Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fear and Leadership

In an organizational culture where respect and the dignity of individuals are held as the highest values, shame and blame don’t work as management styles. There is no leading by fear. --Brene Brown 
The above is just a portion of a brief, but excellent, blog post regarding the recent Penn State scandal. Her point is that any organization can create a culture that either fosters respect and accountability or fear and denial. Organizations that do the former are healthier, dynamic, and ultimately more successful organizations, though they are often not as outwardly peaceful as those that thrive on shame and blame. This is no less true of the church--churches where both staff and members actively engage in conversation with one another out of respect for "the dignity of every human being" (as our Baptismal Covenant says) may not look as peaceful or contented, but they are healthier, more dynamic places to be. Churches that enforce a kind of false peace based on shame and blame ultimately either slowly burn out or explode as individuals either take advantage of the system or our victimized by those who do.

There is a lot of fear around these days, both in the world and in the church. Both infrastructure and institutions built by previous generations seem to be disintegrating at an alarming rate. More and more people are feeling disenfranchised, cut off from any say in virtually any aspect of their lives. The Penn State scandal is but the latest in an unending parade of exposing the reality behind people and programs we thought we could trust. In a blog post by Thomas Day, he writes:
Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work. For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.

Day, at 31, was born in 1980, placing him on the cusp between Generation X and the Millennial generation. He lays the blame for this collapse on the leaders that the Baby Boomers have brought us--the logical extension of a generation that shunned institutions at the same time as they benefited from them. It is apparently our generation's sad duty to inform our children (millennials and those younger) that the American Dream is dead, the emperor has no clothes, and that the Great and Powerful Oz of the optimistic Boomer generation is no more than a lucky, grumpy old man.

Sadly, many people, both within and outside the church, leave things there--in despair, at Good Friday, if you will. But we repeat over and over again that we are "Easter people," not stuck in the tomb of death but partaking of resurrection life. That is not some sort of "put on a happy face" Christianity. No, it acknowledges the reality of death, but asserts that such is not the end of the story. The reality of resurrection means that we can take a hard, deep, penetrating look at the world around us, name clearly the things which are not right about it, and then partner with God in the redemption of our broken, disintegrating, world. The challenge, of course, is actually adopting and living into an attitude of "realistic optimism" that sees things for what they are, but also for what they should and can be. And we need leaders, both within and outside the church, who are willing to be foolish and risk-taking enough to move forward in hope rather than allowing us to linger in despair.

By the grace of God, may I be one of them!