Handout 1: System Thinking - Guidelines for Leaders
In the book, How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 1996), Peter Steinke gives this summary statement about system thinking:
System thinking is a way of seeing
— the whole,
— how the parts mutually influence one another,
— how the circle of influence becomes patterned, and
— how the pattern is maintained by the arrangement of the functioning parts.
In an emotional system there is always
— information (a reaction or a response) and
— the struggle to be self-defined and yet in touch with others.
Here are three guidelines for congregational leaders to consider to help them remain healthy and effective in a congregational system under stress or in distress:
Take Responsibility Only for What Belongs to You
- Pay attention to the congregation's mission.
- Ask good questions to help you discern which are leadership and which are management questions.
- Pare your list of "issues" to leadership issues and to management issues which rightfully belong to you.
- Delegate management issues that should be handled by others.
Maintain Personal Integrity
- Stay spiritually grounded by engaging in regular spiritual practice.
- Take care of yourself in body, mind, and spirit.
- Identify and manage your own anxiety.
- Resist attempts by others to transfer their anxiety about a situation to you or their "issues" to you.
Stay Connected to the Organization
- Communicate regularly with those who have authorized you to lead, paying attention to transparency about your leadership decisions and process.
- Find formal and informal ways to gather information from those who have authorized you to lead.
- Notice who is on the margins and invite their ideas and input.
- Practice deep listening and discerning what lies beneath the surface for individuals and the congregation.
- Regularly attend Sunday worship and other large congregational gatherings.
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