Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: The Great Awakening and the Birth of American Celebrity Culture

The Greatest Day in New England History

Think the fiery Puritan who preached America’s most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God,” would threaten to dangle celebrities over the pit of hell?  Think again.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me Papa, paparazzi

—Lyrics from “Paparazzi” as performed by Lady Gaga

The 2004 Red Sox victory parade attracted 68% of the total population of greater Boston.
The streets of Boston course with life as a crowd greater than the city’s total population joins in celebration.

Commerce grinds to a standstill.

Women faint.

Grown men weep.

The governor joins the standing-room-only multitude on Boston Common and declares the festivities, “the greatest day in New England history.”

If that sounds to you like a good description of the victory parade for the 2004 Boston Red Sox who vanquished a 68 year-old ‘Curse of the Bambino” with a World Series championship, you’re not far from the truth.  The Red Sox parade attracted an incredible sixty-eight percent of greater Boston’s population.[1]

However, these words actually describe something even more historic:  the 1740 farewell sermon of British evangelist George Whitefield–an event that drew 135 percent of colonial Boston.  No wonder Harry Stout has calls Whitefield “Anglo-America’s first modern celebrity.”[3]

And Whitefield’s celebrity is no accident. It is the result of a carefully orchestrated public relations tour de force. Whitefield and his publicist, William Seward, worked tirelessly to promote the evangelist’s exploits, writing as many as a hundred personal letters, articles, and journal entries a day to a vast network of leaders and publishers throughout the New World. Incredibly, Whitefield personally wrote or inspired thirty-percent of every work published in America in 1740. By the time he reaches Boston, all of New England is in a fever pitch. Six weeks and 175 sermons later, “virtually every New England inhabitant” has heard Whitefield preach face-to-face.[3]  

Sinners is the Hands of an Angry God

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards’ “Faithful Narrative” helped pave the way for Whitefield’s preaching tour.

One hundred miles to the west, fiery preacher Jonathan Edwards waits not with condemnation, but delight.[4] Rather than dangling the “paparazzi” of his day over the pit of hell, Edwards follows media coverage of Whitefield’s every move with growing delight. He even invites the innovative young preacher to fill his famous pulpit in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Edwards helped start this media sensation in the first place. His autobiographical Faithful Narrative [5] was an international best seller for nearly three years before Whitefield’s preaching tour, making Edwards a towering public figure in his own right. He has helped stoke a deep hunger for spiritual awakening throughout the colonies; a hunger now filled by Whitefield’s flamboyant preaching and growing celebrity.[6]

While many Christians today decry our shallow media-driven celebrity culture, leaders of the Great Awakening recognized that capture society’s imagination with spiritual realities required media-driven celebrity. And capture it they did. By year’s end, perhaps as much as fifteen-percent of the population of the American colonies professes conversion to Christ in one of the most transformative social movements in American history.

Edwards and Whitefield helped birth not only one of the most transformative cultural movements in America history—the First Great Awakening—they also helped launch America’s celebrity culture. Twenty-first-century culture-makers seeking to birth society-wide transformation on the level of the Great Awakening would be wise to pay careful attention to the lessons Edwards and Whitefield learned in using celebrity for the glory of God.

Celebrity

Celebrity is perhaps the most coveted and least understood concept in contemporary culture. While the billion-dollar celebrity industry seems to grind out a new subject for fifteen-minutes of fame nearly every fifteen minutes, the scholarly community (and the church) has scrambled just to stay current. Recent scholarship has produced many claims to the title of “America’s first celebrity,” ranging from John James Audubon (c. 1826) to Walt Whitman (c. 1850), Buffalo Bill Cody (c. 1885), Douglas Fairbanks (c. 1920), and Ernest Hemingway (c. 1925).[7] Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield certainly precede each of these contenders, but were they true celebrities? The answer is, perhaps, yes and no.

Celebrity as Star

If one takes the perspective that celebrity is a purely modern invention, then obviously Edwards and Whitefield can’t be celebrities. Many scholars find a strong enough connection between celebrity and modern media to assert that “there is no such thing as celebrity prior to the beginning of the twentieth century.”[8] This school of thought is strongly rooted in film studies and the rise of the Hollywood star-making business. Before 1910, the motion picture industry sold story. However, studio executives soon realized that what they were actually selling was stars—men and women who moviegoers liked and personally identified with beyond the quality of their performance.[9]

Splash
Little known TV star Tom Hanks won the lead for Splash (1983) over hundreds of famous actors because he was the more ‘likable.’

For instance, producer Brian Grazer chose the little known TV star Tom Hanks over hundreds of famous actors vying for the lead in Splash (1983), not because Hanks was the most talented, but because audience testing proved he was the most likable.[10] Soon Hanks joined the pantheon of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Harrison Ford, et cetera—actors America loved not for how they played their role, but simply for who they were.[11]

Hollywood intuited what academic research later demonstrated: people personally identify not merely with the hero of the story, but also with the actor playing the hero in the story.  Media-generated personal identification evoked a public hunger for access to the private lives of stars. In small-town America, everyone wanted to know the gossip, slander, triumphs, tragedies of the  in crowd. But in the emerging global village, the most popular kids are found on the big screen.

Aided by the media-driven celebrity industry, stars quickly became what Richard Schickel calls “intimate strangers.” People wanted to know these stars and be connected to them personally. Graeme Turner asserts that we can actually “map the precise moment a public figure becomes a celebrity”: when their “private lives attract greater public interest than their professional lives.”[12]

It wasn’t long before stars began to realize that they had become a commodity to be marketed and traded, not only by studio heads, but also by their own publicity people. Within a few short years, the public relations and celebrity gossip industries were born.[13] Soon Paparazzi was a household word. 

Since Edwards and Whitefield were dead for over a hundred years before the first Hollywood stars were born, it is hard to see how they are celebrities in this limited sense of the word.

Celebrity as Hero

However, other scholars adopt a broader understanding of celebrity, one that seems to better fit Edwards and Whitefield. These scholars root their understanding of celebrity in the Latin words for “fame” (celebritas) and “being famous” (celebrer) and in Western society’s desire to “celebrate” greatness. [14] Human beings need heroes to emulate.

Both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions developed strong “hero-making” story cultures. We tell the stories of heroes such as Hercules, Achilles, Odysseus, Perseus, Jason, Atalanta, David, Elijah, Esther, Mary, Paul, and Peter because they embody the virtues valued in our culture.

Yet for cultural heroes to serve as public role models, they need to be both virtuous and known. A virtuous man or woman whose story goes untold simply can’t be emulated. Therefore, the desire to be great and the desire to be famous are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As Paul boldly declares, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).[15]

Perhaps it is more helpful to follow Daniel Boorstin’s distinction between a genuine celebrity and what he calls a “pseudo-celebrity.”[16] Pseudo celebrities, as the Hollywood school of thought asserts, are differentiated mainly by the “trivia of personality,” whereas true celebrities are heroes who are distinguished by their achievements, virtues, and character.[17] Edwards and Whitefield appear to fit this second type. Although there is no universal consensus, celebrity studies seem to point to four distinct stages in the creation of a genuine celebrity: (1) A defining incident or accomplishment makes someone a “hero”; (2) some kind of identification with the hero’s character sparks admiration and a desire to connect with the hero; (3) intentionality by the hero (or someone acting on behalf of the hero) meets public desire for a greater connection by providing access to their “story” and their life; and, (4) the public’s identification with the hero exerts influence in other people’s lives that shapes their behavior.[18]

Heroic Celebrity

Edwards’s celebrity clearly fits this pattern.

(1) Edwards’s public story begins with a clear defining incident—a powerful revival among the youth in his church results in the conversion of 300 people, a quarter of the town’s population, transforming youth culture in Northampton.[19] Soon there is “scarcely any in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world [. . . .] The work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing man¬ner [. . .] and the number of true saints multiplied [. . . until] the town seemed to be full of the presence of God.”[20]

(2) These events spark a profound identification, not only in America, but across the English-speaking world. Edwards’s church became “the talk of New England” and famous British cleric Isaac Watts declared, “We have not heard of anything like it since the Reformation, nor since the first days of the apostles.”[21] What minister (or Christian) would not want this to happen in their church? People wanted to know more.

