Thursday, September 16, 2010
"The kings of the world lord their authority over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves "benefactors." But you are not to be like that." -Jesus
"None of us is as good as all of us." -Ray Kroc
The longer that I live life and the more time that I spend working and learning in a business world with many other people from incredibly diverse backgrounds, the less that I believe that the head of a team should be a superior as much as they are a servant.
Let me tell you a little bit about my work history. Until a few months ago, I worked as a lower level manager for a company that stressed leadership as just another part of a team. This meant that the leader was just as important as the team as a whole, and it was the team as a whole, not the leader, that ultimately made most of the decisions that affected them. Obviously the management had to hand down decisions that were not popular, but this was communicated to the team with an explanation as to why the changes were being made. Our policy was completely open door with the management. One night, my boss told me that I would be mopping the floors with the evening crew after the work was done for the day. I asked him why, and he said that it was to help gain respect from the team (later he did the same thing, stayed late and mopped the floors while I went home). And what I found was that he was right - the team looked up to the management as a result of us doing that, which wasn't the only example of us doing the "grunt" work. We showed that we were willing to do everything that we were telling the team to do, and the team loved us for it and were willing to put in more work as a result.
Let's look at the leadership models from a broader perspective. For centuries, now, we have understood leadership from the perspective of the chain of command. Someone at the top makes a decision and it travels through all of the appropriate channels until the people that are at the bottom of the chain receive the message and are mobilized to carry out the order. This is flawed because only under this model is it possible for a leader to be entirely absent, making no decisions at all. It's also the best way for mis-communication to occur: I think that we've all played that game as kids where we whisper a secret into one person's ear in a circle, then it gets passed down along the line until it's a jumbled mess by the time the person at the end of the line gets it. The other danger to this model is the opposite - that management will be so overbearing on everyone else that it's no longer a functioning team. It's just an autocracy with a puppeteer or a group of puppeteers and lots of puppets to go with them. By definition, this is not a free-functioning society, and I think that it's appropriate to question whether it's a functioning leadership model, period.
I propose a new look at leadership, which has been known under a few different names. I prefer to call it "team leadership as properly understood," though most people prefer something shorter and refer to it as "round table leadership" or a "circle of relationships" where all opinions are valued. This can be implemented in a variety of ways and guarantees that leadership simply cannot be absent from the team. All major decisions (beyond the painfully obvious in a state of emergency) should be brought to the team for evaluation. The workers that are on the ground floor in a company, the followers doing the work on the streets in an organization - the management isn't going to know better than the workers how they can do their jobs better and what will make it easier for them to carry out their tasks. The workers, when asked, will often have ideas as to how they can do their jobs better, faster, and with a smile on their faces. Of course it is up to management to weigh the merits of these ideas - but the team has to be involved.
From the perspective of the leader, a leader, president, ruler, or manager of an organization containing the servant (or team) leadership model views themselves as merely servants of the team. They are there in order to make sure that the team is performing to the best of their ability and encourage them to do so in a positive manner. No-one responds well to threats or coercion. Everyone responds well to a sense of enthusiasm, deference, and being treated like an equal on a team when it comes from leadership ahead. And they are not above - they are ahead. They are leading the group as the leader is the best person to do so, but they are not doing it while they are on top of the rest of the team. You can't lead someone if you're sitting on their shoulders - that's ridiculous. You can lead someone if you are ahead of them, dealing with challenges first, while the followers can clearly see what you are doing.
Obviously, communication is a must for this type of model to work. I've been reading some material by an author named Stephen Covey, and one book titled [I]Speed of Trust[/I] interests me in particular. Essentially, Covey makes the argument that when someone extends trust, then trust will be extended to that person by the other party. If an employer extends trust to a worker to manage and handle affairs regarding customer service on their own without someone looking over their shoulder and motivate employees to do so, then employees will trust the management to take care of them well and deal with them honestly and justly. Extending trust to employees is a paradigm that simply assumes good faith in all of their employees - because the vast majority of a company's employees, when treated well and with respect, are not going to "screw over" the company and bite the hand that feeds them. Clearly, you need a good candidate assessment process in order to make sure that you have people that will do the right thing, but once you have those people, then all you have to do is motivate them to do what they do best.
