In preparation for Jurisdictional Conference and the episcopal election process, I have been reading a lot of N.T. Wright, novels, and Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. Friedman, famous for his work on Family Systems in his book Generation to Generation, attempts to tackle universal and especially American dysfunction about leadership. He says that we are overwhelmed by anxiety in our culture and that a key to overcoming this toxic state is “clear, decisive, well-defined leadership.” His assumption is that when a system, be it family, religion, or state, is driven by anxiety, there will often be a failure of nerve among its leaders.
He states that a belief that having the right data or technique has been valued over personal responsibility and leadership. His diagnosis of our current state of anxiety and chronic tension is perpetuated when systems sabotage the initiative of leaders. Friedman suggests that we need to ponder the emotional processes that focus on “issues” or “identified patients,” rather than on the challenging self-differentiation of leaders. Often in counseling situations it seems appropriate to “fix” the problem child, adult, or issue, when what one really needs to do is coach the strongest element of the emotional field to differentiate. Sounds a bit like Gil Rendle saying a problem without a solution isn’t really a problem.
Success comes when leadership is able to stay connected to the rest of the system emotionally while at the same time remain separate. Integrity is the word Friedman uses for this concept. Integrity is an interesting word. Its French roots, in tegere, mean “in touch.” A person with integrity is “in touch” with those with whom community is shared, but more importantly, for leadership and the dissipation of anxiety, persons of integrity are “in touch” with their own self/core. From that core of strength a leader can manage their own anxiety and can maintain challenge and connection with those to whom they relate as leader.
Good leadership doesn’t react to troublemakers or the emotional processes of a group. Leadership offers vision that is an emotional rather than cerebral approach. In other words, leadership depends more on a person’s capacity to deal with his/her own anxiety rather than quick-fix gimmicks that only mask the latent tensions. A leader, according to Friedman’s experience is someone who, “generally turned out to be the one who could express himself or herself with the least amount of blaming and the one who had the greatest capacity to take responsibility for his or her own emotional being and destiny.”
Wow! This is exciting material, thought-provoking and challenging. This is the kind of leadership I want to exhibit as a bishop. Therefore, in preparation for the possibilities of the next two weeks I am trying to avoid reactivity and stay centered in God. I want to continue working on my own self-definition, and practice non-anxious presence. It will be a challenge. These coming days for our denomination demand leaders who are grounded in Christ and able to both still and stir the waters of a tumultuous yet yearning world.
I have been pigeon-holed as a Moderate, a Liberal, and a Conservative, and I can’t be boxed in. Bottom-line, my call to the episcopacy is at the intersection of 4 quadrants: one has been an extremely successful Local Church ministry and Denman Evangelism Award; another has been as a Teacher in two seminaries and Candler Distinguished Alumni Award; yet another has been as Servant of the Annual Conference as Parliamentarian, District Superintendent, and much more; then finally as a Bridge Builder and Worker on the General Church level via the General Council on Ministries, Connectional Table, Worldwide UMC Study Committee, and 5 time delegate to General Conference.
These opportunities have meshed over time into an episcopal call. Now it’s up to the church to confirm it, and I say that with more than a little fear and trembling. I want to do all I can to be an effective leader for Jesus Christ! All the more reason to keep reading Friedman and simply, not so simply, being me – an interesting mixture of leadership opportunities and perspectives – trying always to be faithful to the task.