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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Team Player or Servant Leader?

It's funny what will stimulate the memory banks.

I've been doing some Fall Cleaning - started with the garage, moved to the basement, now I'm up in the attic.

I found a few suits that I used to wear back in the day when I was 'lean 'n mean' - easier to do when your nightly conversations about dinner prep revolve around "alternate (aka 'cheap') sources of protein." - including the suit I bought to preach my first sermon in my sponsoring congregation.

And. . and. . .and . . . the winter-white Christian Dior suit that I bought for $25 at what seminarians at Episcopal Divinity School fondly called "Church of the (Fashionable) Redeemer" in Chestnut Hill, Boston. They had a GREAT 'thrift shop' there and one of the volunteers used to "put aside" some stuff for the EDS seminarians.

It was a real blessing to those of us who were graduating with enormous student loans and still expected to look FABULOUS during the job interview as well as on the job.

Going to the gym on a regular basis has gotten me back into shape. Also, having been correctly diagnosed with and treated for Hashimoto's Thyroiditis has been near-miraculous in terms of the way I feel.

To my absolute delight, I've discovered that all my suits fit me again. I took them all to the cleaners and expect to wear the Christian Dior on Sunday, when I celebrate the 23rd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.

October 18. Feast of St. Luke, the physician. My ordaining bishop, +Fred Wolf, thought that might be appropriate since my ministry has been so informed by my background in Health Care.

+Fred preached a lot in those days about 'Servant Leadership' by which he was talking about Jesus as the model of leadership through service.

It was all the buzz back then. There were tons of books by Robert Greenleaf and Margaret Wheatley, among others.

In Servant Leadership, the priority of the leader rests with the needs of her/his colleagues and those they serve. Servant Leaders practice to become humble stewards of their organization's resources: human, financial, physical.

Greenleaf , in his classic essay, "The Servant as Leader", described the servant-leader in this manner:
The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
It's an ancient concept, one that can be traced back to the 4th Century. The ancient Chinese leader Lao-Tzu also wrote about it in the Tao Te Ching:
The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy. When you are lacking in faith, Others will be unfaithful to you. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, All the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!"

"Back in the day," Bishop Bennett Sims, bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, preached and wrote extensively about the topic. Indeed, he founded The Institute for Servant Leadership in Hendersonville, North Carolina. His book Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millennium is still an important and often used resource on my library shelf.

I don't believe in coincidence. I prefer to think of 'Coincidence" as the name God uses when S/he wants to remain anonymous. I don't think it was coincidental that I found my old suits, had these very strong memories about Servant Leadership, and the gospel lesson for Sunday is about Servant Leadership.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28; also Mark 10:42-45)
I don't know about you, but the buzz I'm hearing more and more these days from those in 'purple shirts' is less about servant leadership and more about being a 'team player'. It's all the rage, I understand. Colleagues from around the country are writing me about it. Must be something they put in the coffee over at the House of Bishops. Gives "Bishop's Blend" a whole new connotation.

Team Player. Hmmm . . . .

I hear the term "team player" and my natural default of a hermeneutic of suspicion kicks in. When spoken by a person in authority - the captain of the team, as it were - my hermeneutic goes into hyper-overdrive.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's something in my personality. Maybe it's a character flaw or the kind of genetic personality defect that results from being birthed and shaped and formed by a long line of feisty Portuguese women.

Maybe its just in my DNA, but when I hear "team player" I always hear the undercurrent of a whispered bravado " . . . because I'm the captain and you're not. Let's just get that straight right up front." (See picture at the top of this post.)

It has been my experience that when someone in an office of authority starts talking about how s/he is recruiting 'team players', I always hear it coming from a place of deep insecurity in that person. I hear it being more about the captain and his/her authority than the team - or the individual on the team.

I hear it not as a call to excellence, but a call that results in unintended mediocrity. I hear it not as a call to creativity and imagination, but one that leads, ultimately, to conformity and thus to boredom (see also: unintended mediocrity).

I don't know. I could be wrong, of course (or, is that just Jonathan), but, just for fun, let's compare and contrast the descriptions of Team Leader vs. Servant Leader.

