In one of my recent posts I talked about how offering expertise may not be the most helpful strategy of leadership. So what use is expertise at all then, many of you asked me (with not a little frustration!) It’s a good question, and I’ve been stewing on it for weeks.
The recent reflections about the life of Steve Jobs have given me some perspective. Jobs certainly never eschewed expertise. He didn’t wait for people to tell him what they were looking for to make their lives easier. As many have said, he decided what would be helpful and then marketed it to convince people how much they needed it. But, and this is a big but, he used his expertise to create something new that people could then participate in co-creating. The whole concept of open-sourcing apps has engaged people in a common enterprise that is not pre-determined. Apple didn’t tell people the kinds of apps they could develop – they created a platform on which infinite ideas could be explored.
I think this gets at what I understand the role of expertise to be in congregations. I still believe in self-differentiated leadership. To me this means our role as leaders is not just to sit back and wait for people to tell us what to do; nor does it mean that it is our job as leaders to make all the people happy or to satisfy all their expectations. Utilizing our individual and collective expertise to shine the light on a collective challenge is essential for leadership.
And, our leadership job does not end there. If we believe that our expertise will “solve the problem” we are deluding ourselves. If our expertise provides an invitation in which people can step into collective visioning then it is well used. If our expertise is used as an end-point that declares a definitive answer then its success will be short-lived, if not a complete back-fire.
I am speaking here of how we address challenges that are adaptive – those issues that we can’t even really define the question, let alone the answer. And most of the big issues that plague our congregations are indeed adaptive – “how can we financially sustain our congregations in the midst of a recession?”, “how can we provide a meaningful worship experience that speaks to many different cultures and generations?”, and “how might we develop an understanding of our mission and purpose beyond ourselves?” are just a few of the big questions I hear floating around congregations.
When I was a District Executive I would often hear people ask me, “how can we be more welcoming to newcomers?” Now, I know a lot about developing programs and processes for hospitality. But offering people a “toolkit” of step-by-step instructions based on that expertise would not have really helped anyone. It became clear to me that I had to invite people into deeper conversations about culture and systems and identity and mission. Out of those conversations people could then develop their own strategies that made sense for their systems.
Expertise is not bad. Far from it. It’s just not enough for leadership.