The past few days I’ve posted on themes related to the movie The Green Zone from a couple years back and the book that inspired that movie, Imperial Life in the Emerald City. The sub-title for the series could be called “How do we know we are serving?” or “How do we know our success is truly success when considered from a human and ethical lens?”
Leadership Phenomenon Observed: Party-based Allocation
One of the themes that repeatedly showed itself during Imperial Life in the Emerald City was careless and ineffective allocation of resources. In some ways this is a continuation of the last post on “Throwing Resources,” but this will focus more on human resource and leadership allocation.
The crazy-making phenomena reading the account of post-war Iraq was the example time and time again of people being entrusted significant leadership with the primary criteria being party affiliation. If you were Republican and on “the right side” and supporting the political agenda, then you were in – these were people asked to lead and oversee people, massive initiatives, and manage the budgets. If you were the best person for the job, but politically questionable by the regime, then you were out of luck. Such talented and experienced people were either rejected out of hand or sidelined through positions deep within the bureaucracy so as to be be “contained.” Sadly – I think this is all too common.
Allocation & The Inner-Ring
No doubt this system of allocation is part of what’s wrong with the whole political system in general, but for broader purposes I want to narrow down the core value driving such an approach to allocation. I see that as being Loyalty is this case. People in power, to ensure they stay in power and to ensure that they can have as much as possible under their influence and preferences, want to allocate people loyal to them and their ideals. On some level, I think this is appropriate given the importance of having people you can trust in key positions. On another level, when the loyalty value really is in the service of things like control and power I think allocation starts to confuse trust with control. Trust is a higher virtue than loyalty and they are not the same thing.
Loyalty can do a lot of damage. This is one reason why a person I know not too long ago commented -
“You know there really is no safe place to take grievances in my organization – because given the web of relationships and who knows who, people always will side with who they know over who they don’t know if there is a question of impropriety. It’s not worth the risk of being labeled and alienated further from those in power by speaking up.”
I agree with these concerns in a lot of situations. We often let our social networks of who we “trust” an know shape how we relate to others we don’t know. Serving then becomes a really cloudy concept.
I can’t help but think about the essay/lecture by C.S. Lewis called “The Inner Ring” which can be found in the book The Weight of Glory. The “in” versus “out” dynamic that drives many decisions and dynamics betrays a lot of leadership decisions that on the face are said to be about “trust” to really be about “loyalty” – and a personal loyalty at that. There’s an inability to recognize when someone might be the best person to serve in a given situation even though there might be some disagreements or no real mechanism for control or loyalty. Maybe this is as simple as trying to mobilize “yes men” to your service. That again though reveals that the object of who is being served is at the top of the hierarchy and it is certainly not those at the bottom.
Allocation & Dumb Luck
This is an insight confirmed both by the green zone case study as well as through some conversations and contributions people have emailed me since posting on “Throwing Resources.” Sometimes people can be allocating for all the wrong reasons and still do a great job. Sometimes organizations just luck out with an extraordinary leader or circumstance that can make the needed adjustments with serving results and be part of the “status quo” system. But the problem is when such decisions are made from centralized brain trusts, you’re likely more dependent on luck for success than you would like to admit. There seems to be a higher correlation with decentralized allocation of funding and decisions about resources with long term success and the fruit of serving leadership.
Allocation & Spiritualization
In ministry we also can get really spiritually about our hierarchy and how all the pieces of that hierarchy came into being – the end result being that somehow every person in every position was divinely ordained to be in that position. On one hand this is true – for every person is in a particular role and under various authorities. On the other hand, this can be a dangerous rationalization for our own decisions in who we ask to do what.
I actually don’t think there’s much of a different mentality in many ministries from the military. You’ve got the chain of command along with a strong system of belief to support that chain at all costs. I find the parallels between spiritual organizations and the military fascinating – and it’s because many spiritual organizations or ministries have a view of authority that can be very similar to what is found in the military.
But one of the main symptoms of this is the dynamic that just because someone has a title or organizational authority, then they can and somehow are gifted in every situation that those below them on the hierarchy might face themselves. A key example here is mediation or other specialty skill sets. The people who are “allocated” into some situations are often those with titles, not gifts and oftten without a paradigm of serving. Most of the time, people just allocate themselves as the person “in charge.” Yet the question of serving doesn’t ever get asked. It’s assumed that since you have the title – then you are the best person for the job. Not true. And I think this assumption wastes millions of dollars every year and often makes things worse through finding short-term fixes not sustainable for the long haul. Allocation is meant to serve – whether it’s a leader of a local team that is being placed or whether it’s someone more higher up being tasked to serve in a specific way in a specific situation.
The constant allocation of one’s self to handle all the business under you instead of people who have potentially a better gift mix than you to do those things is really just a mechanism of control.
Recommendations for the Aspiring Serving Leader
Don’t allocate as a means to control what happens, micro-manage, or ensure your way.
Cultivate trust with people with unique skill sets and giftings regardless of ideology or leadership philosophy so that you can put the right people in the right places at timely moments. Don’t write them off or quarantine them just because they aren’t “on your side” on all matters. Leaders and ministers need to practice bi-partisanship too. Ever noticed that hardly anything that happens politically ever happens that’s truly good that is not the result of significant bi-partisan efforts?
Leaders need to cultivate trust and not loyalty. The loyalty should be towards those we are called to serve and towards our highest authority – not to political and personal agendas. And agendas as we discussed in the first post are everywhere.
How do you work towards bi-partisan trusting relationships to ensure people on the ground are ultimately served in timely and important ways?
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