I did a really quick google on the word "Team Leader" and found Ten Qualities of an Effective Team Player. Okay, so it's from the Dummies series, but bear with me. Briefly, they are:
1. Demonstrates reliability.
2. Communicates constructively
3. Listens actively
4. Functions as an active participant
5. Shares openly and willingly
6. Cooperates and pitches in to help
7. Exhibits flexibility
8. Shows commitment to the team
9. Works as a problem-solver
10. Treats others in a respectful and supportive manner
Okay, so are we catching the drift of this? In this scenario, these are 'players' on the 'team'. Someone - some as yet unnamed someone - is clearly 'the captain'. These don't sound so much like qualities as they do expectations from the captain.

Let's look now at what Bennett Sims had to say about Servant Leader.
We believe that Servant Leaders will:

* Engage in a spiritual journey rooted in a worshiping community and a personal spiritual practice.
* Enhance the power and freedom of others.
* Value all people, with special compassion for the least privileged in the human family.
* Work for justice and peace in the world through the practice of non-violence.
* Celebrate with gratitude the sacredness, abundance and interconnectedness of all creation.
* Embrace a simplicity of life that honors work and the willingness to be held accountable, while leaving time for rest and play.
* Recognize the gifts of each person, and seek discernment through dialogue as the context for all decision making.
* Call others to be Servant Leaders.
Okay, so some simple questions: Which model do you think has greater authenticity with the leadership of Jesus? And, which model do you think the church has greater need?

I think you may be able to hazard a guess at my answer without even breaking a sweat.

I am also remembering that great story about basketball player, Magic Johnson. The captain was giving the team a pep talk, saying, "Remember, there's no 'I' in 'team." Magic reportedly responded, "Yeah, but there is in 'win'."

I think that sums up what I think is really going on here in the gradual transition from 'servant leader' a few decades ago and 'team players' of today.

The Episcopal Church has undergone some very serious losses in the past few decades. I think bishops are sick of losing. Sick of the loss. Sick of being considered losers.

I think they want to win. Indeed, I think they are anxious and, in some cases, desperate to win and they take their elections as a personal vocation to 'win one for Mother Church." These fragile economic times with big losses in salaries that used to provide fat pledges and tithes only add to the anxiety and desperation.

On the more pastoral side, I also think they - we all - are suffering from "compassion fatigue". It can lead to the kind of cynicism that has become all about the "I" in win. All a good captain needs to do is to cultivate 'good team players". If s/he doesn't, then the fault lies with the 'team members' - not the captain.

The other thing I remembered about going into seminary in the '80s is that we were in a serious economic recession. The job market was probably no better, comparatively speaking, than it is today.

One of my memories of an ordination gift I received was an apron that read, "I just graduated from Divinity School. You want fries with that?"

Yeah, it wasn't so funny then, either. Today, that apron might read, "What size: tall, grande or vente?" That's if you're lucky enough to land a job at Starbucks and have the hope of getting a decent salary with some health care benefits.

I want to make a pitch for a return to Servant Leadership as a model for Christian communities. I think now, more than ever, we need to create a climate that promotes individual spiritual and religious excellence, creativity, and imagination that inspires other Servant Leaders.

Not so we can find the "I" in 'win'. Rather, so we can recover or re-discover the radical roots of Christ's ministry and be on His "team", of which He is "captain of my (and, all our) soul(s)."

I hope we will also rediscover the power of "I" in the South African Zulu greeting, "Sawu bona" "I see you." If you are a member of the tribe, you respond by saying, "Sikhona" which means, "I am here."

The order of the exchange is significant. It means that, until you see me, I do not exist. When you do see me, you bring me into existence. As Bishop Sims once wrote:
"In all of us there is something that does not want to be seen - either by others or by our own selves. Self-protection operates as a barrier in all human interaction. But the "I see you" of servant leadership activates the mystical power of love and begins the process of release, in both the leader and the led, from the fears that inhibit the exchange of truth and drain the energy of collaboration."
It's easy to see that this greeting flows naturally from 'Ubuntu' - "A person is a person because of other people."

I want to add my own 'spin' on that: A leader in the Body of Christ is a leader because s/he is a servant of the people.

Or, as in one of the mantras I remember from my earl days of training in Sol Alinsky's IAF (Industrial Area Foundation) community organizing, "A leader without a following is just a person out for a walk."

You know, it occurs to me that I'm in the midst of Fall Cleaning, having my ordination suit dry cleaned and - I hope - to wear it on Sunday, but I'm also dusting off and polishing up the theology that brought me to ordination and has sustained me lo these 23 years.

