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Rearranging the Bones

A couple of years ago, I read Seth Godin’s book, Tribes. It really stirred my perception of leadership. I was fascinated by the way Godin presented a new leadership paradigm that–in my mind, at least–opened the door for folks who don’t fit the traditional leader mold, yet they effectively lead others.

Previously I posted a blog about leaders who “drip vision.” * As I was writing the blog, I envisioned this person as having a more traditional leadership style, someone who is charismatic, dynamic when sharing their vision and very eager to do so. But I recently had a different experience of “dripping vision” as I worked with a leader whose style reminds me more of Godin’s paradigm than John Maxwell’s…

I spent two days last week with a team whose mission was honing the identity of an annual conference. Our team leader’s approach to guiding us in this process was refreshing. I believe that Tim has a vision for this ministry, but he wasn’t concerned so much with sharing his vision as with hearing about our vision. In fact, I don’t know that I ever heard Tim state his vision clearly and succinctly during the two days we worked together. However, I’m confident that I will hear it soon, and that it will sound familiar!

Tim came well prepared to facilitate conversation among the nine of us. He asked questions, suggested scenarios to ponder, and led us into activities designed to draw out our creativity. But mostly, Tim listened. He invited us to enter into the visioning process with him, without first influencing us with his own ideas. That Tim came with a vision I have no doubt, but he seemed more interested in what this team could contribute to that vision.

This approach to leadership is unlike the stereotypical model of visionary leaders who “cast vision.”  These leaders often develop their vision in a vacuum. Because they don’t have the skill set to convert the vision to reality, they find it necessary to enlist the aid of others who can more readily see how to put flesh on the bones, so to speak. However, those “others” typically aren’t invited–much less encouraged–to re-arrange the bones! The vision has been cast ( i.e., set in stone) by the leader and those who have been called alongside are charged with the task of developing a strategy for the vision. (This is, of course, a necessary step in any vision → reality process.)

So, did Tim “drip vision?” He did… and without a lot of rhetoric on his part. I think we each left the planning retreat with a vision for the ethos of the conference. When Tim does articulate the vision, I believe we will each recognize a bit of ourselves. It will feel familiar.

Moreover, there is another way in which Tim dripped vision. He showed us a different model of leadership, one that is highly collaborative and values the input of others. Tim dripped a vision for true team development and unselfish leadership as he invited us to rearrange the bones of his vision.

There is a time and place for each of these leadership styles–and others, too, of course. Perhaps the measure of a true leader is in knowing which style is appropriate for which situation…and being willing to adapt accordingly. In other words, are you willing to let someone rearrange your bones?

*This phraseology originated with Wil Mancini in his Clarity Evangelist blog post of Sept. 7, 2010.

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