(3) Edwards responds to this interest with acute intentionality. He publishes A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising work of God in the Conversion of many Souls in Northampton, and Neighbouring Towns and Villages of the County of Hampshire, in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New England. It becomes an international best seller reprinted at least ten times in three languages before Edwards’s death and over fifty times since.[22]

(4) Faithful Narrative provides Edwards with the influence and “international audience for which he longed.”[23] More than any other published statement, Faithful Narrative would “define the standard expectations for evangelical conversion”[24] and firmly establish Edwards as the “revival expert” with broad readership for his future publications on the Awakening. For over a century, it serves as a nearly canonical corpus for New England revivalism. More dramatically, it opens the door for interest in Edwards’s more scholarly works so that Edwards eventually comes to be known as “America’s greatest theologian.”[25]

Notice the key role that intentionality plays in Edwards’s celebrity. Without his providing the story, there is no story, and therefore, no celebrity. Without Edwards’s providing a personal account of the revival—an incident he did not “cause,” but which spread to his church from the surrounding villages[26]—this “towering intellectual figure” could very well have remained unknown and unread.[27]

Whitefield as Heroic Celebrity

George Whitefield’s 1740 farewell sermon drew 135% of the total population of greater Boston.

Whitefield’s celebrity also appears to fit this four-stage cycle as well.

(1) Whitefield’s first trip to America (mostly in Georgia from 1737–1738), followed by his tremendously successful campaign in London, creates an international incident that introduces him into popular imagination. Whitefield’s adoption of John Wesley’s practice of “field preaching” (versus preaching inside churches) coupled with his profound dramatic gifts and unusual anointing create a sensation. His sermons are some of the most compelling theater of his generation, recasting “biblical history in a theatrical key.”[28]

(2) Whitefield’s preaching generates tremendous public identification. Theater is all but unknown in America, and Whitefield’s dramatic performances (in comparison to the logical treatises offered by most New England pastors) connect in an unprecedented way. People love Whitefield. They flock to hear him preach. They relish his willingness to take on the (ancestral hierarchical) establishment. They can’t get enough of him. Newspapers normally committed to business and political news are filled with accounts of his success.

(3) In preparation for his second American preaching tour (1740-1741), Whitefield demonstrates unusual intentionality in managing his celebrity. He fashions a clearly defined and “audacious” plan to build on his momentum and transform his revival movement into “an international event with himself at the center.”[29] He and his publicists unleash a barrage of publicity employing careful use of social networking and mass media. People are able to “personally” connect with him through him publishing his personal journals and maintaining a grueling schedule of personal appearances.[30]

(4) Whitefield’s growing celebrity soon grants him unparalleled influence. He is able to network with the rich and powerful, target key social causes (especially orphans and African American education), and take controversial anti-institutional stands on the issues of his day (unconverted ministers). Whitefield becomes “the first in a long line of public figures whose claims to influence would rest on celebrity [. . .] rather than birth, breeding, or institutional fiat.”[31]

Like with Edwards, it is difficult to miss the critical role intentionality plays in Whitefield’s celebrity. His use of William Seward’s immense talent as a public relations officer is critical to his success. He certainly would have connected with people without it, but he could never have attracted such remarkable crowds without the tireless efforts of Seward and his network of advance men. As Stout asserts:

“Where other influential preachers. . . wrote learned treatises and preached in meetinghouses. . . to audiences totaling in the thousands. . . Whitefield wrote best-selling journals and drew audiences that must be totaled in the millions. . .  For comparison one must look to an electronic age and. . . movie stars.”[32]

Heroic Leadership

Both Edwards and Whitefield appear to fit the criteria of heroic celebrities. Without the celebrity account provided by Edwards’s Faithful Narrative, it is entirely possible that America would not have been primed for Whitefield’s publicity and preaching. From a human perspective, it is not unreasonable to claim that Edwards and Whitefield’s efforts helped initiate America’s first celebrity culture, and that celebrity culture in turn helped birth the First Great Awakening.[33] Mark A. Noll, arguably the most influential historian in our contemporary understanding of the First Great Awakening, notes that although revival can be viewed as the result of a movement of the Holy Spirit, it can also be interpreted as an effect of human agency and leadership:

“By taking note of the agents who, whether perceived as servants of God or merely adept shapers of culture, historical explanation adds the sphere of human responsibility to realms of theological principle.”[34]

The leaders of the First Great Awakening were young men of great natural gifts who preached, wrote, promoted, and built institutions with unusual force. Their actions mattered, regardless of their motivations or by what power they were energized. This in no way minimizes the Holy Spirit’s role in the First Great Awakening. Something truly remarkable occurred in this movement that no amount of human effort has ever been able to recreate (although not for lack of trying). However, it does emphasize that the Holy Spirit worked though human leaders who made wise use of the means at their proposal, including their celebrity.

Edwards himself came to embrace the importance of human leadership in the Awakening. One of his central contributions to religious self-understanding was his refusal to accept an either/or dichotomy between divine and human impulses. His first work in the midst of the Great Awakening, Some thoughts concerning the present revival of religion (1741), was an urgent appeal for human leaders to promote the work of God by wise and strenuous efforts.[35]

His first major publication in the aftermath of the Great Awakening, A treatise regarding religious affections (1746), was in many ways his “second thoughts about the first great awakening.”[36] Edwards claimed that Satan won a great victory in the Awakening because human leaders failed to embrace their God-appointed role in directing such a powerful “pouring out of the Spirit of God.”[37]

Edwards and Whitefield were not leaders who shirked their human responsibility. Their model points toward a possible future for leaders seeking to become “adept shapers of culture” in the twenty-first century. However, before we can directly apply the principles they employed in the eighteenth century to our contemporary setting, we must first account for a factor with which Edwards and Whitefield never had to contend: contemporary pseudo celebrity culture.

The Rise of Pseudo Celebrity

Paris Hilton provides ample proof that celebrity sells

The problem with the celebrity cycle is that it is essentially value neutral. The process that makes someone a heroic celebrity is essentially the same as the process that makes someone a pseudo celebrity. As the Hollywood school of thought contends, something went seriously awry with celebrity in the early twentieth century. It is as if somewhere we decided that if you can’t be a true hero without also achieving fame, why bother with virtue at all? Contemporary media makes it all too easy to skip heroism and jump straight to the stardom of a pseudo celebrity who is “well-known only for being well-known.”[38]

In pseudo celebrity, the inciting incident moves from important to trivial (and/or contrived); intentionality moves from important to critical; and identification moves from character to personality. The pseudo celebrity “develops their capacity for fame, not by achieving great things, but by differentiating their own personality from those of their competitors in the public arena.”[39]

Dry Erase Girl

A good example of this phenomena is found in the “dry erase girl” resignation hoax. This meme serves as a great example of how the four-stage cycle can be applied to the creation of pseudo celebrities.

(1) On the morning of August 10, The Chive, a relatively unknown Web site, creates an incident by posting a series of pictures under the banner: “Girl quits her job on dry erase board, emails entire office.” The hilarious photos, received from “a person who works with [. . .] Jenny,” chronicle a young worker’s struggle with her boss’s sexual harassment, her subsequent resignation, and the outing of her boss’s odd Internet viewing habits.

(2) By the afternoon of August 10, the public’s identification with Jenny’s plight makes the story is an instant Internet sensation. The photos “soared to the top of Google and Twitter trends, and a group of Facebook pages popped up to honor” the brave underling.[40] Who wouldn’t root for this perky persecuted worker and her “heroic” actions? People were dying to connect with Jenny and know more of her life and future.