There are companies that have put this very model into action - for example, Ritz Carlton (a chain of very high-class hotels) trusts their employees to handle customer complaints and discrepancies up to $2,000 in value without consulting higher management. The amount of flexibility and freedom that employees have is simply staggering - but this is a business practice put into place by one of the most successful companies in the world.
Servant leadership requires a very open-ended system where there is total communication about even the practices of management. Followers of a leader have to be allowed to see how their work contributes to the greater good of the group as a whole, or their work seems pointless and high turnover rates or low morale are inevitable outcomes. If people are not allowed to know the higher achievement of the organization as a result of their labor and how it benefits them, then at best they will be disinterested in the success of the organization and will also feel that they are not valued. Such practices tend to dehumanize the work roles of the organization and simply replace individuals as cogs in a machine.
This does not mean "run the organization like a democracy." Obviously a leader has to make tough decisions. People that are popular in the workplace might have to be let go or sent to work in a different area in order to further the organization as a whole - as long as this is done in such a manner that everyone on the team is developed, this is still servant leadership. Discipline is enforced in the workplace (different organizations need different levels of discipline) and this is a part of serving your team as you are developing people into better team players and by teaching them the lessons of the business and possibly even life. But let me make it clear that this is not really a dictatorship, either - while there is a person (or, preferably, a group of people) that ultimately calls the shots, decisions are made with the team involved - which is not a dictatorship.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
This time of year is always a time of year when I feel a bit lonely. See, my dad died two days after St. Paddy's Day several years ago. I was just 12 years old. I can still remember his long, dark beard, his gold-rimmed glasses, and his booming laugh that could be heard from outside. I never knew my mother, and he never really liked to talk about her. When I try to imagine my mother, I think of a short, smiling woman in an apron. On cold, lonely nights, my father and I would sit and have a pitcher of beer over a roaring fire while the wind would howl outside, and he’d tell me stories about lands far away and times long ago, when the pace of life was a lot slower, the ladies even more fair, and the clothing of the common folk was a lot more simple than the crazy rags I see people sporting these days.
I also remember a white cat that lived in our house with us. We found him in the garage when he was probably about two weeks old; his mother was a stray that died a few months after we brought them both in. I called him Fuzzy, because his fur was very thick and he was very warm. I’d often use him as a pillow whenever I got tired of making cake mix in the evening, and he would just lay underneath my head and purr. Whenever I’d get up and look around in the fridge, he would sit in front of me and survey all of the wonderful things that we had.
Anyway, I digress.
We made cakes. Not just any cakes, mind you – but all sorts of cakes. We made them in our house, which was white with pink trim; best of all it reminded me of a pretty unicorn. People would often call it “the Cake Man’s House.” My father and I would start baking the cakes long before it was time for me to get up for school, and we’d stay up until midnight getting the ingredients ready for the next day’s cakes. My earliest memories are of sugar, cinnamon, chocolate, and so many other things that to this day I cannot name. We made angel food cakes, birthday cakes, strawberry shortcakes, cheesecakes, and a few of our very own custom cakes that Dad and I came up with. I remember one cake that I invented myself; unfortunately the details escape me now but I believe that it involved skittles and rum. When I was very young, I would sometimes make mistakes on the cakes, and they would go into a special bin that we put out front for homeless people to eat. To this day, I can still remember the large orange and blue sign that we put above the bins – “Fail cakes – 50 cents each.” We also made cookies on the side, but the main source of income for us was the cakes, which brought people from all over the land to our house.
Each year, we’d make a list of all of the people in our little town that we knew were less fortunate than we were. Not everyone can make cakes for a living, and work was sometimes hard to find in our small corner of the world. Every Christmas Eve, my father and I would go around to each house that belonged to someone that had a hard time that year, and we would give them a nice cake that they could have for desert after they finished their main course. We would get thank-you cards from grateful people, which decorated the mantle above our fireplace where we would sip eggnog after a long day of driving around.
Those were the best years of my life that I can remember. It was just my father and me living and working together in order to provide for ourselves. We were never rich; we had a comfortable life in our little town. We always did what we could for other people whenever they came by. I loved my father very much for what he did to raise me, and I saw myself someday taking over the family cake shop when he was too old to manage it by himself.
