MidAmerica new leaders wide

Over the past number of months, our MidAmerica program staff have been discussing the changing state of leadership, congregational life, and our world. We’ve realized that as we move further into the 21st century, our work has to shift. No longer can we simply teach particular skills based on the tools we know about. Rather we must teach people how to ‘be’ differently so we may all adapt and adjust to our world as it adapts and adjusts. We created our “New Leader” document, and over the next few weeks, we will be blogging about the elements of the New Leader paradigm. We invite you to join us in the conversation: please feel free to send us your comments—we want your thoughts and ideas to help us expand our thinking. 

14 Flexible/Agile in Working: Leaders understand that processes, tasks and outcomes will not necessarily be the same next week as they were, and they remain agile in approaching situations and answers to questions and issues that arise in their work with congregations; they know that they have to be continually learning and asking “is this the best way to get what we want to achieve at this time?”

How can leaders of the 21st Century cultivate ways to be flexible and agile?

If this were a TED talk, there would be an amazing three minute video of a montage of leaders throughout the world demonstrating ways to be flexible and agile. So, with the use of our imagination, let us think of a group of wise UU leaders, experienced, committed, and earnestly endeavoring to face some big challenges. We don’t have to use too much imagination in recalling that during the significant economic challenges of the last 10 years, there were countless meetings happening across the nation of UU leaders finding ways to sustain their communities. Our MidAmerica Region was not exempt from these economic challenges, and in meeting after meeting we kept on repeating that we must find answers which were, scalable, sustainable, agile, and repeatable!

13 Generous and able to nurture generosity in others: Leaders are not only financially generous (although they are that indeed!) but they have and encourage a generous spirit and appreciation of the world; they are quick to inspire others, to give of themselves as well as their time, talent and treasure, and are working to find ways to be a “permission giving” organization that empowers others to move forward with ideas that help fulfill the congregation’s mission.

Before the economy tanked in 2009, we often heard in stewardship workshops that focusing on abundance instead of scarcity was the thing to do. Now, many people are not feeling that sense of abundance. In some of our congregations as many as half of their members lost well-paying jobs during the economic downturn, and some of those folks are now working two jobs and still not making as much as they did then. Many more people saw their retirement funds lost just a few years before they were planning to use them, so they’ve had to stay in the work force longer than planned. A consequence of this is that many Gen Xers and Millennials are having a hard time finding work and they are stringing together two or three jobs and/or living at home with parents much longer than they planned.

12 Not the expert, and able to learn: Leaders understand that it’s not just about skills, but it’s about being able to learn (often together) what’s necessary in congregational life; they understand the difference between technical and adaptive challenges, and find themselves at ease in the discomfort of adaptive work, understanding that no one knows the answers, but that together a way can be found.

Over the years what works in assisting — and in leading — our congregations has shifted. Since the 1970s we have seen a marked decline in how well positional authority works in our congregations. Using positional authority, saying “I am the minister and…” or, even worse, “I am from the UUA and…” works less well to move our congregations, even if it might still do in other faith traditions. Indeed, one challenge for ministers from other faith traditions who wish to serve our congregations is this effect. It can be for them a puzzle of how to lead forcefully and effectively without resorting to positional authority, “I am the minister and…”

11 Companion on the journey: Leaders know that so much of congregational life is about being present to and with one another; they don’t have all the answers, but they know how to be with others through the journey of their lives, and the journey of shared congregational life

One of the most fun things I have done since coming to work for the UUA was the series of conversations Dori Thexton and I hosted on the future of leadership shortly after I began working for Central MidWest District. We used as a discussion starter an article by Brian McLaren in which he took as a starting point the Wizard of Oz. He observed that much of the past of leadership has been lonely art practiced behind a screen of separation.