High Distinction

or The Systemic Power of Leadership


Everything you know about leadership is wrong.

The five-fold Covenant pattern is found throughout the Bible. Those who claim that Deuteronomy’s shape was borrowed from other Ancient Near East cultures need to explain how it could then be found not only in the Ten Commandments, but in the shape of every story going back to Genesis 1. Their theorizing is the result of their deluded, naturalistic worldview, and Christian scholars suck it right up.

Edwin Friedman’s observations on leadership training fit right in with the Transcendence/Hierarchy arrangement in the Covenant documents, and also the totus Christus revelation of the New Testament. If we believe the Bible is true, what else would be expect? We should have started with the Bible. It cracks our blind theories wide open.

Here’s Friedman:

I also saw something else regarding leadership and systemic emotional process that ultimately revolutionized my approach to leadership training. When creative, imaginative, self-starting members of an organization are being sabotaged rather than supported, the poorly differentiated person “at the top” does not have to be in direct contact with the person being undercut. In fact, neither even has to know that the other exists. What I began to appreciate from that moment on was the wide-ranging systemic power of leadership—specifically, that the functioning of leaders somehow affected the institution they lead on a far more fundamental level than could be accounted for by traditional psychological concepts that focus on the brain, such as role-modeling, emulation, identification, or personality profiles. Institutions, I was coming to see, could be conceptualized as emotional fields—environments of force that, for all their influence over people’s thinking processes, were, like magnetic fields or gravitational fields, largely invisible to the naked eye.

What made these systemic processes invisible was the fact that they could not be explained by the usual mechanistic models that emphasize flow charts, trickle-down concepts, and motivational techniques. It was not that such models were wrong, but rather that they were inadequate for understanding the organic nature of human colonization. Explaining families and institutions in terms of the nature of their parts, I began to think, was like trying to reduce chemistry to physics…

Relational processes in an institution, I included, cannot be reduced to psychodynamic or personality factors in the individuals of which they consist. A different level of inquiry was required that one that tries merely to understand “the minds” or personalities of the individuals involved.

What was needed to account for the connection between leader and follower, I was beginning to realize, was an approach that did not separate them into neat categories nor polarize them into opposite forces, nor even see them as completely discrete entities. Rather, what was needed to explain an emotional process orientation to leadership was a concept that was less moored to linear cause-and-effect thinking. It had to be one that conceptualized the connection between leader and follower as reciprocal and as part of larger natural processes, many of which, I came to realize, were intergenerational. Leadership in both families and organizations, I was beginning to see, was rooted in processes that could be found in all colonized life. After all, had not Nature seen to its being built into pods, prides, swarms, schools, flocks, and herds?

…Eventually, I found an uncanny parallel that enabled me to put leader and follower together conceptually in a systemic way. The parallel lies between the latest understanding of the connection between the brain and the body in a human organism, on the one hand, and the effects of a “head’s” functioning on a “body politic” in a human organization, on the other. For in any age, concepts of leadership must square with the latest understanding of the relationship between brain and body. Recent findings about the brain-body connection have the potential have to revolutionize our concept of hierarchy. For they suggest that to a large extent we have a liquid nervous system. The brain turns out to function like a gland. It is the largest organ of secretion, communicating simultaneously with various parts of the body, both near and far, through the reciprocal transmission of substances known as neurotransmitters. In other words, the head is present in the body!

So, too, the connection between a “head” and body in any family or institution is not necessarily a function of proximity. The functioning of a “head” can systemically influence all parts of a body simultaneously, and totally bypass linear, “head-bone-connected-to-the-neck-bone” thinking. What counts is the leader’s presence and being, not technique and know-how…

My growing awareness of the universality of these systemic principles of leadership raise fundamental questions in my mind about the nature of most leadership training courses (including courses on parenting) that puts primary emphasis on others (children or employees) as objects to be motivated rather than on the systemic effects of the presence, or self, of the leader. [1]

When God makes a new Covenant, it always begins with the Preamble, the part where He announces Who He is. “I am the Lord your God.” God makes Himself distinct from His delegate/s. In this way, He can be present in all of them.

We see this numerous times throughout the Old Testament, but most importantly in the words of Christ.

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John 16:7)

As a leader, you must not be aloof. But you must be distinct. A veil, a firmament must be drawn between you and those you lead until you are ready to hand over the job. When the time for succession comes, the veil is torn and your successor sees you face to face. You speak your plans openly and call them your friend, as Jesus did with His disciples, and as God did with Abraham.

Friedman’s book presents ideas that contradict modern wisdom. They are revolutionary ideas to us, but they are ideas that are millennia old, and fully accessible in that dusty ancient book on your shelf.

Art: Jerusalem Stone.

[1] Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, pp. 16-18. I’d love to share some more of Friedman’s scathing observations of modern “how-to” leadership strategies and our fixation with data. Better if you just get the book and read it for yourself.

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