It may be 'old fashioned' and perhaps even out of style, but it suits me just fine.


+Nicholas said...

Thanks Elizabeth. This is the first I've heard of the Servant Leadership Institute. What a wonderful resource.

It seems to systematize things I've tried to do but hadn't been able to interconnect.

I've got some reading ahead of me.

J. Michael Povey said...

Hi Elizabeth

I am a bit confused about what you are trying to say.

If a Bishop is saying "I am a team player" as a way of covering his/her ass in

a) keeping the "Club" ( i.e. House of Bishops) happy or

b) as a way of running away from conflict in her/his Diocese

then I am with you.

"Loyalty" to the House of Bishops" might well be a cover for cowardice.

"Keeping the Diocese united and happy" might well be a way of avoiding hard decisions.

And yet ....

I will never forget my very first Senior Warden. I made a decision about something or other, and some in the congregation were unhappy. They tried to triangulate with the Senior Warden who answered them by saying "I disagree with what Michael is planning, but am a team player and Michael is the captain of the team, so I am with him"

As a newly minted Rector it seemed to me that the Senior Warden was saying the right thing to those who wished to divide the parish.

I was able to think that way, because the same Senior Warden was quite capable of kicking my ass when that was needed. But he always did that in private.

The root meaning of Episcopacy is "oversight". It is to be always looking out for the best interests of the whole, and the particular needs of the individual.

Good servants understand this ministry of oversight.

But I think that the best team captains are also engaged in wise oversight.



Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - I am talking about a person in authority (like a bishop), saying that s/he is looking for "team players". I don't look for "team players" when I recruit for my Vestry or Wardens. It's just my style, but I don't want to squelch disagreement. I'd rather talk it through and not have someone agree with a controversial decision I've made just because s/he wants to be a "team player". I'd rather postpone a controversial decision - even it were mine to make, even according to canon - than make one without a good process.

Again, it's just me and my style, but I do take to heart what my ordaining bishop once advised: "Better to have a community say 'bad decision' than 'bad process'."

Hope that's helpful, Michael. Thanks for stopping by.

Kathy said...

My experience has been that a "suggestion" that someone act more like a "team player" is usually a thinly-disguised directive that no questions or discussion, let alone dissent, will be tolerated. It's an especially powerful weapon in the corporate world. Once one gets an employee review that suggests that one needs to work on being a "team player," one is branded as a troublemaker, someone who speaks when their opinion is not sought, or even when sought, speaks without the proper deference and eagerness to please.

It also seems that various terms or concepts spread like viruses in church circles - some borrowed from corporate or other secular institutions, others peculiar to the latest trends in churchspeak. Perhaps I've grown too cynical, but it seems to me that just about any set of terms or ideas can and will be misused in the name of power. So, while something like Servant Leadership
may well represent a much better model for what church leaders should aspire to, I have my doubts as to how much good, if any, training in the concepts will do.

Our church (and many others as well) seems overrun with New Ideas, with consultants, workshops, books, videos, etc. to propagate them. Many are truly worthy ideas thought by and presented by worthy, inspired, and knowledgeable persons. Bishops, clergy, and laypersons -- often discouraged from facing the daily grind of dealing with declining church membership, involvement, and resources, both financial and people -- soak up each New Idea and go back home and sincerely try to implement. it. But when push comes to shove, people tend to interact in the same old ways, especially when they are privileged with institutional powers. Therefore, bishops and clergy and even some lay officials may fall back on whatever the concept of the moment is -- whether it be team playing, Servant Leadership, Mission strategy, outreach, evangelism, etc. -- wrap themselves in as the True Proponents, and try to characterize anyone who disagrees with how they want to implement it as being against the Idea.

Call me cynical or jaded, but what I would like to see is less emphasis on "training" and study and reflection on larger trends against organized religion in society - trends that I do not think we can do all that much to consciously change by grand design - and instead focus on just meeting and dealing with each other as charitably as we can. At the same time, it may help to look at ways to create better institutional checks and balances on power (like, for example, term limits for diocesan bishops). Finally, I wish there were fewer self-styled prophets and their followers, who spend most of their time consulting, meeting, flip-charting, and otherwise spinning wheels in hopes of quelling the anxiety that plagues those who know longer have secure, professional positions, Instead I'd like to see us go back to old-style pastoring and ministering to people, within and without church boundaries. Do we really need so many New Ideas and management styles or just better efforts at living out the Gospel?

