a dysfunctional system (say a codependent relationship) the "problem person" is not the only one contributing to the does the "enabler" (envision the spouse who continually makes excuses for her husband's drinking.....the rich parent who is always bailing out the delinquent child.... you get the idea how the bad behavior and the enabling behavior reinforce each other).

Now the interesting thing about systems theory is this. The goal for pastors is not to learn the theory so they can diagnose where all the problems are in a congregation or in their familiy. I've known colleagues that were well versed in systems theory...they'd read all the books and they could tell you right where all the systemic problems were in their congregations. But there wasn't any improvement there.

That's because the goal in studying systems theory is to encourage pastors that by working on themselves, they can improve the functionality of the system as a whole. If a congregation is an emotional system in which all the parts exert influence...then any one part that is functioning in a better more balanced way will influence the whole towards balance. Part of the challenge is that when a leader starts functioning better (say for instance, setting boundaries so that he has a healthy balance of family time and church time.... or perhaps exerting a little more self discipline in time management, which decreases the kind of "available at the drop of the hat" time that was there before.... ), there's always pushback because the change affects other people. It may challenge them to take more responsibility for their role in the system. It may force them to deal with some of their own anxieties that they didn't want to deal with. But in the long run, somebody is going to have their feathers ruffled...and they're going to take it back to the leader.

Hence the mean streak (and that's a bit of an exaggeration). The leader then has the challenge of not owning the ruffled feathers. When someone comes to the leader with anxiety, the leader can listen with empathy ... but as soon as he owns the anxiety, he's lost. The leader has to have the inner self-control to live a little bit with other people's pain. Because sometimes that pain is God's way of dealing with them. Because sometimes that pain is just redirected from some other real issue that needs to be addressed (for husband is diagnosed with cancer, but I haven't dealt with the anxiety from that...but the anxiety comes out in other areas of life).

The idea here is to stay focused on goals, the big picture. The practicioners talk a lot about using playfulness and paradox to defuse anxiety and invite people into creative engagement with it. My mind is still reeling with everything we covered in the one day seminar. But the big idea I got from it is an old one and a good one: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?" Work on with your own sin and avoidance and issues....and likely, God will use that process of sanctification of yourself to bring blessing to the family, the church, the workplace as a whole.

Soli Deo Gloria