From Gladiator to Irritator

The End of the Gladiator From Gladiator to Irritator
| volume 7 | issue 2

The hero model of leadership has fallen on hard times. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Gladiator, and for lessons on leadership, there may be some good clips to extract. But Gladiator grunts and brawn won’t work very well in my church setting; I just don’t think people will get it. I think they might conclude I have some ego issues; and to be honest, I’m not sure about the costume. I do admit, however, showing up to a board meeting with some of those weapons may at times be helpful…hmmm.

In their volume Organizing Genius (Perseus Books), Bennis and Biederman announce the demise of The Great Man (Woman) model of leadership. They adeptly concluded in their book, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Not particularly revolutionary as insights go, but this finding seems more widespread and widely owned than ever. An era of leadership seems to be closing.
The point leader as CEO has been found bankrupt, and not just in small contexts. The leader as CEO is even worn out and tired in the billion dollar, multinational marketplace. Command and control are out, connect and collaborate are in. Talk of teaming, facilitating, fostering, and generating abound in the high-end business sections of the bookstores and in the finest business schools in the land. This is a good shift for me as well. I’ve always hated the command-and-control business suits and secretly wondered what ding-a-ling suggested tying a 2.5-inch-wide piece of silk around your neck to create an air of sophistication, especially when coupled with a starched, stiff-as-a-board white oxford. My best guess is this was an early fashion conspiracy by a couple of irate spouses who figured they could use that Italian silk as a noose if push came to shove.
The fact is, times are changing and “times” are the things that mold leaders. A closing of an era implies the transition to a new one. What implications does this have for the leadership enterprise and our leadership lexicon?
The world acknowledges there’s a shift underway, and we’d be well-served to observe the changes as well. And these aren’t just any changes; these are changes at the level of mental models.

mental models
Mental models are the deeply held beliefs we have about how the world works and the way it should be. Mental models are similar to assumptions but can be much more complex and detailed. When the world changes and our mental models don’t, we’re headed for obsolescence.
Children want to be treated in age-appropriate ways. Our mindsets—our mental models— have to adapt as our children grow, or their growth becomes stunted and their development truncated.
I contend that our leadership needs a full overhaul in the mental model department. One of the universal changes that has occurred in leadership is the movement from “either/or” to one that is “both/and.”
Mental models—due to their invisibility—are often hard to uncover and identify. Most of the time they’re tacit, not explicit. I can think of at least four mental models I see a need to shift as we lead our communities into this new world.

Rev. thought: As you read about the four mental models and shifts, pull out some paper, grab your favorite pen, and create your own checklist regarding what changes need to occur in your leadership style.

1. Leadership is about finding the answers we need. Few of us would disagree that this is the way many people view us—a spiritual and biblical treasure-trove for any and every question imagined. This is what drives most phone calls to your office and why most people want to meet with you. You’re the answer person.
Obviously, this is a vestige of our modern world where knowledge is considered weapon #1, and the one with the most knowledge wins. I’m not saying knowledge is unimportant or even peripheral. But I think I have too easily adopted the role that leadership is essentially about helping people find their answers, and as the point leader, I’m to find our organizational answers.
Shift: Leadership is more about the right questions being asked in the right context at the right time. Jesus’ life and ministry were full of answering questions with questions. In the Gospel of Mark there are more than 60 episodes where there’s any conversation at all with Jesus. In those episodes, Jesus asks no fewer than 50 questions. If we’re to take any cue from Jesus at all, we need to become premier provocateurs and allow the organic byproducts of team ownership and community consensus to naturally flow.
Our leadership post is more agitant and irritant than encyclopedic. We might say we must shift our leadership from “gladiator” to “irritator and agitator.” The right questions in the right place at the right time are irritating and they systemically agitate. I have some people in my life who ask well-placed questions. Why do you feel that way, Ron? What is the root of that, Ron? What do you think that should tell you about how you communicate, Ron? I don’t mind telling you, this is irritating as all get-out! But I’ve become convinced this may be leadership at its absolute finest.