Until one day my father was killed by a cake.
All that I can remember of that day is that we had an order for a massive fruitcake, and while we were trying to take it out of our oven, it somehow got a mind of it’s own and immediately flattened him. The police arrived, and the cake was put on the stand in an official trial, which was officiated by a rather charming elderly lady that I would later find out was my mother, even though I never saw her again after that. As she limped away from the murderer and moved toward the table that I was sitting at, I heard her say, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to move in with your auntie and uncle.” I knew that I could have run the shop by myself even though I was 12 at the time, and made a living – but the government said that they couldn’t allow me to do that in their good conscience.
Fortunately, the years passed for me quickly when I was living with my aunt and uncle. One day, I was adventuring in their basement, looking to find, perhaps, a bag of Skittles that someone had neglected, when I happened to find a box that appeared quite rare. It was old and musty, but it seemed that it was made of pure gold. I opened it up and found in there a will that said that in the event of my father’s death, my inheritance should be quite fair. According to the papers, my family owned a rather large second shop elsewhere that was practically the size of a castle. And so to avoid being a hassle to my aunt and uncle, I immediately stepped outside and whistled for a cab. As it drew near, I saw that it had dice in the mirror and the cabbie offered me a beer. So after giving him directions to the right place, I took a nap on the right side of my face. He woke me up when we arrived there, and so I grabbed my stuff, jumped out of the car, called my auntie and uncle and said “Yo homles, smell you later” as I walked up the steps to my father’s lair, ready to assume my title as the Prince of Bel-Air.
Last night, I had a pleasant conversation with a Wesleyan pastor in my employer's parking lot. I hadn't seen her in a long time, and eventually we started talking about my theological preferences. Apparently she's heard of my serious questioning of the Wesleyan Church all the way up there - which is interesting, because she "heard it through the grapevine" and I've always been quite vocal about my preference that all questions, comments, and concerns about my theology to kindly be directed to my face instead of whispers in the pews behind my back. I guess that's my hometown for you.
We started talking, and I'm not sure that I articulated my disagreements with Wesleyan theology all that well - I mostly used the argument that the Wesleyan Church has strayed too far from John Wesley for my liking. So I have decided that it would be best for my spiritual health (and for future discussion with the curious) to put my mind at ease here and describe every single question that I have directed at Wesleyan theologians that has been unsatisfactorily answered or has gone completely unanswered. I'll even put them in a John Wesley thesis style of writing so the logical flow of my conversation is easy to follow.
Let me first start out by saying that I have studied a fair amount of theology from John Wesley as well as his background and ministry. I have every bit of respect for the tradition (Methodism) that he created. As you read this, keep in mind that these are issues that I am in disagreement with the Wesleyan Church over, and in full agreement with John Wesley in. Furthermore, some of the material here may have you demanding a source - feel free to do so, as I have found sources on the Internet for all statements and questions.
This is not intended to be an essay of contention or heated debate. I will simply state the points and record them for posterity and something for me to refer back to when I want to reflect on where I've been and where I am headed theologically. I fully acknowledge: that I am not perfect; I am not entirely sanctified; what I write here might hurt some feelings. I sincerely hope as well that I do not give anyone any doubts about their faith in the Holiness Tradition; however, if any of my comments give you questions about the solidity of the Wesleyan doctrine, I would strongly encourage you to explore those in greater depth: Believe me when I say that I most certainly have.
I write this in completely good faith with the hope that I will always strive to, and continue to, learn more about theology and where it is best for me to stand when it comes to various theological issues.For the curious, I will say that I am theologically very close to John Wesley but I am also sympathetic to some of Martin Luther's ideas regarding grace and salvation. I am also very Armenian in my viewpoint regarding predestination, to the point where I believe that there is a select group of people destined for salvation (the Church universal) and there is another group that is not (the "goats," if you will) but God does not select any particular individual to be a part of either group.
