I recently finished Tim Keel’s “Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos” and loved his notion of leadership as a posture. Concerned how “models” (leadership models or ministry models) are contextual and not easily transferable, Tim argues that its helpful to think in terms of “postures.” A posture is a way of positioning oneself; it refers to one’s bearing or attitude. A “forward leaning” leadership posture positions the leader, for example, toward action or toward openness and receptivity.
Tim holds that leaders of churches (or movements) should adopt the following postures of engagements that allow them to see and respond to the possibilities that are available because of God’s activity out in front of them. Each of these postures lean away from the “posture of the expert or of the leader who knows all.” Such postures keep the leader open to the possibilities in his or her context.
As you read thru these, think of implications to your movement leadership, not of direct applications per se.
1. A Posture of Learning: From Answers to Questions
Leaders can often learn more from a well-formed question than from a glibly offered answer . . . I’m finding that questions require more work, more attentiveness to what is happening in the environment. It takes a lot more depth, presence, and creativity on the part of the leader to ask a well-formed, sensitive, and sincere question that engages the person on the other end of the relationship. We have to ask in order to learn . . . we have to ask in order to engage. . . What if leaders refused the posture of expert and took on the posture of humble and engaged learner? What if leaders learned the art of the question?
2. A Posture of Vulnerability: From the Head to the Heart
Leaders discover ways to engage both the head and the heart. The people we lead need to be engaged in more than cognitive ways; we as leaders need to discover as well ways of leading that allow our own hearts to be engaged. Passion flows from a heart fully engaged. And to engage the heart, the leader must be present and help his people be present. Being present is hard because it means engaging pain–it involves brokenness and vulnerability. But as we engage pain and the brokenness of our hearts, we live deeply and connect deeply. This posture of vulnerability in leaders gives them access to the hearts of their people. Leaders must become conversant in the language of the heart.
3. A Posture of Availability: From Spoken Words to Living Words
Leaders are like OT prophets who were often forced by God to live lives that proclaimed God’s message beyond mere words. A prophet’s words were the final expression of a process that began with God’s working internally. Hosea must marry a unfaithful wife before he can plead God’s words to a faithless Israel to “return to me and call me “My husband.” Jeremiah must buy property in a doomed Jerusalem to pronounce a future hope. The content of the message is integrally linked to the person communicating it. Leaders shouldn’t be surprised that God allows them to suffer first, to experience pain and discomfort, to hear God’s voice out of the whirlwind. Leaders must resist the temptation to evade or anesthetize pain. Instead, they must embrace it. Do we allow life’s challenges to be our trusted teacher or a hated foe? Leaders must embrace the former.
4. A Posture of Stillness: From Preparation to Meditation
Tim suggest that leaders consider the difference between comprehending God and apprehending God. Apprehending God involves beholding the mysterious reality of God in a way that does not seek to place limitations on his nature that he doesn’t place on himself. In other words, leaders can often get caught up in the constant activity of study and preparation to “present” God to their people. Yet, God wants us to be present to him–to move from preparation to meditation. Preparation means doing research and finding material that supports and illustrates our research. But meditation is deep and intimate conversation with God on God’s terms–simply allowing oneself to be present in stillness before the God we serve. Can we as leaders stop ourselves from constantly preparing to do something so that we might have the possibility of engaging Someone? What if we postured ourselves in stillness rather than constant activity?
4. A Posture of Surrender: From Control to Chaos
Chaos theory posits that while we look at chaos and see only unpredictability, randomness, and erratic noise, there is actually patterns and a sort of order that exists. A posture of surrender acknowledges that chaos is not necessarily crisis. Normally, leaders respond to chaos by attempting to take control, but such decisiveness can be dangerous. In chaotic situations, we just don’t have enough information. Surrender, Tim Keel says, forces us to read the environment more deliberately, to become more adaptive and creative. If we adopt this posture, we’ll ask a different set of questions in the seeming chaos. Where are the patterns? In the midst of disruption, where are the opportunities? In crisis, we want control. In chaos, we want discernment and must be willing to surrender control so that we can better engage the changing environment.
5. A Posture of Cultivation: From Programmer to Environmentalist
Movements depend upon relationships. By moving from programmer to environmentalist, leaders avoid the default position of relieving people from the hard work of building relationships, from our Christian responsibility to be hospitable. When leaders don’t create, discover or facilitate programs, but rather cultivate an environment of hospitality, they animate the relational ecosystem. Leaders should be environmentalists, not administrators and programmers. We are about nurturing space for people to connect with each other and with God. We cultivate environments of growth. Thinking in those terms leads to significant implications in our leadership—implications, which a “program mentality” could never engender.
6. A Posture of Trust: From Defensiveness to Creativity
All of the previous leadership postures assume a posture of trust on the part of leaders. Most leaders often default to defensiveness however, believing that so much of what we do depends on us and not on God. Moving away from defensiveness to trust in God, and as a result, to more trust in our people leads to greater creativity. We cannot see God at work in his creation when we are crouched defensively behind a carefully constructed wall where we feel compelled to defend ourselves and even to defend God. “When we trust that God is out ahead of us and seek out his life in and around and outside our walls, we engage with freedom and passion the creative possibilities that arise as God engages his creation for his purposes. . . . When we spend the majority of our energy defending the hallowed grounds of our staked-out territory, something vital is lost.” Leaders follow Jesus into the “generative chaos of creation.”
7. A Posture of Joy: From Work to Play
Leaders have a hard time learning to play. Yet Plato once said that you could learn more about people by watching them play for one hour than you could through a lifetime of conversation with them. True. Keel argues that leaders who begin to live in a trust-saturated relationship with God can move from “work” to relief and joy–to play. At the heart of this posture is the notion of Sabbath, where rest and rhythm and celebration acknowledges the true source in life: God. Leaders must consciously move from work to play, play to work, work to play and on. A rhythm that embraces playfulness demonstrates trust in God. It also helps leaders not take themselves so seriously.
8. A Posture of Dependence: From Resolution to Tension—And Back Again
Like chaos, tension can be embraced by the leader. Tension is created when two seemingly opposed realities are held in a dynamic relationship that demands engagement and interaction. Yet, since tension is discomforting, we attempt to opt quickly for resolutions that often maximize one half of a complex reality at the expense of the other half. In each of Keel’s leadership postures, leaders learn to embrace the twin realities in their dynamic tension (questions vs answers, head vs heart, work vs joy, etc) more readily than previously allowed. Leaders tend to be reactive and swing from one extreme to the other. Such reactions, Keel argues, are not generative nor sustainable. To avoid the reactive swings toward quick resolution of tension, leaders must learn to live in and lead out of tension. Again, a posture of dependence and trust on God’s creative and dynamic work must be present in the leader.