Leadership Is Exercised in a Context

Norman Wolfe, over at Fast Company, commented today on a colleague’s blog about the context of leadership. His colleague, Paul Walker, looking on the current situation in the USA observed that our nation needs a giant team-building exercise. Wolfe counters that while the intent seems good, we need to pay attention to the context of our life together as a nation state. We exist in a system of checks and balances that create a different game than often happens in successful companies. The following fleshes out his point:

Our government was set up to achieve certain ends; it was designed primarily for control of power. Our three divisions, executive, legislative and judiciary were purposely designed to ensure no one function could gain complete control of our nation. Checks and Balances was the designing objective.

And as for organizations who “explore ideas to find the best way instead of playing win/lose games” I have to remind you that our whole society is based on the adversarial principle (a win/lose game). Our founding fathers recognized that we were unlikely to find A Solomon the Wise to discern the truth or the best solution so they set up our system based on the idea that the truth can best be is discovered by opposing views being voiced and through the “jury of one’s peers” truth would emerge. This is the basis of our legal system and it is also the foundation of our Two Party System. It was once said that the political extremes define the issues and the moderates pass the laws. We need a return of the moderates to act as “jury of one’s peers.”

The problem we have is not one of team building but organization design. We designed it to have opposing positions compete with the belief that the best solution would emerge from the conflict. We could of course redesign our system and create one that relied on the same principles of business. However business is governed as much by market forces as they are by leadership team dynamics.
Government was never designed to run efficiently, it was designed to control misuse of power and given that we are dealing with humans playing with immense powers, I am not sure I want to change the design.

As I read his post, I pondered the intricacies of most church structures and find myself asking “do we have clarity about what our decision making structures will produce? Do the rules of the game allow us to align ourselves with God’s kingdom purposes? Where can we learn (and unlearn) from business and government organizations?” More importantly to me, what questions am I not asking?