Leadership: critic or performer?

One of the trademarks of our current culture - call it postmodern, hyper-modern, or whatever - is the tendency to doubt, critique, and question. Coming out of a century chalk full of cultural arrogance yet littered with countless examples of cultural failure, skepticism is only natural (and needed!).

I can definitely tell I’ve been shaped by this cultural modus operandi. My life experience, education, and interests all lead me to question the world around me. “Beware of the bandwagon” has been a personal motto for years as I fear simply accepting what comes my way. As a pastor and leader I can tell critique ends up being a strong influence in my leadership. I want the best for myself and others, so I point out the worst in myself(maybe) and others! I’m a good critical leader.

Well, I read an excellent article from Faith and Leadership this morning that calls into question this paradigm for leadership. And as a good critic, I’m all ears.

This brief quote highlights the challenge:
“Our educational system, institutions and broader culture privilege critics. We are taught how to focus on the negative and tell others what to do, but we are not sufficiently equipped to learn how to take risks as performers. We receive information from learned instructors but rarely have the freedom we need to imagine and create ourselves.”
Hmm...maybe I don’t want this critique.

Makes me wonder: Do I tend to focus on negativity? Do I spread this negativity in leading others? In my critique, do I also contribute?

The authors open the article with the image of little children playing soccer - a scene of chaos, disorganization, energy, and fun. An environment, the article suggests, which can be key in the development of future leaders. Children are natural performers. They learn to perform as they navigate the zaniness that is children’s soccer. Perhaps it’s because they lack the disposition of critique (thankfully!), but many children thrive in this space. They don’t stand back and evaluate; they just play.

For leadership, then, I’m challenged: Can I redirect my critical disposition in order to live and lead in such a way that reflects the raw performance of children playing a sport? Can their joy, energy, and yes, even their distraction, inspire my own leadership to thrive in the moment - to just play? Can I make the shift from being a critic to being a performer?
“We can learn to shift our mindsets away from criticism and toward performance, ready to harness our creative powers to bear faithful witness to the kingdom of God.”


Anonymous said...

This is a good word Dave. I have recognized the need to make this change in emphasis myself. The disposition of criticism can be debilitating. It can create an environment where we are fearful to take risks and experiment because we don't want to make mistakes. Creativity and performance require a culture of grace. This is sometimes hard to come by in our world that is quick to pass judgment.

David Warkentin said...

Thanks Phil! And yes, fear is definitely a byproduct of this problem.

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