Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Servant Leadership in an All-Volunteer Group

I had an interesting discussion this weekend with a temporary pastor of a congregation from a historically anti-hierarchical denomination.

One of the concepts we tackled was, "How do you lead a group that resists leadership from the formal leader?"

I offered, "Start with a vision." But don't provide a vision, build a vision:
  1. something that requires the group to make progress
  2. something that requires teamwork rather than individual effort
  3. something off the beaten path where leadership is needed 
I offered various forms of a-hierarchical leadership including the practice of Servant Leadership, I recommend Hermann Hesse' treatise on servant leadership, Journey to the East. These are good practices for all-volunteer organizations. Where people can contribute as much or as little as they wish, a servant leader helps maximize the contribution.

I had not offered anything to assist a leader in an anti-hierarchical organization. Now I offer: let's take On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs and turn it slantways. In this article, the author describes the role of violent people in non-violent communities. I offer a translation into the role of hierarchical people in non-hierarchical communities.

Leadership, by nature, is a hierarchical position. But where the wolf-leader stands at the top of the hierarchy, the sheepdog-leader stands aside. The wolf-leader sacrifices stragglers. the sheepdog-leader nurtures stragglers. The wolf leads the tribe to maximize the leaders's benefit. The sheepdog leads the tribe to maximize the tribe's benefit.

The risk to the sheepdog-leader is the tribe will mistake him for a wolf-leader. Avoid the trappings of leadership. Avoid the formalities of respect. Insert yourself into the visioning process, but don't insert yourself into the vision. Don't provide direction, but rather remove obstacles.

At first, the leader must lead by example and do the work no one else will. Allow for attention, recognition, and assistance in the work, but don't ask for it. Use the story of stone soup to nurture others into cooperation and eventually there will be other people for every task. At that point the servant-leader assumes the ideal form. Do nothing but serve where service is needed. When no service is needed, work ahead of the vision. Form a valley for the group to travel within. Move obstacles from the way of the vision to make that way easy and place obstacles to make other ways difficult.

Anti-hierarchical implies a preference for individuality. Individuality implies each to their own path. However, that is not what a leader is for.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Is Your Love Ascendant or Descendant?

What state are you in relationship with your fellows? Do you love a few, tolerate more, and coexist with the rest, or do you coexist with some, tolerate more, and love the rest? In the first case you are in a descendant state. In the second an ascendant state.



I am a fan of the coexist bumper stickers, but recently thought, "would it not be better to tolerate your neighbor then to simply coexist?" and "would it not be better still to love your neighbor?" This lead to my conclusion that loving more should be a natural goal.

Coexistence is the least common state within a society. I wish we would do better than that. This tool is a way to simply count your relationships according to these buckets to discover if you are in a descendant or ascendant state. To transform from a descendant state, look for ways to adjust your attitude towards some you simply coexist with and discover tolerance, and find ways to accept a loving relationship towards those you tolerate.

If you have relationship states transcendent from love, more power to you. If you have relationship states below coexistence, then shame.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Experimental Thought: Definition of Waste

Waste is that which life creates that is not recycled by life.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thinking and Doing

Everyone thinks, everyone does.
Some think then do.
Some do then think.
Some think about what they are doing.
Some do things well thought out.
Some think and do nothing.
Some do and so others think.
Some share their thoughts and so others do.
Some think about what to think about.
Some think about what to stop doing.
Some think about what they should have done.
Some think about what others have done.
Doing requires thought.
Thinking does not require doing.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Journey to the West

or Live Free or Die

An intersection of high technology, the pioneer spirit, the book Journey to the East, and leadership.

Is your company destined to die? This will be the case if you can’t free yourself from the legacy of your products.The moment new features are released into the market place they start to loose value. For every feature added to a platform, the cost of maintenance increases.

It is inevitable that the cost of sustaining the product’s value will eventually rob all resources from the company’s ability to improve the product’s value.

Imagine a wagon train heading west. As the train gathers it travels from town to town picking up more wagons. The train slows down as it can only travel as fast as the slowest wagon. As the train gets larger, options for paths are eliminated. The train needs to make sure the road and bridges traveled are strong enough. Each wagon joining the train will bring a spare wheel for itself. Once their are enough wagons, it make economic sense to trade the spare wheels for the services of a blacksmith who could build or rebuild wheels as necessary. Would anyone trust the blacksmith enough to sacrifice their own spare? Will the leaders notice someone building a railroad to their destination? The train will pass through suitable valleys where some members could settle. If this is not the intended destination, would the leadership allow the train to be split apart?

The responsibility of leadership is to ensure the company is adapting for the future and not getting mired in the past.

The original capabilities become the legacy of the company. Can your company break out to a new legacy?

One easy way to achieve this is to listen. Listen to your customers, markets, board, and employees. Through these sources, you can identify opportunities for significant growth. Don’t just pick good sounding ideas, however. Look for new opportunities that offer a path for your legacy. These opportunities should be new and exciting. They should be significant e.g. from a 20% - 200% growth opportunity. They should be horizontally or vertically integrated with your old legacy, i.e. a bridge rather then a leap. The means to finding these is to take a consultative approach with clients and vendors. With great delivery and a consultative approach creating satisfied customers, you will naturally be asked for more. This means more opportunities for you to pick from. With the old legacy and new energy, you will have a new legacy.

This still allows for white space filling. Filling white space is a valuable endeavor but should not be the plan for significant growth. Filling white space allows a company to present themselves as a complete package to the market place and not just a collection of tools. Whenever the company makes a significant move into a new market space, it automatically creates white space. This should be planned for and accommodated, i.e. managed, but not become the focus of the next step. Taking the the next step and making sure it is significant is the responsibility of leadership.

There will also be the opportunity for significant divestiture. Once a company enters a market, they can trust that there will soon be significant competition. Some of these competitors will figure out how to commoditize the product and hence start a demand for a low cost alternative. This is an obvious signal that the company needs to free themselves or die, but this signal comes too late. If leadership has done their work; however, this step is anticipated and there is a smooth transition from relying on the original, home grown product to establishing themselves as a customer of the old market.

Imagine your company always on a journey to the west. It would gather pioneers along the way. It would have pathfinders looking for the optimal routes. Occasionally and with happy fellowship, portions would break off and establish communities that would serve as supply and industrial centers, not only for your own company but others as well. Every now and then new technology would replace the old. As long as the leaders can sustain the journey, the company will have a history of legacies. Otherwise, their legacy will become the epitaph on the last tombstone on a trail that ends.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Do you have a vision?
Do you realize that the moment your vision is achieved, it becomes your legacy?
Do you have a vision of what your legacy will be?
Some rest on their laurels, others envision a new legacy.
Will you have a vision of what your next legacy will be?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Politics is

My definition of politics: The struggle between some for dominance of influence over others.

All organizations have a hierarchical aspect. Since not all are members of successively higher levels, and since more then one desires membership in the higher levels, there is naturally a struggle for membership. Since membership in a higher level implies influence over the lowers, by definition there is politics in every organization.