Wednesday, 5 November 2008

the undefended leader - sabbatical (2)

My sabbatical began on Saturday 18th October, though I have only just finished tidying up a couple of pieces of outstanding work. The last few weeks have been fairly exhausting for a variety of reasons; getting everything sorted in the office; visiting school open days in preparation for my daughter’s applications to secondary schools; engaging in a demanding process which had been hanging around for a few months and which has raised various questions for me, not least about my leadership style. Then just as the sabbatical started the whole family went down with a nasty stomach bug which left us all drained and grateful for half term so we could all relax and recover.

Anyway, the main focus of the first week (apart from dealing with family sickness and dihorrea) was participation in a course called The Undefended Leader. I had been aware of this course for some time and a colleague at work who had participated in the course recommended it. The opportunity came up to participate and I thought it would be a good way in to the sabbatical and I was not disappointed.

The Undefended Leader has been developed by Simon Walker and explores our understanding and practice of formation for leadership in ministry, though the same principles have also been used with leaders from a whole range of professions. I’ll try and explain something of the philosophy / theology undergirding the approach and the process as I experienced it. As participation on the course depended on trust and confidentiality I will only refer directly to what happened to me on the course and will try and reflect on some of my own experience and response.

The basic premise of the course is drawn from Genesis 3 and argues that as a consequence of the fracturing of relationships with God, the world around us, our relationships with others and self we each experience the environment around us as unsafe. In this context we develop responses and strategies, leadership egos, which help us to process and make sense of the world around us and try to make it safe. Much of this goes on subconsciously and has an impact on our personality and on our leadership styles. By exploring our personality profile and leadership styles and strategies we can begin to identify strengths, weaknesses and areas where we might respond more effectively and appropriately. An underlying question raised by the course is what is the most important area of development for me as a person and as a leader at this time?

The approach to personality types is different from some others that I have come across as it assumes that our personality types are not given or fixed but can change and develop over time with careful and prayerful attention. This resonated with me because it suggests a need to take responsibility for development and ongoing formation while also emphasising that change is possible by the grace of God.

The course consisted of four days spread out over a week and used a variety of processes and approaches. Before the course began I was invited to complete a landscaping exercise on line and from this a Personal Ecology Profile was drawn up. I’ve done several of these type of profiles before, though the landscaping approach was new to me, and my approach tends to be to just do it and not try and analyse / guess what is being asked of me and why.

During the course aspects of the PEP profile were explored in the light of input about the approach. The course included plenary sessions with teaching about aspects of The Undefended Leader; one to one sessions with a facilitator considering aspects of my personal profile; smaller group discussions; and a sculpting exercise with others in the smaller group.

The first day explored some general principles about leadership formation and the public and private character of leadership. The central image is that each of us has a front (public) stage and a back (private) stage; what we present to others and what we reserve to ourselves. The shape and size of these stages will be different for each of us and some will feel more comfortable on one stage than the other. I found this language particularly helpful and a useful way of talking about and exploring the public and private aspects of my personality traits and leadership style.

The second day developed exploration of the profile and focused on how we see ourselves in relation to others and the established patterns of behaviour we tend towards related to our circumstances. I found this to be the most challenging aspect of the process as it tended to conflict with other feedback I had received about my personality and leadership style. Towards the end of the day I felt I had two choices; either to question the process or to go with it and see what it threw up. However, the choice was taken out of my hands because the next evening I caught what the rest of the family had been suffering from and spent the night being violently sick. As a consequence I spent the next day in bed sleeping and giving no thought to the course or my profile. The rest did me a lot of good and I think a great deal of processing of information and reaction to the course had been going on in the background.

After the two day break the third day was what I took to be the core of the course. In the smaller group we spent the day with Simon Walker learning more about The Undefended Leader and how it came about. The main focus of the day was an exercise where each member of the group was asked in turn to create a sculpture or tableaux of how we saw our ministry and leadership. I had half an hour to create the sculpture using both objects in the room and the other members of the group and then to explore what I had created and to reflect on where I saw God in the sculpture and where I felt He might be asking me to be. The half hour session finished with a time of prayer which I found both affirming and encouraging. This technique, which I believe comes from metaphor therapy, was a fascinating approach which I had not come across before. One of the most interesting personal insights was the way in which I had become much more comfortable exploring aspects of my profile that previously I had wanted to question.

The final day was fairly light and wrapped up the work done during the rest of the week and briefly introduced some material on leadership and power – how we exercise our leadership in the light of our personality profile and what strategies we employ. This is where the meat is to be found for me and I will need to think about how I can explore and develop my understanding of this in the future.

Overall, the course lived up to my hopes and expectations. It confirmed some insights I already had regarding my leadership style but also brought to the surface some things I had not realised were there or had chosen not to examine in detail. I would be interested to see how this approach plays out in secular contexts given that I felt prayer was an indispensible part of the process.

The Undefended Leader - Leading out of Who You Are
The Undefended Leader - Leading with Nothing to Lose

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