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It is amazing how we can experience something repeatedly but until someone puts a name to the phenomena it remains hidden and unacknowledged. Mark Sayers in his book Facing Leviathan named something I have observed in mission leadership repeatedly but was unable to capture. The heroic leader of the past is long dead, long live the team. You find this sentiment on the pages of most management and leadership books. This message has almost been my ministry mantra. I am a “team” guy.
Sayers affirms author Adam Curtis’s concept of “the circle of friends” as being one of the great ideologies of our day. The singular “heroic” leader has given way to this “circle of friends”. This transition has taken place in our most popular TV shows, literature and our organizations where maintaining this “circle of friends” has become the critical imperative for leadership and decision making.
As people God has placed in leadership, we fervently seek the affirmation of our teams. That is proper but we can hide within and pander to this “circle” of friendship and fellowship. This unconscious behavioral “given” relieves us of the responsibility and necessity to personally find God’s unique direction for our lives and the ministry we lead. We neglect time alone for spiritual reflection and direction. We don’t find our rest and refuge in Christ because we automatically look for support and affirmation from our “circle of friends.”
Unity with this circle must be maintained at all cost. Passionate and vigorous debate is sacrificed in the name of group oneness or solidarity. The result is often “group think” that blunts all the cutting edges while maintaining the illusion of unity, team or group. Personally our “circle of friends” often obscures our sense of self and God’s direction for our lives.
The temptation of the past generation of leaders may have been to be the hero that saves the world or at least makes a significant dent in solving some its great challenges. Abusive leadership was a real problem that accompanied that pattern. Follower abuse can still take place but it’s more prevalent manifestation comes in the form of the tyranny of the group, this “circle of friends” where unity must be maintained at all cost. Individual leading and the individual uniqueness of calling is debilitated by pressures not to rock the boat and the personal sacrifice is made for the peace of our team or “circle of friends.”
Today’s leader largely escaped from yesterday’s leadership heroic obsession. We have run in the opposite direction. The results have often been mediocrity and pedestrian where if the “group of friends,” the insiders, are content the world’s needs don’t seem quite so pressing. Responsibility becomes collective and accountability is less personal. Perhaps it is time to reinforce the personal nature of Biblical leadership without losing our communal responsibility. As humans the pendulum of life seems to always be swinging between extremes. Balance is always the brief transitory moment we swing through on the way to opposite extremes. We need the Holy Spirit’s illumination and God’s Word to place us individually and collectively within the awesome mystery which is His truth.