One day wonder ‘Dry Erase Jenny’ (aka, Elyse Porterfield)

(3) The role of intentionality becomes obvious on August 11, when the Web site TechCrunch reveals that it was all a publicity stunt. “Jenny-the-Dry-Erase-Girl” is really Elyse Porterfield, a struggling young actress hired by The Chive to perpetrate the hoax.[41]

(4) By the evening of August 11, Porterfield and The Chive editor have garnished sufficient influence to be interviewed by CBS News Entertainment to discuss their successful creation of the hoax. Thirty-six hours after the first posting, The Chive and Porterfield are hot properties. Could an acting role be far behind? (And of course, I’m pulling for Porterfield. She is so darn likable.)[42]

In less than two twenty-four-hour news cycles a hoax is: (1) perpetrated, (2) debunked, and (3) milked for enough publicity to become national news and achieve celebrity status. Porterfield is the paramount pseudo celebrity created via what Boorstin calls a “pseudo-event fabricated by the media and evaluated in terms of the scale and effectiveness of their media visibility.”[43]

Pseudo Celebrity and Cultural Currency

Notice, however, how the final stage of influence is still very much intact. In fact, the defining characteristic of the contemporary pseudo celebrity culture is the shallow but powerful nature of the identification it engenders. Pseudo celebrity endorsements are both effective and pervasive, because these superstars are integral parts of our lives and intimately tied to our greatest hopes and fears.

In a culture devoid of meaning and relationship, the pseudo celebrity system offers powerful images to direct our lives. Media outlets create an “illusion of accessibility and relationship.”[44] In a society hungering for close personal relationships, the pseudo celebrity system delivers pseudo-relationships with people we feel connected to but have never met.[45] When Lady Gaga sings, “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me,” she is eerily describing the zeitgeist of paparazzi culture. Through pseudo celebrity culture, we perpetrate a new American mythology: not the maxim that strong character, hard work, and perseverance will eventually lead to success and happiness, but rather be in the right place at the right time, with the right YouTube video and you too can be famous. The underlying story behind pseudo celebrity becomes: it could happen to me.

Not everyone can be a hero, but anyone can be famous. Accomplishments might put someone in a position to be noticed by the media, but only the intentional courting of the public eye can produce an ongoing celebrity. This is the underlying secret of our pseudo celebrity culture: it’s all about the Benjamins. Celebrities are needed to drive the economy, sell the products, and fill the airtime so as to generate advertising dollars to sell even more products. Pseudo celebrities are the ultimate wedding of consumer culture and democratic aspirations.[46] In a society cynical about truth, and without a clear sense of common good informing our ethical decisions, the pseudo celebrity system guarantees that even if I don’t know how to live a meaningful life, at least I’ll know how to dress.

On Being a Twenty-first Century Heroic Celebrity (and Not a Pseudo Celebrity)

Moses was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” yet he wrote books that celebrated his own heroism

Does this trivialization of celebrity mean that twenty-first-century culture-makers should eschew all celebrity and start dangling our own paparazzi over the pit of hell? Perhaps. But if the realm of celebrity is stripped of every true hero, all that remains will be pseudo celebrities. And a world without public heroism is a profoundly unbiblical idea. Without contemporary additions to the Hebrews 11 hall of fame, how can we expect a new generation to “Remember your leaders [. . . .] Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith”? (Heb. 13:7). If we don’t have heroic celebrities who are broadly famous in our culture, then haven’t we lost our culture already? To put a twist on Edmund Burke’s oft-quoted aphorism: “All that is necessary for pseudo celebrity to triumph is for heroic celebrities to do nothing.”[47]

Still, some might argue: yes, we need heroes, but shouldn’t we leave hero-making to God? You would certainly think so if you read evangelical devotional literature. Even thoughtful historians often help perpetrate the myth that the Holy Spirit alone drew the giant crowds that followed the saintly Whitefield, as if he wanted only to be left alone with his Bible. Consider Stephen Mansfield’s hagiographic account:

“What could explain the crowds, always the crowds? It must be simply the grace of God and his decision to use a slight, squint-eyed boy to change lives.”[48]

My point is not that the supernatural impact of Whitefield’s ministry is difficult to account for except by the grace of God (more on this later), only that Whitefield carefully cultivated and judiciously utilized his celebrity for the glory of God. Why should twenty-first-century leaders be any different? Moses was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” yet he wrote books that celebrated his own heroism (Numbers 12:3). Nehemiah certainly wasn’t shy in trumpeting his own accomplishments. And David commissioned the telling of the heroic story of Ruth in order to clear up a public relations problem in his (Gentile) heritage. Yet Moses, David, Ruth, Nehemiah, Whitefield, and Edwards possessed at least three further traits that define their heroic celebrity and which might help mitigate against contemporary pseudo celebrity.

The Compelling Authenticity of a Life Well Lived

Edwards and Whitefield were men of remarkable integrity. Edwards was no pseudo celebrity scholar. He was the real thing. He was devoted to the calling of his craft, often spending thirteen hours a day in his study. Nor was he a public figure who wilted in private. He developed a profound contemplative prayer life, forged a beautiful marriage, and stayed deeply involved in the lives of his eleven children.

Although Whitefield never achieved Edwards’s “depth in his thinking about culture,”[49] he began each day reading his Greek New Testament and returned to finish his master’s degree at Oxford after already achieving much of his fame. He worked tirelessly to improve as an orator (and actor). More importantly, he was a man of profound personal and financial integrity. He raised staggering amounts of money while maintaining a Spartan lifestyle that bordered on asceticism.[50] Both leaders escaped moral scandal despite determined enemies and years in the public eye.[51]

This is not to say that these men were perfect; they both freely admitted their mistakes and misjudgments in their own writings. Whitefield wrote, “Alas! Alas! In how many things have I judged acted wrong. I have been too rash and hasty in [judging the] character, both of places and persons. . . I have used a style too apostolical . . . been too bitter in my zeal . . . and published to soon and too explicitly. . . By these things I have hurt the blessed cause I would defend.”[52]  But rather than repelling followers, such authenticity drew men and women to his celebrity. In short, they were actually men who could be admired; they were heroic celebrities who might be emulated.

Twenty-first-century culture-makers must strive for the same excellence in craft and character. Pseudo celebrity culture has bred cynicism regarding all celebrities. Americans crave authenticity but expect duplicity. We are looking for our heroes to fall, and the celebrity media industry is only too happy to pounce when they do. Those who would aspire to heroic celebrity must be absolutely certain that they are up to the task. Although pseudo celebrities sometimes become heroes over the course of time, heroic celebrities can become pseudo celebrities overnight. Ted Haggard became a national celebrity, not through his accomplishment of building one of the most influential churches in America, nor by his position as President of the National Council of Evangelicals; he became a household name by reason of his infidelity.

The bar is high, but authenticity is achievable even in an age of pseudo celebrity

This calls for a ruthless commitment to the compelling authenticity of a life well lived. Scholars, ministers, businesspeople, musicians, politicians, filmmakers, artists, actors, and publishers had best count the cost before they dare enter the world of heroic celebrity. They need a radical commitment to master both their craft at a world-class level and the spiritual disciplines, marriage, family, and relational habits required to shape their character toward the fruit of the Spirit.

Great artists, scholars, businesspeople, and ministers are not formed in a day. Great marriages, families, and friendships are forged with great intentionality. Heroic character cannot be instantly formed by sheer force of will, but the ongoing practice of key spiritual disciplines put us in a position to receive the transforming grace of God and be “incrementally changed toward inward Christlikeness.”[53]

This also calls for a countercultural commitment on the part of thoughtful media leaders and public relations specialists to work against the forces of pseudo celebrity. In addition to Edwards and Whitefield, leaders of the First Great Awakening included not only one of the pioneers of publicity and public relations (William Seward), but also three of the key forerunners in modern mass communication: John Lewis, Thomas Prince, and William McCulloch.[54] They were determined to use the power of the media to promote spiritual awakening through Edwards and Whitefield’s celebrity. Twenty-first-century media leaders must seek for the true heroes in our society and make certain their stories are told. They must also do everything within their power to insure that those they promote as celebrities are in fact heroes.