Rev. thought: Do you find yourself always ready to give an answer? When do you do it most—in your preaching, teaching, counseling, or elsewhere? Take Jesus’ example to heart. Intentionally begin asking questions in response to questions posed to you. Also, do you have someone you can trust to ask you the hard questions? If not, look around and ask God to prompt you and direct you toward that person(s) who can challenge you. Write down their name and when you plan on contacting them.
2. Leadership is about skill set acquisition. Most of us are obsessed with skill learning, as we probably should be, but allow me to point out that the New Testament isn’t real big on skill set development as much as who we’re becoming.
When you think about Jesus’ training window, it was remarkably brief. Think about the average pew-sitter in the church and the number of sermons, talks, Bible studies, and small groups they have endured, yea, even survived. And yet many of them will tell you they’re unable to lead anything because they don’t yet have the skills; they feel unequipped.
Compare this to Jesus’ training-time horizon. How long were the disciples in training before Jesus sent them out on their first weekend of speaking in various villages? Of course, we don’t have a clear answer. But this we do know: Jesus was only with the disciples from start to finish for three years. It’s more than possible the disciples only had a number of months of training before they were asked to speak to entire villages.
Jesus was more concerned about their character than their skill. Being precedes doing; it isn’t the other way around.
Shift: Leadership is more about fully being, inhabiting my destiny, and having an inner morphic dynamic with God. Skill set acquisition is only helpful when you’re in relationship with God. It’s relatively clear from the research of guys such as Robert Clinton in his book, Strategic Concepts That Clarify a Focused Life: A Self-Study Manual Defining and Applying Focused Life Concepts to Leaders Today (Barnabas Publishers), that the more we understand about our gifts, passions, and relationship with God, the more we see our leadership emerge with spiritual authority.
Who I am creates a certain kind of feel and ethos in which people either thrive or attempt to survive. The ethos created is more important to transforming a life than learning a particular skill. Skill without the ethos will lead to mechanical execution. Ethos, providing a greenhouse for growth, will lead to organic connection with a byproduct of new skills adopted.
When I work to keep my life sharp before God, my creativity soaring, my sensitivity delicate, the ethos that results will engender the same thing in my team. Skill set acquisition happens in those greenhouses much more through osmosis and coaching on the fly than through a class taken or a training session attended.

Rev. thought: Do you find yourself spending more time learning and reading about particular skill sets that will help your church or ministry grow? When’s the last time you intentionally spent a large part of your schedule or created consistent space within your calendar to cultivate your personal relationship with God? Remember, leadership leaks. And your personal relationship with God—or lack thereof—will be reflected in the leaders you’re spending time with in ministry. You might even want to ask them what kind of leadership you’re leaking. The answers may surprise you.

3. Leadership is about arriving at some out-there goal, taking a summit, or storming a hill. For so long we’ve heard that leadership is about visioning, motivating, and inspiring people toward an end that enables them to enter into something bigger than themselves. Of course, that’s part of leadership. But Jesus seemed to attend more to the feel of his community than to the strategic plans or objectives for that community. It’s hard to escape the Sermon on the Mount being more about creating certain community feel through character development than some big out-there goal Jesus was trying to propel them toward.
Shift: Leadership is more about crafting the present ethos, which is the organic soil of the emerging ministry tomorrow. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is hanging out with his disciples. The shape and flavor of that hanging out is fairly detailed; there were seaside fish fries, village-to-village hikes, ministry debriefing and results discussions, coaching through disappointments, and preparation for emerging realities.
Does this mean the “where are we headed” question is irrelevant? Hardly. Where we’re headed, however, is a secondary question. Without the ethos and environment by which a team can experience deep life and community together, the experience of summit scaling is rather dissatisfying.
My team loves grandiose dreaming. And we do our fair share. But Jesus made clear the whole enchilada can be stated in two simple phrases—love God and love each other. Our job is to make sure that kind of life is flowing in and around our teams. When it flows, momentum kicks in, and momentum rightly directed creates velocity toward the summit.

