Over a number of months, our MidAmerica program staff discussed the changing state of leadership, congregational life, and our world. We’ve realized that as we move further into the 21st century, our work has to shift. No longer can we simply teach particular skills based on the tools we know about. Rather we must teach people how to ‘be’ differently so we may all adapt and adjust to our world as it adapts and adjusts. We created our “New Leader” document, wrote about the elements of the New Leader paradigm. We invite you to join us in the conversation: please feel free to send us your comments—we want your thoughts and ideas to help us expand our thinking.
We realize that what has worked well for the past 50-60 years will not serve us well going forward. In the beginning, we thought what we needed to do was to offer primarily skills based training—that if you knew how to apply the “formulas,” your congregation would be a success. However, trends across religious communities indicate that much has changed: no longer is there an active and vibrant volunteer force looking for a place to share their gifts; people are now looking for how a religious community serves and feeds them, rather than looking for a place to learn new skills in leadership; the wider culture in which the congregations find themselves are changing rapidly, and along with that, so are expectations. What worked in the mid-20th Century no longer works today.
Therefore, we realize that what we need is to help build skills, certainly, but more to the point, we need to encourage Leaders to be agile and able to change with the increased pace of transformation in the world around. We can’t predict which skills will be needed in the next decade or two, but we can predict the Leaders that will be able to adapt what they know and learn the skills that are necessary.
We intend that all that we teach will be designed to help create these new Leaders. Here are some of the hallmarks they will possess.
The profile of the New Leader we see emerging includes:
- Mission Driven: Leaders know why they are active, and how they are seeking to make a difference in the world; they understand that congregational life is not about making people “happy,” but by knowing how the congregation is called to serve their community, and are then faithful to that calling
- Spiritually Grounded: Leaders understand what they believe or don’t believe and are aware of their need for connection to something larger than themselves; they are aware that they need to connect with a deeper core that gives them balance, intuition, and commitment
- Culturally Competent: Leaders are aware, or becoming aware, that much in their world is based on cultural assumptions of the dominant groups, rather than simply “the way things are;” they understand that congregations must work to determine how they will be—that commonality in values is either created, discovered, or negotiated, and they are learning skills to be able to work more competently across any of the differences that make a difference
- Emotionally Intelligent: Leaders know how to read people emotionally, and how to help people feel safe enough to not be driven unconsciously by emotions, but to help people understand how to appropriately express emotions and to use them as forces to move the congregation forward, rather than trapping them in the past
- Knows Self, and handles their own anxiety: Leaders know where their buttons are, and know how to manage their own anxiety; they recognize that anxiety serves little purpose in moving a congregation forward, and instead can lessen that anxiety and help the congregation focus on the issues involved, rather than the anxiety and fear that uncertainty can create; they are comfortable in and with ambiguity
- Self-Differentiated: Leaders know who they are well enough that they also know where they stand, and what they will and will not do; they understand the necessity of boundaries, and work within the congregation to ensure that healthy boundaries are in place and are supported; they can be clear in who they are, without requiring others to join them in that same place, but instead to be true to their own self
- Radically Welcoming of various diversities, including neurodiversity: Leaders understand that what they might want may not be what others want, and they are open to learning and understanding how the world is different for other people; they understand, too, that those who have been historically marginalized have places in our congregations, and our congregations need to expand their understanding of who is welcome in order to open wide the doors to those who find value in Unitarian Universalism
- Networked: Leaders are networked in a couple of ways — first, they are aware of how community can be created, sustained, and nurtured through the use of technology; they realize that today on-line connection serves to deepen what a congregation can offer; second, they are not afraid of technology, and know how to learn through electronic means, and are able to find what they need, or find the person who knows what they need moving forward
- Connectors: Leaders don’t need to be the hub through which everything flows, and they know how to help people come together for specific (and general) purposes; they can connect people to ideas, to each other, and to a greater whole
- Collaborator: Leaders know how to work and play well with others; they understand it’s not about who is right, but how people can work together to ensure the best possible outcome in both task completion and relationship building/sustaining
- Companion on the Journey: Leaders know that so much of congregational life is about being present to and with one another; they don’t have all the answers, but they know how to be with others through the journey of their lives, and the journey of shared congregational life
- Not the Expert, and Able to Learn: Leaders understand that it’s not just about skills, but it’s about being able to learn (often together) what’s necessary in congregational life; they understand the difference between technical and adaptive challenges, and find themselves at ease in the discomfort of adaptive work, understanding that no one knows the answers, but that together a way can be found
- Generous and Able to Nurture Generosity in Others: Leaders are not only financially generous (although they are that indeed!) but they have and encourage a generous spirit and appreciation of the world; they are quick to inspire others, to give of themselves as well as their time, talent and treasure, and are working to find ways to be a “permission giving” organization that empowers others to move forward with ideas that help fulfill the congregation’s mission
- Flexible/Agile in Working: Leaders understand that processes, tasks, and outcomes will not necessarily be the same next week as they were this week, and they remain agile in approaching situations and answers to questions and issues that arise in their work with congregations; they know that they have to be continually learning and asking “is this the best way to get what we want to achieve at this time?”
Our MidAmerica aim is to develop these qualities in ourselves, and help congregations develop such qualities and abilities in their leaders. We welcome you in this partnership!