The Courageous Ambition of Genuine Humility

Genuine humility sometimes appears arrogant (David and Goliath by Jason Engle)

Edwards and Whitefield were also men of tremendous ambition to glorify God in the world. Early in his life, Edwards determined, “I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory [. . . ]” However, Edwards’s humility didn’t prevent him from developing a ruthless ambition to serve the coming of God’s kingdom throughout the world. He continued: “[. . .] and my own good, profit and pleasure to do whatever I think to be my duty [. . .] for the good and advantage of mankind.”[55]

Edwards saw no conflict in these two aspirations, having also resolved to throw off anything smacking of “gratification of pride, or vanity,”[56] and he lived his life to maximally steward the gifts God had entrusted to him by establishing himself as a renowned intellectual force for good.[57]

Whitefield too was a man possessed of a deep passion for the glory of God with a corresponding repudiation of self-glory. Yet, he also held to a keen sense of the importance of his impact upon the world. Certainly, the hierarchical worldview of Edwards and Whitefield’s day helped them seize those opportunities in ways that our current pseudo celebrity, democratic, level-playing-field worldview does not.[58] They were encouraged to aspire to become “great men” from their youth, and their respective Yale and Oxford educations only reinforced the idea that they were God’s elite. They did not need to be asked to step forward as celebrities. They knew it was a responsibility entrusted to them by God and correspondingly seized the day.

Not so today. The cynicism of pseudo celebrity when combined with tireless assaults upon anyone who dares stick their heads above the democratic crowd has had a devastating impact on moral leadership. True heroes step back from the public limelight while pseudo celebrities push themselves forward. Those who do not possess true character and accomplishment manipulate the media for their own celebrity, whereas those who possess some modicum of humility shrink back. True heroes fear not only their own ego, but also the potential humiliation involved in having a target painted on their back. For instance, it is now a right of passage for nearly all intellectual, cultural, and spiritual leaders to have multiple Web sites devoted to their demise.

Overcoming our contemporary aversion to principled heroism will call for the courageous ambition of genuine humility on the part of twenty-first-century cultural leaders. Like Saul’s army before Goliath, unbelief sometimes looks a lot like humility. Genuine humility, on the other hand, sometimes appears arrogant. While lifelong soldiers cowered in fear, David was willing to push past his brother’s stinging accusation, “I know how conceited you are” in order to seize the heroic challenge (1 Sam. 17:28ff). Twenty-first-century culture-makers who wish to wisely use celebrity for the glory of God will also need to regularly weather the pseudo celebrity culture’s challenge of “Who do you think you are?” in order to stand as heroic celebrities.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: A morality tale on the danger of losing control of your public perception

This will also require careful partnerships with thoughtful public relations professionals and new media experts.[59] As media expert Phil Cook, exclaims, “If you don’t control your perception” and “the story that surrounds you [. . .] you’ll live the rest of your life at the mercy of those who will.”[60]

One need only look at James Monaco refers to persons who come to the public eye but fail to control their public image as “Quasars.” They are at the mercy of the media’s construction of their image, and that construction is nearly always bad.the “Tina Fey effect” in the last presidential election for a warning against the dangers of losing control of your own image.[61] Unlike the leaders of the Great Awakening, today’s leaders have allowed our culture’s perception of spirituality to drift at the mercy of the mass media’s construction. Oprah and Richard Dawkins have done more to shape mass media’s conception of faith (or lack thereof) than countless pastors and other spiritual leaders. Only by drawing upon the savvy leadership of the best public relations experts, journalists, filmmakers, television creators, and new-media mavens is there any real chance of reversing this trend.

The Unmistakable Stamp of Divine Exaltation

Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife at the midpoint of his descent into greatness (Rembrandt)

In the end, Edwards and Whitefield’s lives bore the unmistakable stamp of divine exaltation. Their personal lives and vocational success simply defied all human explanation. Although self-exaltation may lead to pseudo celebrity, there is a type of exaltation only God can bestow. As the psalmist declares, “It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (Ps. 75:7).

Celebrity did not bring David in from the shepherd field, release Joseph from prison, nor fill Mary’s womb with divine offspring. They were men and women who followed the biblical injunction: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).

Each hero waited in relative obscurity—growing in character while mastering the disciplines of their craft—waiting for the moment chosen by the God whose eyes “range throughout the earth seeking to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron. 16:9).[62]

For some, like Daniel and Esther, this call came at a relatively young age. For many others, like Moses and Anna, the call came much later. In either case, these biblical figures were ready when their moment arrived.

Whether short or long, God used their time in secret preparation to forge in them the strength of character to support the weight of their calling. Edwards and Whitefield were men of similar character. When the divine moment came—in the 1734-1734 revival in Edwards’s church and the 1739 revival under Whitefield’s itinerant preaching—these two principal leaders of the First Great Awakening knew what to do. Once exalted by God to a place of celebrity, they were ready to bear the responsibilities it demanded and steward their celebrity for the glory of God. In doing so, they helped spark one of the most socially transformative movements in American history. W

ill the twenty-first-century be any different? We may never know how many potentially dynamic cultural leaders will be lured by the siren song of pseudo celebrity, impatiently squandering their youth seeking fame instead of steadily building the craft and character required for their divine moment. Still, we must do everything within our power to help foster spiritual depth as well as professional excellence. In an age hungering for the depth of genuine authenticity to counteract the shallowness of pseudo celebrity, waiting for God’s timing could make all the difference.

The Greatest Day in World History?

C.S. Lewis’ Edwardsean commitment to scholarship and popular culture landed him on the cover of Time

Will we see again the equivalent of the crowds that thronged Boston Common for Whitefield’s farewell sermon? Perhaps not. But if we do, that crowd will more likely gather in movie houses worldwide and/or at a massive Web cast than a single venue. A twenty-first-century equivalent of Whitefield is more likely a cutting-edge filmmaker, actor, or television producer than a traditional evangelist.

A twenty-first-century equivalent of Edwards might take the form of a C. S. Lewis, the Oxford scholar who built upon his prestigious position through popular writings and radio broadcasts that gave him a celebrity—the cover of Time magazine for The Screwtape Letters—that made his complex moral and theological arguments beloved reading for a generation of children and adults.  Either manifestation would certainly be a great day for the world as we know it.

In a media-saturated age marked by both an unhealthy appetite for pseudo celebrity and a deep cynicism toward heroism, it would be hard to find a better tonic than the courage and authenticity of Edwards and Whitefield, heroic celebrities unafraid to utilize their fame for the glory of God.

The thought that we can sit on the sidelines and call down judgment upon today’s celebrity culture may be as dangerous as it is naive. We are called to be missionaries in a media-driven culture. Wishing it weren’t so won’t make that fact go away. To impact our image-driven generation for the kingdom of God will require entering the fray prayerfully, thoughtfully, and with great excellence. And if all else fails, we can always dangle a few paparazzi over the fires of hell. Or, better yet, we can follow Whitefield’s example and hire them.  

Article adapted from version in print and online versions of  The Other Journal.  

For Responses to See:

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly Guest Posts on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

 

Notes


[1] The 2004 Red Sox victory parade attracted an estimated 3 million out of 4.4 million in greater Boston (68 percent), whereas Whitefield’s farewell sermon drew 23,000 from of the city population of 17,000 (135 percent). Whitefield’s more modest estimate was 20,000 (118 percent). Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2003), 79.

[2] Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), x.

[3] Stout, Divine Dramatist, 90; Frank Lambert, Pedlar in Divinity: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 1737-1770 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 128; Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-century Revival (Westchester, IL: Cornerstone Books, 1979), 527; and Harry S. Stout, “Whitefield, George,” Dictionary of Christianity in America, ed. Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 1252.

[4] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 202.

[5] Jonathan Edwards and C. C. Goen, A faithful narrative of the surprising work of God in the conversion of many Souls in Northampton, and neighbouring towns and villages of the County of Hampshire, in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New England. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 4: The Great Awakening (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972).

[6] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 137.

[7] Richard Rhodes, John James Audubon: The Making of an American (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. Blake, 2004); David Haven, Walt Whitman and the Culture of American Celebrity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006); Joy S. Kasson, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2000); Richard Schickel, Douglas Fairbanks: The First Celebrity (London, UK: Elm Tree Books, 1976); Leonard J. Leff, Hemingway and His Conspirators: Hollywood, Scribners, and the Making of American Celebrity Culture (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997). Other proposed contenders include: Adah Isaacs Menken (c. 1855), see Renée M. Sentilles, Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Gertrude Stein (c. 1900), see Karen Leick, Gertrude Stein and the Making of an American Celebrity (New York, NY: Routledge, 2009); and Charles Lindbergh (c. 1940), see Randy Roberts and David Welky, Charles A. Lindbergh: The Power and Peril of Celebrity, 1927-1941 (Maplecrest, NY: Brandywine Press, 2003).