June Butler said...

I hear the term "team player" and my natural default of a hermeneutic of suspicion kicks in. When spoken by a person in authority - the captain of the team, as it were - my hermeneutic goes into hyper-overdrive.

Me too, luv.

I want to make a pitch for a return to Servant Leadership as a model for Christian communities.

Why do we ever stray away from servant leadership as a model? That was Jesus' pitch.

That you're back in your old suits - Wow! Just wow!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kathy - I think I mostly agree with you but I'm a little confused by what you say about 'training'. I think I understand. We have been tossing about of late on the latest 'New Idea' but isn't Bible Study, even when non-directed, still a form of training. Instead of training, I think it ought to be called 'discipleship' - because that's what we need to be better at - discipleship.

Maybe we're saying the same thing in different ways. It all seems fear-based to me.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. I think I've hit an important nerve here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Mimi. Always glad to have you visit. Sorry I missed you last Friday in NJ. Keeping Prayer Vigil was where I was called.

And, really, it isn't such a great accomplishment. I haven't gotten THAT out of shape in the past 23 years. I'm just in much better shape now, is all. It's amazing how much damage a non- or barely functioning thyroid can do to your body. Now that my body chemistry is in better balance, I'm in much better shape. Oh, and lots of omega3, Vitamin D, C, and Calcium.

Gosh, I sound like a commercial for Wonder Bread!

Kathy said...


I didn't meant to suggest that all training (or meetings or workshops for that matter) are inappropriate or useless. I just think we have too many of them, and we spend far too much energy learning the latest lingo than really doing things better. That's probably true of most organizations. But with respect to Servant Leadership in particular, while I've heard good things about what the Institute does, part of me is skeptical, at least in terms of whether our bishops, for example, could really learn something from them. I suspect that Servants are, if not born, at least not made by group training or seminars. The kind of genuine humility, ability to listen to others without feeling automatically threatened by questions or disagreement, and concern for the real impact of one's thoughts and actions, all seem to be preconditions for implementing Servant Leadership.
I'm not sure one can teach such traits to someone who is totally lacking them in the first place or even to those who have lost sight of the ideals and goals they had earlier in ministry. Once fear and anxiety take over, people just want to exert control over whatever they can. Too often opting into the movement or trend of the moment for Church Growth (aka institutional survival) is a way of feeling like one has some control or influence. The Early Christians had much to fear, but I wonder if they lived with it better - just stood up and gave witness without any expectations that if they just read the right book, went to enough workshops, worked on enough committee reports, that they'd escape the lions or bring down the Roman Empire.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I agree with you Kathy in the same way I agree with Mark Twain who cautioned about trying to teach a pig to sing (you'll get frustrated and it will just annoy the pig), but I think workshops can call forth "traits" that have been hidden and trying to emerge into a "culture" of power.

Read Greenleaf's quote again. I think you'll find agreement there.

Thanks for your thoughts.

it's margaret said...

Glad you got the thyroid thang worked out. I loves me little pill!

Glad to see you posting this.... I think we have to go a little further and just ditch the 'leader' part and focus on servanthood.... but that's just me with my wild DNA and all...

(--and I have now lost 60 pounds! heeeheee! Not yet back in to my thrift-store suits, but almost there!)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Isn't it amazing when the thyroid thang kicks in and you suddenly remember what it feels like to feel normal? If you wanna laugh, go read "Dear Thyroid" - a blog where women post their letters to their thyroid. Too funny.

Sixty pounds!!!!! WOW! Good for you. How much more have you got to go? I'm not really sure how much I've lost in pounds. A dress size or so - depending on the style. Clothes just feel better on my body, which is also feeling so much better.

textjunkie said...

Well that would explain a lot about my career status. I'm known for being a fantastic team player, but now (as I'm leaving my current position for another one), people are piping up with how much they are going to miss my leadership. But I don't get promoted because the higher-ups don't recognize the leadership role I play. I didn't realize that "team player" was code for "someone who can be counted on to keep her mouth shut and play along". I always thought team player meant "someone who can be counted on to keep the team's goals as the top priority" and that includes arguing with the captain as needed, encouraging the other players as needed, taking or delegating responsibility as needed, mediating where needed, etc. Someone who makes the whole group or program function better. But I expect that the higher-ups see the phrase "team player" in all my evaluations and think "dimbulb." I'm going to have work on that!!

