Leaving Space for Spirits
Both Todd Hunter and Rex Miller have told me that they’re big fans of Max DePree . So during my Dallas trip last week I read Leadership as an Art.Elsewhere, I’ve suggested some of the advantages and severe limits of organizational structures. DePree crafts a beautiful vision of what an organization can be. What’s really impressive is that this vision was realized, at least to some extent, at Herman Miller, where DePree used to be CEO.
DePree sets relationship as central to the proper functioning of an organization. Organizational structures are nothing more than mere maps that designate the paths in which relationships flow, but such guiding structures are never to be confused with the relationships themselves. DePree states, “We should be concerned with intimacy when we design the organizational structures which, after all, are the road maps that help us to work together” (p. 55). He asserts, “Leadership is more tribal than scientific, more a weaving of relationships than an amassing of information…” (p. 3). “…Relationships count more than structure” (p. 28).
In what DePree characterizes as a covenantal relationship, the usual firm dichotomy of leader and follower is sometimes submerged. Rather, the positions dance in an interplay of initiation and response. “In almost every group nearly everybody at different times and in different ways plays two roles: One is creator, and the other implementer” (p. 33). The mature leader is ready at a moment’s notice to subordinate his thinking to that of another. In fact, “Effective leaders encourage contrary opinions…” (p. 15) and leave room for others to shine. Leaders “abandon themselves to the strengths of others” (p. xxi) and, in a marvelous turn of phrase, are “vulnerable to the skills and talents of others” (p. 131). These leaders “give others the gift of space…space to be what one can be” (p. 75).”
DePree summarizes, “the best management process for today’s environment is participative management based on covenantal relationships” (p. 61). Interdependency thrives in such an organization in an atmosphere of “lavish communications” (p. 67). All of this combines to make the organization “a place of realized potential” (p. 85).
So much talk of organization and structure and implied hierarchy understandably make many of us in the emerging church very nervous. We just haven’t seen that many leaders who excel at saying “I think you’ve got the right idea; what do we do next?” or the perhaps even more radical, “I was wrong.” The default template of organizational leadership in our pain-induced paradigm is of rigid structures and non-relational procedures. We are, in fact, afraid of Gentile Lordship. We have experienced lifeless structure, arbitrary authority, and non-relational direction where we are not valued and we want nothing of it.
And so it’s understandable that we may drift toward the opposite extreme. A completely flat organization. No defined leaders. No organizational map at all. Just amorphous group execution.
But, we suggest, such an over-reaction to the poor structures we’ve experienced in the past runs the danger of denying to the church both the gifts of leadership and that of intentionally missional community. Consider – without suggesting that the recent Emergent Conference in Nashville was the ultimate confab – think about the organization, the leadership, and the people-structure that coalesced to put on such an event. Then reread DePree’s vision above and consider if such an organization could elegantly put on such a conference without quashing the spirit.
One can also argue that DePree’s vision of organizational health is consistent with a Rortyian emphasis on community as a necessary context for truth acquisition, which some have identified as a major thought-thread of postmodernism.
We believe DePree gives us some hints of a more balanced organization that leaves space for both human and Holy spirits. This allows such a group to break out of the tight and tidy box of the modern corporation and into something more thriving, beautiful and human.