[8] Richard Schickel, Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 21.

[9] Richard DeCordova, Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990).

[10] Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co, 2005), 45.

[11] There are some who believe that Hollywood’s star-making days are over and are now being replaced by the experience-making of stadium theaters, 3-D glasses, concept movies, and CGI. Given the blockbuster opening weekend ($35 million) of the low-tech but star-studded The Expendables (2010), I suspect this argument will grow even more heated.

[12] See Schickel, Intimate Strangers; and Graeme Turner, Understanding Celebrity (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2004), 3, 8.

[13] Turner, Understanding Celebrity, 10.

[14] Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame & its History (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1986).

[15] See also 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9. All references are from the New International Version.

[16] Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image, or, What Happened to the American Dream (London, UK: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1861), 58; and Daniel J. Boorstin, “From Hero to Celebrity: The Human Pseudo-event,” in David Marshall, The Celebrity Culture Reader (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006), 72-90.

[17] Turner, 65.

[18] These “stages” do not always occur chronologically.

[19] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 155, 160.

[20] Edwards, Faithful Narrative, 11-14.

[21] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 161; and cited in Jonathan Edwards and C. C. Goen, The Great Awakening, 36.

[22] C. C. Goen, The Great Awakening, 90-92

[23] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 171.

[24] Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, 80.

[25] Robert W. Jenson, America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988), x. See also, Joseph A. Conforti, Jonathan Edwards: Religious Tradition & American Culture (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Douglas A. Sweeney and Allen C. Guelzo, The New England Theology: From Jonathan Edwards to Edwards Amasa Park (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006).

[26] Michael J. Crawford chronicles that between 1712-1732 the Connecticut River Valley alone experienced as many as fifteen revivals before the first of two “outpourings” in Edwards’s Northampton, Massachusetts, church (1734-1736, 1740-1742). See, Seasons of Grace: Colonial New England’s Revival Tradition in Its British Context (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991), 108. To his credit, Edwards’s own account mentioned “nearly every church in Western Massachusetts and twenty in Connecticut.” See Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 162.

[27] Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1986), 228.

[28] Stout, Divine Dramatist, 95

[29] Ibid., 87.

[30] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 200.

[31] Stout, Divine Dramatist, xiv.

[32] Ibid., xiii. Italics mine.

[33] For more insight into the use of media, publicity, et cetera in the First Great Awakening see Frank Lambert, Inventing the “Great Awakening” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); Harry S. Stout, “Religion, Communications, and the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution” The William and Mary Quarterly: A Magazine of Early American History 34 (1977): 519-541; and Michael J. Crawford, Seasons of Grace, 13ff.

[34] Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, 141.

[35] Jonathan Edwards and C. C. Goen, Some thoughts concerning the present revival of religion in New England and the way in which it ought to be acknowledged and promoted. The works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 4: The Great Awakening (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972).

[36] Gary David Stratton, “Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) Theology of Spiritual Awakening and Spiritual Formation Leadership in Higher Education” (PhD diss., Talbot School of Theology, 2009), 59. See also Gary D. Stratton, “Jonathan Edwards’ Treatise Concerning Religious Affections and Gerald McDermott’s Seeing God,” Christian Education Journal 3 (2006) and Samuel S. Storms, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007).

[37] Jonathan Edwards, John Edwin Smith, and Perry Miller, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, in three parts. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959), 5-7.

[38] Boorstin, The Image, 58.

[39] Turner, Understanding Celebrity, 55.

[40] Helen A.S. Popkin, “Suckers! Why you fell for ‘Dry Erase Board Girl.’” msnbc.com, August 12, 2010, accessed August 14, 2010.

[41] Alexia Tsotsis, “Confirmed: HOPA Dry Erase Girl Is a Hoax, Identity Revealed,” TechCrunch, August 11, 2010, accessed August 11, 2010.

[42] Shira Lazar, “Elyse Porterfield, HOPA Dry Erase Girl Exclusive Interview [Video],” CBS News, August 11, 2010, accessed August 11, 2010. [43] Boorstin, The Image, 57.

[44] Richard Dyer and Paul McDonald, Stars (London, UK: BFI, 2007), 17.

[45] Chris Rojek, Celebrity: Critical Concepts in Sociology (London, UK: Routledge, 2010), 16, 52.

[46] Marshall, Celebrity and Power, 10. See also Leo Lowenthal, Communication in Society. Studies on Authoritarianism 3, False Prophets (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1997).

[47] Burke probably never used the precise phrase, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” but rather, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one [. . .]” Daniel E. Ritchie, Edmund Burke: Appraisals and Applications (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990), xiii.

[48] Stephen Mansfield, Forgotten Founding Father: The Heroic Legacy of George Whitefield (Nashville, TN: Highland Books/Cumberland House, 2001), 64.

[49] Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, 108.

[50] Stout, Divine Dramatist, 122-123.

[51] This is not to minimize the doctrinal and methodological controversies that only added to their fame. See Stout, Divine Dramatist, 123.

[52] George Whitefield and Robert Backhouse, The Journals of George Whitefield (London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993), 144. See also Dallimore, Whitefield, 333-354.

[53] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 82

[54] Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, 143-144.

[55] Jonathan Edwards and George S. Claghorn, Letters and Personal Writings (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 755.

[56] Ibid., 753-4

[57] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 134

[58] Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989).

[59] James Monaco, Celebrity: The Media as Image Makers, And, In Order of Their Celebrity (New York, NY: Dell, 1978).

[60] Phil Cook, Branding Faith, Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 10, 49.

[61] Edward Rothstein, “The Power of Political Pratfalls,” New York Times, October 12, 2008. See also, David Carr and Brian Stelter, “Campaigns in a Web 2.0 World,” New York Times, November 2, 2008.

[62] See also 1 Samuel 13:14; 16:7.

LOST Lessons of Leadership 3: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – Authoritarian Leadership Learns to Serve

Part 3 of series, LOST Lessons of Leadership: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

Ben carefully manipulates of his followers by giving them just enough of what they want to be able to keep them under his control

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Dr. Benjamin Linus, a wolf in sheep’s clothing

The second season of LOST introduces yet a third approach to leadership in the person of Dr. Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson). Ben is the leader of “The Others”—a second group of island inhabitants who predate the plane crash and have no intention of sharing the island with the survivors of Oceanic 815. [1]

Ben is neither a servant leader, nor an overtly authoritarian one. He is something else altogether. He is not above using the “gun” of authoritarian power to force people to do his will, but his particular talent is mastery in the art of picking up a “basin and towel” in order to manipulate followers to do his bidding.

As evidenced in the clip below, Ben is the most dangerous type of leader in the postmodern world—a pseudo servant leader. Injured, captured, and imprisoned by the crash survivors (who have no idea who he really is), the unassuming Ben seems to be in no position to lead. Yet, watch how quickly he gets under John Locke’s skin by exploiting Locke’s “need” to be seen on equal or greater footing than Jack. (Go ahead. I’ll wait while you watch it.)


LOST Season 2: Ben manipulating Locke. Follow my videos on vodpod

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The Paradox of Power

Leadership is essentially a transaction. Followers give their leaders power in exchange for service. The “paradox of power” in democratic societies is that men and women simply will not follow leaders they don’t perceive are meeting their needs.

The American political system bears testimony to this paradox. We call our elected officials “Public Servants.”  If they serve us well, we re-elect them.  If they serve us poorly, we elect others in their place.

Business practice bears this out well. Companies who serve their customers well are highly rewarded with return business and referrals.  Companies that do not meet the needs of their clients soon find themselves filing for bankruptcy.

Hollywood is painfully aware of this principle. The “best” film ever made won’t last a week in theaters if it fails to touch a chord in the hearts, minds, (or funny bones) of a significant audience.

Faith communities are subject to this paradox as well. People join churches and follow various teachers and rabbis because they sense their needs are being met.  They “vote” for their favorite spiritual leader with their attendance, their giving and, in the burgeoning religious marketplace, their buying.  Churches that truly meet the needs of their congregations grow large and prosperous.  Their pastors become famous.  Their methods and teaching become models for others.