Thanks for the secret decoder ring. :)

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Hashimoto's seems to be more prevalent than it used to be. I can't decide if the disease itself is on the upswing, or if the general internists and ear/nose/throat docs now consider the diagnosis more often. What I do know is it sure shows up on my surgical path tray of slides more than it used to.

I am getting a good post-traumatic chuckle over the "servant leader" vs. "team player" discussion, having lived through "servant leader serving someone who expects a team player." Now THERE's a match made in Hell! The servant leader basically ends up taking too many bullets for the team, and any of the natural leadership that starts to come out gets thrown in a box and the box is duct taped shut!

J. Michael Povey said...

Super discussion!

I am with Kathy in that I got so wearied by Diocesan "how to" workshops, always led by out of Diocese "experts". They always left me feeling so inadequate.

My Bishops (in Dio. Mass) are "good people" and I respect them deeply, but it often seemed that their measures of "success" were "how many people attended this or that event".

Of course, as a parish Priest I also got elated by good attendances, so I should not be too hard on the Bishops.

What I longed for, and tried to accomplish in parish ministry as a servant is two-fold

First - trying always to have a diverse group of parishioners standing with me at the Altar for the Great Thanksgiving. They'd be dressed in street clothes, and often included children. I wanted to "act out" that "this parish,and this Table does not belong to ME" That visual enactment of shared/servant ministry was as much a reminder to me of who I am, as it was to the congregation in modeling who they are.

Second - Rather than yet another workshop, I long/ed for a deep engagement with the scriptures and the traditions. They can be life-giving when they are encountered with appropriate reverence, suspicion and humour.

I ramble on - so yet again, thanks for a "life giving" discussion.


PseudoPiskie said...

Perhaps many bishops and clergy also get corrupted by both lay and ordained who prefer to shirk the leadership duty and seek a father or mother who will make all the decisions?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Michael - even notice that "the experts" who do workshops or retreats on issues of 'congregational development' are either (1) laity who have no idea about what it means to be a vicar/rector or (2) clergy who either failed miserably at parochial ministry or who hate it so much they swear they'll never go back.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

GREAT point, Psuedo. I think you may be onto something.

Mary-Cauliflower said...

Wow, I am loving this discussion - and not just because Padre Miguel is involved. I find something to identify with in each of the posts. My main "formation" as a young adult was in the corporate world, and I was indoctrinated into the method of management by consensus. On the whole, it was a good way of managing people to do a creative task. But there were times when it could become unwieldy and then other times when people could pretend to be doing one thing while actually doing something completely different.

I love the ideas of facilitation, consensus-building, and teamwork. But I think it's important to remember that conflicts and inequalities cannot be "spiritualized" away. For example, one thing that became evident in the corporate world was that two unequal parties cannot be said to be negotiating. One obnoxious thing I often hear from a supposedly "nice" person in power is: "If we do what I suggest, it's a win-win situation. [Meaning I get something and so do you.]" Well, not really. A situation is only win-win if both parties freely (and perhaps without prompting?) admit they are winning something they actually desire.

So if I as a benevolent person-with-power propose that you pick up my dry cleaning and drop it off at my apartment, I know that I'm winning. And maybe I can decide that you win too because you get to visit me and I'll offer you tea when you deliver my clothes to me. But it's not a win-win unless you see (without my prompting) a benefit in going to my dry cleaner and then having tea with me.

I think some of the problem with the Spiritual-Trend-du-Jour (or du Mois, or de l'Anee) is that they emerge too frequently and change too often to have an effect on most of us. So it's easy to sit in a workshop or retreat and have a moment of metanoia, write some good journal entries, cry a bit -- and then gradually fall back into old habits.

June Butler said...

When I was on the vestry of my church, we had several workshops on using a modified business model for successful church organizing and growth. I don't remember the name of the program, but I did not like it at all. I dreaded the all-day Saturday meetings.

The Servant Leadership program sounds much more appealing.

JimB said...

"Team player" too often I think translates "not a trouble maker." I am fairly sure Jesus was not, from the perspective of Cahiaphs, a team player. Certainly Paul wasn't, and I doubt John the baptizer ever was on anyone's team.