Monday, March 09, 2009

Leading in the 21st Century: Empowering

I don’t think it was a Dilbert cartoon, but the sentiment is in keeping with that venue. A leader was addressing a group and commented, “It is our goal to find each person’s spark of creativity and to water it.” Unfortunately, that mixed metaphor often describes the task that leaders of churches and other organizations embrace! The word “empowerment” is not in their vocabulary.

One of the key leadership characteristics of the leader of a 21st century organization is empowering. The leader must learn how to truly empower individuals. Each person has unique gifts, skills, and abilities. An effective leader will help the individual discover those attributes and release the individual to use them in the work of the organization. The leader’s role is more than saying, “You can do this,” but to give responsibility, resources, and space for the participants to act.

This is not simply helping persons to discover their gifts so that their names can be penciled into boxes on an organizational chart. It is much more in keeping with what Myron Madden called “the power to bless.” This Old Testament theme is most clearly shown in the experience of Jacob and Esau. One was blessed by the father and one was not. Blessing involves affirmation, encouragement, and empowerment.

One of the greatest dangers of being part of any organization—including the church—is losing one’s self identity in the larger group. Every group of human beings has a tendency to push for conformity and solidarity. When an outlier pops up, he or she is usually brought back into line. An effective 21st century organization balances the concepts of unity and uniformity. The leader wants everyone going in the same direction (alignment) but the leader also respects the unique gifts of each person (empowerment).

Of course, once a person discovers his or her unique calling, the leader may recognize that person does not really fit with the mission of the organization. In such a situation, the leader may have to “push the young bird out of the nest” so that he or she can fulfill their calling. This is not done with malice but with a desire to help the person find where they can best serve.

Empowerment is a highly relational aspect of 21st century leadership, but it is not the only one.

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