But is this all there is to servant leadership? If so, then anyone can do it.  Just give people what they want and you’re a leader.  But are you?  Really?  Is the ability to attract a following by promising and (sometimes) delivering what people want all there is to transformational leadership? If it is, then we are in real trouble.

Authoritarian Leadership Learns to Serve

Unfortunately, the paradox of power cuts both ways. People give power for service.  A leader who fails to understand this and, therefore, fails to seek to meet the needs of his followers will soon lead only himself. However, the leader who does understand this principle can turn it to his advantage.  By selectively meeting only those needs of his followers which meet his agenda, an authoritarian can actually “lord it over” his followers by careful manipulation.

Ben maintains a dictatorial iron fist upon the “others,” by claiming to be their servant leader

This is where authoritarian leadership can most closely resemble servant leadership. Because of the paradox of power even an authoritarian leader must be wise in how she attains to her goal of gaining a position over their followers.  Machiavelli, the epitome of authoritarian leadership, put it this way:  “Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.”

Mao Tse-Tung, the father of Chinese communism, used this principle to subdue an entire nation under his iron-fisted grip. His interest in the welfare of the peasants of China was based upon managerial expediency not philosophical principle.  He boldly declared:

“To link oneself with the masses one must act in accordance with their needs and wishes… We should pay close attention to the well being of the masses, from the problems of land and labor to those of fuel and rice… We should help them to proceed from these things to an understanding of the higher tasks which we have put forward… such is the basic method of leadership.”[2]

Power Brokers

A quick study of history will reveal that nearly every dictator from Napoleon to Hitler to Hitler rose to power by mastering this principle. They doled out servant leadership in exchange for power.  Burns describes the difference this way: They learned to exploit the paradox of power to their personal advantage.  In the words of James MacGregor Burns, they are not true servant leaders, but power-brokers.

“Power-brokers …respond to their subjects’ needs and motivations only to the extent that they have to in order to fulfill their own power objectives, which remain their primary concern.  True leaders, on the other hand, emerge from, and always return to, the wants and needs of their followers.  They see their task as the recognition and mobilization of their followers’ needs.”[3]

This kind of power-brokering appears to be the true motivation behind much of the “servant leadership” in contemporary society. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman helped birth a revolution in the business book publishing industry by studying the actual practices of top corporations. One of his key findings is summed up as follows: “Almost everyone agrees, ‘people are our most important asset,’ yet almost none really live it.  The excellent companies live their commitment to people . . . They insisted on top quality.  They fawned on their customers.” [4]

Yet Peters and Waterman were unwittingly candid as to why such an approach is so effective: “We desperately need meaning in our lives and will sacrifice a great deal to institutions that will provide meaning for us.”[5] Really? So is the goal to provide meaning or to get our customers to sacrifice to buy our product?

Barber and Strauss in their book Leadership: The Dynamics of Success, are equally candid:

“Servanthood is the highest form of leadership.  It is the ideal.  It exists when the leader creates a caring environment in which those under him feel wanted and appreciated.  In this environment they can respond to his direction and reach their highest level of productivity.”[6]

Hmmm? So what motivates the supervisor’s interest in her employees needs: service or manipulation? It is difficult to discern?  What happens when meeting the real needs of employees will (at least temporarily) hurt their productivity?  Are they really interested in meeting the needs of their employees or are they merely searching for a method to get them to follow their leadership?

And what about the pastor who diligently attempts to meet the needs of his flock?Which motivates him more; building his people into a super-congregation, or building himself into a superstar?

All too often “servant leadership” boils down to little more than skillful manipulation. We invest in the needs of others only if it yields for us a return on our investment:  a return of profit, promotion and power.  Our true motive is not to serve others, but to serve ourself.  It is authoritarian leadership in servant clothing—all form but no substance.

The LOST Power of Ben

Ben carefully manipulates Juliet by giving her what she wants (but only in order to get what he really wants.)

This appears to be the secret to Ben’s unassuming power: He is wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is a master dictator skilled in the careful manipulation of his followers through giving them enough of what they want to be able to keep them under control.

Nowhere is this more evident than his recruitment of Dr. Juliet Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell). Ben lures Juliet to the island by “serving” her in the death of her estranged husband, the healing of her cancer-ridden sister, and appealing to her longing to help barren women conceive. And to what purpose? To make her his own. (To view the creepy scene, see clip link below.)

Like Dr. Benjamin Linus, the secret to so much power in Western society today is not so much genuine servant leadership seeking to meet the needs of others, but rather the careful manipulation of others through the sleight of hand of power-brokering. 

So what is the difference between power-brokering and genuine servant leadership?

 

Next post in the seriesLOST Lessons of Leadership 4: Charlie and Juliet’s Sacrifice – The Heart of Servant Leadership 

 

Previous Posts In Series:

Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

The Paradox of Power: A Cure for the Cancer of Pseudo Celebrity?

LOST Lessons of Leadership 1: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

LOST Lessons of Leadership 2: Jack’s Position of Power – A Study in Servant Leadership


Notes

[1] Remarkably, the role of Dr. Benjamin Linus (aka, Henry Gale) was originally intended to be short-lived and minor. However, Michael Emerson created such a creepy and compelling character (one that earned him two Emmy nominations) show writers ended up “promoting” him to be leader of the “others.”

[2] Quoted in James MacGregor Burns. Leadership. p. 10

[3] James MacGregor Burns, Leadership. p. 48

[4] Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. (New York:  Harper & Rowe)  p. 13,16

[5] In Search of Excellence, p. 56

[6] Cyril T. Barber and Gary H.  Strauss.  Leadership: The Dynamics of Success.  (Greenwood, SC:  Attic Press), pp. 107-108

LOST Lessons of Leadership 2: Jack’s Position of Power – Service for the Common Good

Part 2 of series, LOST Lessons of Leadership: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

Instead of treating leadership like a gun to meet his own needs, Jack is using leadership as a tool to serve others

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

In contrast to the “asshole” style of leadership evidenced by Sawyer and his gun (see, LOST lesson #1), the first season of LOST open’s with a compelling story of a radically different approach: service. In perhaps the best seven-minute opening in the history of action-adventure television, Dr. Jack Shephard awakens to find himself alone and injured in a bamboo grove on a deserted island. Ignoring his own injuries, Jack rushes to the crash site and jumps into action as a servant leader. He tends to the wounded, brings a woman back from the dead, performs jungle surgery, leads the exploratory party to look for their jetliner’s transceiver, and plunges into the water to save a drowning woman. 

Despite a back story that would cause many to eschew the heroic, Jack functions not so much like a positional leader with the gun, but rather as a servant leader instead for the entire group.  

If you want to see exactly what I mean, you’ll have to sign in to ABC to watch the first ten minutes of the pilot below. (Also available on Hulu.)

The Nature of Servant Leadership

“Servant.”

“Leader.” 

Few words seem more mutually exclusive. Leaders give orders. Servants take them.  Leaders have followers. Servants have masters.  Leaders are powerful. Servants are powerless.  Everyone wants to be a leader. Everyone wants to have a servant.

But are they really so opposite? Jesus told his followers that true spiritual power comes not in seeking a position over others, but rather in a position under them.

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” -Mark 10:43-44

The ultimate test of practical leadership is the realization of intended, real change that meets people’s enduring needs.

How these words must have shocked Jesus’ disciples. They must have shook their heads to clear their ears.  Surely they could not have heard correctly.  A servant in Jesus’ day was the lowest of professions.  He performed the most menial of household tasks.  A slave was lower still.  “He had no rights at law and could demand no privileges …his money, his time, his future, his marriage were all, strictly speaking, at the disposal of his master.”[1]

But there was no mistake: Jesus selected His words very carefully. A servant is someone who lives to meet the needs of his master.  A servant leader lives for the needs of his followers.  The basis for greatness in the kingdom of God is not how many people serve you, but rather, how many people you serve.

The authoritarian leader uses people to help him gain his position of authority. The servant leader uses his position of authority to help him meet the needs of others.  “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant–first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”[2] The more needs he meets, the better the servant he is and, therefore, the better leader.

The Power of Servant Leadership

If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.

