Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Leadership of Collaboration

Yesterday it was a second page story and today it's on page 5 of the morning paper. And it didn't lead the evening news last night either. Why? Why is the fact that leaders of 47 nations gathering for two days in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of President Obama not headline news? And, for that matter why was the top headline, "Armstrong attacks Obama Space plans?" (I'm looking at "USA Today" the paper available in my motel in Denver)

A nuclear weapon killing hundreds of thousands would have caught our fickel attention. The question is more than the phenomenon of "If it bleeds it leads." The long, hard work of collaboration is not seen as strong leadership.

During the second afternoon of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit, I was sitting around a table with a church staff quietly planning collaboratively, and giving attention to the careful, courageous leadership necessary to work collaboratively.
A conflict ripping the congregation apart would have caught our attention.

Why is it that leading in a collaboratively style is seen as weak? Collaboration is desperately needed, both in congregations and in the global community. And it is possible and can be learned.

Page 9 of the morning paper reported a story describing how lawmakeres rarely work together today. "They merely find convenient allies, i.e. lobbyists--in order to get anything done."

In a competitive society, "attack" is strong. Listening is weak. In a dangerous world, or when things become dangerous within the church, secret meetings, taking sides, tear down reigns. What is needed is careful, open collaboration.

What is the leadership of collaboration? Do we recognize and respect it when we see it? No, it is not "anything goes." That's abdication. Nor is it taking control and keeping control at any cost. That's authoritarianism.

It's setting and maintaining a trustworthy environment. It's having each one speak themselves present. It's encouraging and uplifting the contributions of all at each stage of planning, gently modeling how to bring out a hesitant person's or a small nation's ideas while helping a more dominant one to relinquish the floor. Collaboration is hard work. It will take months or years. In this instant gratification world we want fast decisions and quick results. Co-labor is hard and needs to be sustained by ongoing mutual accountability.

That's what I saw going on around the table yesterday at Abiding Hope Lutheran Church in Littleton,Colorado. That's what I saw going on at the Nuclear Security Summit.


Christopher deForest said...

Good words, Norma. For any readers who want more of this in much more depth, I can highly recommend Dr. Everist's book, "Church Conflict: From Contention to Collaboration." It can be helpful reading, for church leaders and for groups working in the midst of conflict or needing more collaboration. I found it valuable to help me understand (and appreciate) the many ways that conflict works (and doesn't work) between individuals and groups - including the ways it can be useful and constructively engaged.

Mackenzie, Kevin and Eliana said...

I second Chris's recommendation.

I just finished a week of working with students on mode of address in relationships. It's been great to see the light bulbs turning on. Collaboration isn't just talking back and forth. It takes a vulnerability to reveal where you are actually located in the world and to humbly admit when you have misplaced the people you are working with. So much of the destruction that can be wrought in conflict or pseudo-collaboration is in a persistent re-assignment of another identity to the people around you.