After several years of reflection, I am certain that I hold the strongly held belief that the theological doctrines and practice of John Wesley are no longer really followed by the Wesleyan Church as a denomination. While some outlier churches might still strictly follow the path of the founder, this is not true of the culture as a whole. Because I believe that this is ultimately detrimental to the Wesleyan church, this is why I have been reluctant to participate in the denomination for the past 3 years. To support this statement, I make the following questions, comments, and suggestions:
1). If the doctrine of Christian perfection (Entire Sanctification) was so central to the teachings of John Wesley and one of the major reasons why Methodism became its own denomination, then why isn't this doctrine taught powerfully or even at all in Wesleyan churches and meetings, to the point where many Wesleyan pastors do not really believe in it and members of its congregation have not heard of it?
2). Since John Wesley held that Communion should be performed as often as possible and held it as a sacrament that brings people closer to Jesus Christ, then why is it only required once every 3 months in the Wesleyan Church and is rarely performed more than that in practice? Furthermore, if it is a sacrament that is special and the grace of Christ is delivered to people through it, and Wesley held it as an absolute and indubitable responsibility that the pastor must offer sacraments, then why is it no longer sacred enough to the Wesleyan church that it must be presided over by a pastor?
3). If, indeed, Communion was a great sacrament to John Wesley, and Wesley himself did not prohibit nor discourage the responsible consumption of beer and wine to the laity, then why is it that common grape juice is used as a representation of Christ's blood during a Wesleyan communion service, and why is it that the "use, sale, and consumption of" alcohol is strictly prohibited to the members of the Wesleyan church, to the point where board members feel the need to sneak 12 packs out of gas stations?
4). If Wesley himself wrote that the Anglican church was "nearer to the Scriptures" than any other church, then why is the Wesleyan denomination, which is so different from Wesley, named after him?
5). If Wesley held Church Tradition to be a significant part of where Church doctrine comes from (second only to the Bible), then why has the Wesleyan church largely abandoned the writings of the Church Fathers and prominent theologians throughout antiquity for the sake of more modern writers?
6). Why is the doctrine of prevenient grace never taught nor mentioned in the Wesleyan church, and instead congregations are often taught that all people are spiritually dead until they are Christians?
7). Why are the acts of mercy and acts of piety strongly encouraged to the laity; furthermore, why are their benefits and rewards not mentioned in classes considering that these ideas were central to the ministry of John Wesley?
8). Since Wesley required public confession of faults in small community groups, why doesn't the Wesleyan church ever encourage or advertise some form of confession, either
9). Keeping in mind that a sacrament is defined as an external act that brings forward a grace that Christ imposes upon us via the sacrament, why is it that ordination and confession are not considered sacraments as they undeniably bring the people closer to Jesus Christ? Ordination absolutely brings the person receiving it closer to Christ, as it is Christ that brings forward the grace necessary for that person to serve as a minister and the Church merely confirms this call. Confession brings us closer to Christ, as it is in confessing our faults and errors that we grow in humility and Christian responsibility, and we receive Christ's grace in the destruction of the sin that we acknowledge and truly repent from.
10). As John Wesley believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary as well has her central role in the origin of Christianity, why has this person been almost entirely forgotten by the Wesleyan church except for a fleeting moment or two once per year?
11). Since Wesley believed that our focus should not be on "is a certain action sin," but instead it should be on "does this action bring me closer to God," then why has the Wesleyan church focused more on the former question than the latter question? Wesley fought against the secularization of the Church; unfortunately, it is questions that ask whether or not a certain action is sin that leads to thinking as "the world" does.
12). Since Wesley believed that there was only one class of people, that is, that we are all sinners seeking peace in our lives, then why has the Wesleyan church chosen to separate "covenant members" from "community members" in a tiered organization with differences in importance?
13). Since Wesley strongly advocated infant baptism as “the initiatory sacrament which enters us into covenant with God," then why aren't infants regularly baptized in the Wesleyan church and why has baptism sometimes been denied with the consent of pastors even to infants close to death?
14). Since you had to be a member to take part in the sacraments of the church, why is it that a common response to any of these objections is that if you disagree with any part of the commitments in the Wesleyan church, then simply don't be a member?
Basically, is it important to be a member of the Wesleyan church or not? Unless you were a member in Wesley's church, you couldn't really be a functioning member of the church society. What happened since then, that being a member of the Wesleyan church is reduced to a label rather than something beyond intrinsic value?