Rev. thought: Unfortunately, part of the “taking the hill” in our ministries is duplicating what someone else has done in their ministry. The “model” is often more important than identifying and cultivating who we are within our cultural and community setting. How can you love God and love others within your current culture, and how are you translating that to your leaders, congregation, and community? Write it down.

4. Leadership is about serial sequencing. Serial sequencing is about making sure everyone is thoroughly trained before they’re cut loose to invest in others. There’s a proper serial sequence that must be followed to make sure people are really “qualified” before they do anything. This is a deeply embedded mental model.
We put people through a whole bunch of training and then—and only then—do we deem them prepared to invest in someone else’s life.
A probing question, though, is how much training did the disciples have before they were sent out into the villages to preach their first messages?
Shift: Leadership is about parallel simultaneity. The Jesus model of training was “on the job.” The total time Jesus had with the disciples was three years. Quite obviously, they were sent to begin their public preaching ministry much earlier than the three-year mark. Jesus clearly thought the best model of training was the nexus of mountainside retreat, where there were talking-head segments (hence the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) with praxis elements where they debriefed their observations of Jesus’ ministry and their own. They were training and being trained simultaneously.
Isn’t this the way life really is? We’re constantly learning and, hopefully, constantly pouring our lives into someone else. There’s no set of competencies that enable us to say we’ve now arrived and are ready to train someone else. Of course, there are some baseline minimums, but I secretly think our minimums are far more elaborate, complex, and detailed than the minimums Jesus held to.

Rev. thought: Okay, we know this is messy, but isn’t most of life messy? Find the balance for your ministry in regard to how much pre-service training is necessary and for what areas of service. The sooner people begin serving, the sooner they experience God’s presence and guidance in their lives. It’s a journey, so help them enjoy their journey, giving and receiving simultaneously.

These are at least four of the mental models that need to shift for the new era we’re living in. As you’ve taken the time to read, digest, apply, and take action steps regarding these four models, perhaps you’ve identified others that you’re experiencing. Do the same with each of those, questioning them and identifying shifts that need to occur. R

Ron Martoia is a transformational architect, speaker, author and on distance staff with 5 churches throughout the US, his first book was Morph! (Group Publishing, Inc.), He has two books pending release, Static, coming out March of 07 and Yearning in March of 08.

Understanding the Shifts in Leadership

Looking for a good read that will help you navigate the changes in mental models of leadership? Check out any or all of these resources.

* Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration (Perseus Books Group) by Patricia Ward Biederman and Warren G. Bennis
* Strategic Concepts That Clarify a Focused Life: A Self-Study Manual Defining and Applying Focused Life Concepts to Leaders Today (Barnabas Publishers) by Robert Clinton
* Jesus Asked (Zondervan) by Conrad Gempf
* Interactive Excellence: Defining and Developing New Standards for the Twenty-First Century (Ballantine Books ) by Edwin Schlossberg
* Morph! The Texture of Leadership for Tomorrow’s Church (Group Publishing, Inc.) by Ron Martoia
* The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations (Doubleday) by Peter Senge, et al
* Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within (Jossey-Bass) by Robert E. Quinn
* Working Beneath the Surface: Attending to the Soul’s “Hidden Agenda” for Wholeness, Fulfillment, and Deep Spiritual Healing (Executive Excellence) by Thomas Riskas

©2005–2006 REV. magazine. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “From Gladiator to Irritator”

  1. Good thoughts, but I think the “Great Man” model is never really out of style. It may be culturally Un-pc, but it is still a viable idea if the man or women is truly great. Would not Jesus himself fall into the “great man” category of leader?

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