This is the secret power of a servant leader:  people want to follow them. They sense that she genuinely cares about their well-being. There is something in the very nature of leadership that implies service.  True leaders, those who people follow because they want to not because they have to, always begin with and return to the needs of their followers.  As James MacGregor Burns states in his monumental work, Leadership: “The ultimate test of practical leadership is the realization of intended, real change that meets people’s enduring needs.”[3]

This is the secret to Jack’s leadership. He really isn’t trying to lead.  He is trying to serve. The group gradually gravitated to following him precisely because they realized that he was acting with their best interests in mind. When the group needs medical care, Jack is there. When they need fresh water, Jack finds it. When tensions in the group finally boil over into a fight, it is Jack who intervenes in what becomes one of the most famous speeches of the series:

It’s been six days and we’re all still waiting. Waiting for someone to come. But what if they don’t? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out. …Everyman for himself is not going to work. …Last week most of us were strangers, but we’re all here now. And God knows how long we’re going to be here. But if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.” 

The Goal of Servant Leadership

Throughout the rest of season one (don’t get me started talking about subsequent seasons), Jack continues to cast vision for the survivor’s future by inviting them into a story of collective servanthood. He functions as what business writer Jim Collins refers to as a “Level 5 Leader.” Collins studied top companies in order to discern why some were able to grow from being “good” companies into “great,” while others faltered. Not surprisingly, servant leadership was key. In Collins words:

Level 5 leaders are differentiated from other levels of leaders in that they have a wonderful blend of personal humility combined with extraordinary professional will. They are very ambitious; but their ambition, first and foremost, is for the company’s success. [5]

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Like many Level 5 Leaders, Jack hasn’t sought and doesn’t even want to lead. In fact, it takes Jack more than a few episodes to even realize that he has become the group’s de facto leader.  When he insists to John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) that he can’t lead because, ”I’m not a leader!”  Locke can only reply, “Yet they treat you like one.”

And why not? Instead of treating leadership like a gun to meet his own needs, Jack is using leadership as a tool to serve others. Like Jesus, who took up the tools of a household servant—a basin and a towel—in order to wash the feet of his first followers; Jack uses his medical training and innate leadership skills to wash the wounds, and souls of the survivors of Oceanic 815.

By rejecting the path of lording it over the group and choosing to take a position under the survivors, Jack has become a true servant leader..

But is that all there is to servant leadership? If only it were so simple…

Next: LOST Lessons of Leadership 3: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Authoritarian Leaders Learn to Serve.

 

See also:

LOST Lessons of Leadership: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly Guest Posts on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

The Paradox of Power: A Cure for the Cancer of Pseudo Celebrity?

 


Notes

[1] Michael Green, Called to Serve (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1964), p. 19.

[2] James M. Burns, Leadership (New York: Harper & Row, 2010), p. 461.

[3] Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership:  A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness: 25th Anniversary Edition (New York:  Paulist Press, 2002),  p. 13

[4] Sarah Powell, “Taking Good to Great: An Interview with Jim Collins.”  See also, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t (New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001).

[5] At least for the remainder of Season 1.

LOST Lessons of Leadership: What the Island Taught Me About Heroic Character

Part of ongoing series: Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God:  Celebrity and Servant Leadership in an Age of Self Promotion.

Like all authoritarian leaders, Sawyer understood that a leadership position is often wielded very much like a gun

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

Critically-acclaimed and wildly successful, culture watchers consider LOST one of the most influential TV shows of all time

I admit it. I’m a huge fan of ABC’s hit series LOST (2004-2010). My son gave me the first season DVDs as a Father’s Day gift right before I boarded a plane for a conference at Yale University. After a late night arrival, I checked into my turn-of-the-century dorm room, fired up the trusty laptop and watched the first episode…alone.  I was completely hooked from the opening slate. [1]

I was also terrified. The juxtaposition of the Island’s tropical beauty with its forlorn isolation evoked some sort of Jungian identification in my soul. The polar bear and that pilot-munching “monster” only added to my sense of disorientation. By the time the first episode ended with a THUD and that eerie theme music, I was completely creeped out.

Lost and alone in a strange dorm room in a college town, I gave LOST my highest horror-film honor—I slept with the lights on!

LOST: A Study in Leadership?

The survivors of Oceanic Airlines flight 815 find themselves on a mysterious island and in desperate need of leadership

Curiously, the most influential aspect of LOST in my own life is its unique insight into the nature of servant leadership. One of the key story lines of LOST’s first season is the tension between Jack (Matthew Fox) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) for leadership of the small band of plane crash survivors desperately seeking to balance the twin goals of survival and rescue.

With the plane’s crew and captain missing (or killed in first episode), Jack and Sawyer step into a profound leadership vacuum with radically different approaches to leadership.

 Sawyer Got a Gun

Jack and Sawyer’s struggle for control of the band of survivors is a central plot line of season one.

To Sawyer, leadership is about getting his own way, and the means to his end is gaining control of the only advanced weapon to survive the plane crash: an air marshal’s pistol. Once Sawyer gets the gun it is only a matter of time before he begins to use it to impose his agenda and well-being as the group’s first priority.

This is the nature of all authoritarian leadership. It is a lesson that Jesus of Nazareth laid out in his understanding of leadership nearly 2,000 years ago. St Mark records an extraordinary encounter between Jesus and two of his disciples–James and John–who approach him in search of positions of authoritarian power.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten (other disciples) heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you!”

-Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 10:35-43)

To Jesus, an authoritarian leader is someone who seeks to leads by virtue of his or her position over people–whether that position of advantage is gained by virtue of wealth, heritage, connections, talent, or luck.  To “lord it over” someone as Jesus calls it, is to attempt to subjugate them and control them.  This kind of leadership typified the Roman Empire-“the rulers of the Gentiles” in Jesus’ day.   First Century Israel was an occupied nation.  The disciples knew all too well the Roman cruelty and taxation that had already attained infamy in their excess.  By virtue of their position Roman soldiers and official could demand service from any civilian they chose.  Clearly Rome did not rule for the good of her subjects but for the glory of Caesar and his favored subjects.

Authoritarian leaders understand that a leadership position can be wielded very much like a gun

The Goal of Authoritarian Leadership

Like all authoritarian leaders, Sawyer understood that a leadership position can be wielded very much like a gun. Genuine leadership— “The skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good”– is the farthest thing from Sawyer’s mind.[2]

The authoritarian leader leads by using their position of power to force others do as she pleases. She accomplishes this by “exercising his authority over” his followers.  She has gained the upper hand by virtue of her wealth, privilege, status, or influence and uses her position as leverage against others to force them to do her bidding.  As George Mallone puts it,  “people who have spent all their energies getting to the top now let others feel the full weight of their authority . . . They are preoccupied with position.”[3]

This is clearly the aim of James and John. They reason that a dual vice-presidency in the kingdom of God is just the ticket for the ultimate power trip.  Yet their very request reveals a deep misconception of the nature of true leadership–a misconception that Jesus quickly corrects.

The Limitations of Authoritarian Leadership

Sawyer’s use of the “Gun” of authoritarian leadership quickly devolves into a power play for control

To the authoritarian leader, power and position are synonymous. Without position they have no power.  Without power, they cease to be a leader at all.  No one would follow them. When Sawyer loses control of the gun, he loses control of the group. As Dan Allender explains, “”You may obey a leader who has power and authority, but you will not strive to serve her or the cause of the organization unless you respect and care for her in addition to the ones with whom you serve.[4]

In short, as Season 1 begins, Sawyer is in the words of Stanford University professor Robert I. Sutton an “asshole”(an actual scholarly designation).  Assholes are profoundly ineffective leaders who “travel through life believing that they are inspiring effective action when, in fact, it only happens during the rare moments they actively impose themselves on underlings.”

The moment the authoritarian leader turns their back (or gun) their influence plummets.  Until then, followers “learn that their survival depends on protecting themselves from blame, humiliation, and recrimination rather than doing what is best for their organization.” Assholes are often praised for their short-term results, but their long-term impact nearly always devastates any group they lead. [5]

Sadly, such ineffective authoritarian leaders are all too common, whether in ancient Rome, a modern corporation, college, church, or synagogue… or even a tropical paradise. 


