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Part of New Leaders

By Ian Evison

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

One of the most fun things I have done since coming to work for the UUA was the series of conversations Dori Thexton and I hosted on the future of leadership shortly after I began working for Central MidWest District. We used as a discussion starter an article by Brian McLaren in which he took as a starting point the Wizard of Oz. He observed that much of the past of leadership has been lonely art practiced behind a screen of separation.

It was exciting how much this resonated with our leaders. Future leadership is going to look a lot more like Dorothy, guiding in a process of figuring things out together, and a lot less like the Wizard, projecting as much certainty as possible and keeping doubts to oneself. One congregational president observed that it felt both free and empowering to lead this way. Projecting as much certainty as possible all the time is tiring! Someone else observed that the experience of being a congregational president had taught a lot about “Dorothy” leadership that could be applied to their work. One feature of our UU religious communities is that they often don’t take well to those who attempt to be the Wizard.

Some asked whether Dorothy style leadership isn’t just another name for Servant Leadership (Robert K. Greenleaf, “Servant as Leader” 1970). Maybe. In what it has come to mean, if not in what Greenleaf intended, Servant Leadership has become a problematic concept in its application.

In the first place, our consumerist culture serves the needs of those already in the religious community at the expense of pointing beyond, going somewhere. The point of it is a story of going somewhere, from here to there, not a story of providing services or programs which satisfy people. Dorothy does this as a fellow traveler on the road. Dorothy does not substitute the goal of serving Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion for the goal of getting to Oz. Dorothy uses considerable relational savvy to connect what each needs — a heart, a brain, and courage — with taking the journey.

In the second place, the idea of the servant in servant leadership builds conceptually on some very worrying hierarchical understanding. True, it does so in order to reverse them. However, in my experience the ones who are pushed to be more servant-like in their leadership tend to be those at the wrong end of social dichotomies. I find when coaching women, younger leaders, or other marginalized groups that they get challenged to be more “servant-like” style of leadership in instances where I, as an older white guy, would be praised as decisive or visionary. Dorothy is one baaaad woman, in a good sense. She gets angry. She is pushy, and, darn, she kills that witch!

About the Author

Ian Evison

Ian is a UU minister who has served in a variety of ministries, including parish ministry, theological education, a research project at the University of Chicago in Family and Religion, and service at the Alban Institute as Director of Research. Current passions include future trends in American...

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