Where are you heading?

red bricks wall
It’s a week for appreciating leadership and for scrutinising leadership. Roy Hodgson’s leadership will be under scrutiny as England’s campaign in Euro ’12 begins, and nation and Commonwealth have been jubilating in appreciation of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that they know what is good for those who are their followers. Parents trying to get children to do homework often meet their own French resistance. Congregational leaders trying to introduce change “because it’s good for them” often feel like they are banging their head against a brick wall. The response to resistance is to try even harder and be rewarded with even greater frustration. For Edwin Friedman, in Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, “In such situations, the motivators function as though their followers did not know what was good for them, and, furthermore, would never change were it not for their efforts.”

Traditional models of leadership focus on individualism on a continuum of charisma/concensus. None of these models can effectively combat resistace and inertia, according to Friedman. He suggests that a family systems approach which focuses on the organic nature of the leadership/follower relationship as constituent parts of the same organism is far more effective. “The family approach to leadership, precisely because it is systemic, offers a more effective, less enervating, way of dealing with such resistance to change because it considers the paradoxes of resistance not as something blocking efective leadership, but, as part and parcel of the leadership process itself.” (p.225)

Friedman emphasises the importance of position. “If a leader will take prime responsibility for his or her own position as “head” and work to define his or her own goals and self, while staying in touch with the rest of the organism, there is a ore than reasonable chance that the body will follow.” (p.229) “It is in the capacity of the leader to maintain a position and still stay in touch that the organism’s potential growth resides.”

What Friedman is here saying about “self-differentiation” is a reminder of Dee Hock’s advice that we should invest our time in self care and managing “up” rather than “down”.  Hock suggests that we should spend 50% of our time managing ourselves and 25% on managing those who have authority over us. Instead of concentrating on the functioning of others, the “self-differentiating” leader’s focus is their own functioning.

For Friedman, the effects of dependency are reversed when the leader is concentrating on where we are “headed”. “It is the leader who now becomes the resistant one as he or she, instead of having to work to change others, now works to resist their (the followers) efforts to change him or her back.”

Photo by Ezioman.