Next Post in Series:

LOST Lessons of Leadership 2 – Jack and the Position of Power: A Study in Servant Leadership

Previous Posts In Series:

Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly Guest Posts on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

The Paradox of Power: A Cure for the Cancer of Pseudo Celebrity?


Notes

[1] For those who missed LOST’s premise, ABC TV provides the following introduction: “LOST – Out of the blackness the first thing Jack senses is pain. With a rush comes the horrible awareness that the plane he was on tore apart in mid-air and crashed on a Pacific island. From there it’s a blur as his doctor’s instinct kicks in: people need his help. Stripped of everything, the 48 survivors scavenge what they can from the plane for their survival. A few find inner strength they never knew they had.  The band of friends, family, enemies and strangers must work together against the cruel weather and harsh terrain. But the intense howls of the mysterious creatures stalking the jungle fill them all with fear. Fortunately, thanks to the calm leadership of quick-thinking Jack and level-headed Kate, they have hope.  But even heroes have secrets, as the survivors will come to learn. From J.J. Abrams, the creator of Alias, comes an action-packed adventure that will bring out the very best and the very worst in the people who are lost.” (ABC/MARIO PEREZ

[2] James C. Hunter, The Servant: A simple story about the true essence of leadership (New York: Crown Business, 2008).

[3] George Mallone, Furnace of Renewal (Downers Grove, IL:  Inter Varsity Press, 1981), p. 82

[4] Dan B. Allender, Leading with a Limp: Turning your struggles into strengths (Colorado Springs, Colo: Waterbrook Press, 2006).

[5] Robert I. Sutton, The No Asshole Rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t (New York: Warner Business Books, 2007).

Leading in a Dysfunctional System #4: Push Toward Your Strengths, by @drtoddwhall

90% of all workers think improving their weaknesses is the best way to improve their performance. They are wrong. Dysfunctionally  wrong!

Part 4 in series: Leading in a Dysfunctional System.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

This is the fourth entry in this series on leading in a dysfunctional system. As I mentioned in the last post, developing and moving toward your strengths requires pushing gradually toward your strengths. Here are three practices that will help you do this.

1. Recognize that playing to your strengths is strategic for you and your organization. According to a 2007 Gallup survey, only one-third of workers in the U.S. report having “the opportunity to do what they do best every day.” This suggests that most organizational leaders in the U.S. do not develop a strengths-based culture. In fact, nearly nine of ten people agree or strongly agree that improving in their areas of weakness is the best way to improve performance. This is the current you are swimming against, especially in a dysfunctional system.

Research suggests a very different picture: the greatest potential contribution you will make lies in your strengths. You will grow most in your strengths because you will naturally practice and continue to learn in these areas. And the greatest contribution you will make to your team also lies in your unique strengths. In Strengths Based Leadership, Gallup researchers Tom Rath and Barry Conchie reported that the most successful leadership teams possessed a broad range of strengths that typically spanned four domains: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Teams need to be well rounded, but you don’t. The most powerful contribution you can make to any system, including a dysfunctional one, is to focus on your strengths.

2. Identify the precise activities that make up your strengths. A first step here is to take the StengthsFinder 2.0 measure developed by Gallup, which you can find at strengthsfinder.com. This will provide you with your top 5 themes, as well as an action plan. While I have found this tremendously helpful, it’s like a 30,000 foot view of your strengths. To really get a handle on your strengths, I have found Marcus Buckingham’s suggestion (in Go Put Your Strengths to Work) extremely helpful: reflect on specific activities you do on a weekly basis, and pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after the activity. As I highlighted in the previous post, do you feel competent in it, compelled to do it, immersed when doing it, and fulfilled after doing it? Or, in contrast, do you feel incompetent, repelled by it, distracted while doing it, and drained afterwards? For a one-week period, write down how you feel about all your major activities. Then once you identify the ones that are strengths, try to capture each one in a clear, one-sentence statement.

3. Create value by gradually spending more of your time on your strengths. In a dysfunctional system, you will be pulled to react to the negative emotion, rigidity or chaos. In order to lead the system toward increased health, you have to proactively shift your job toward your strengths for the good of the organization. This is difficult in all organizations, but especially in dysfunctional systems. First, connect your strengths to your current role. Spend some time thinking about how you can accomplish your functions differently by employing your strengths.

Second, note ideas you’ve had that flow from your strengths but that you may have dismissed without thinking much about it, because they didn’t fit directly in your job description. Over time, you can make them fit. You will have to put some extra time and energy in at the beginning, but once you create tangible value, it will become clear that this activity needs to be done, and that you are the one to do it.

Stay tuned for practical strategy #5: Seek extra support outside of work.

Reflection: What are examples in which you have created value based on your unique strengths?

Leading in a Dysfunctional System 3: Move Toward Your Strengths

Instead of allowing yourself to be pulled by the uncoordinated demands of a dysfunctional system, you need to push, gradually and incrementally, toward your strengths.

Part 3 in series: Leading in a Dysfunctional System.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

This is the third entry in this series on leading in a dysfunctional system. Secure leaders make a conscious effort to move toward their strengths in spite of a dysfunctional system. Why? Because this is where you will create the most value for your organization, and secure leaders do what is best for the organization. A dysfunctional system (chaotic or rigid) doesn’t become healthier by itself. Secure leaders step up to the plate and create value even when other leaders or the organization don’t recognize that value. This moves the system in the direction of health.

First, what is a strength? A strength is not just an activity at which you excel. That’s certainly part of it, but it’s not the whole picture. When an activity is a strength for you, you will:

• Feel competent at it

• Feel compelled to start doing it

• Become immersed while doing it

• Feel fulfilled after doing it

Strengths, then, are activities you are naturally good at; but more than that, you feel compelled to engage in these activities. Instead of having to force yourself to start doing them, it’s just the opposite. You’ll find yourself engaging in these activities even when something else is a higher priority—call it “productive procrastination.” So you feel drawn to these activities before you start doing them. And once you start, you lose track of time because you become immersed in the activity. This experience is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” When you experience flow in doing an activity, you easily focus because the activity is intrinsically enjoyable. When you’re done, you may feel physically tired, but you don’t feel emotionally drained; instead you feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. (See, How to Know You Belong in Hollywood: Creative Personalities Really are More Complex, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.)

For example, I enjoy teaching and speaking. When I am preparing to present a seminar on a topic I feel competent and interested in, I don’t have to force myself. I naturally gravitate toward spending time preparing. When I’m actually doing the presentation, I become immersed in a “flow” experience. It’s as if everything else fades away in the background and all my attention is focused on the presentation. After doing a presentation, or teaching a class, I am physically tired, but I feel emotionally invigorated.

So, how do you swim upstream in an unhealthy organization? As Marcus Buckingham puts it in Go Put Your Strengths to Work, you need to develop the “push” discipline. Instead of allowing yourself to be pulled by the uncoordinated demands of a dysfunctional system, you need to push, gradually and incrementally, toward your strengths.

Stay tuned for practical strategy #4: Push Toward Your Strengths.

Reflection: When do you experience flow?

Staying Above the Fray: Leading in a Dysfunctional System, Part 2: by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Part 2 in series Leading in a Dysfunctional System.

It’s natural in a dysfunctional system to respond to negative emotions with anger and frustration. This leads to a counter-productive focus on the negatives. Insecure leaders often don’t see the horizon of possible solutions because they are too caught up in the negative emotion of the system. It takes a conscious effort, but secure leaders absorb the negative emotion in the system, metabolize it, and respond positively instead of responding in kind. They avoid getting into the negative fray, and instead focus on positive solutions for the good of the organization. Emotional security is the foundation for this broader focus on the good of the organization.

Neuroscience has taught us that we catch each other’s emotion. It’s like a Wi-Fi connection for emotions. It happens mostly through the nonverbal channels of communication that are processed very rapidly and outside of our conscious awareness by the right brain and the subcortex, or the lower part of the brain. So if there is negative emotion in the system, you’re going to catch it automatically. How, then, do you absorb it and not just spew it back into the system? Here are four practices that can help.

First, develop the habit of regularly tuning into your emotions. When you notice you have some sort of bad gut level feeling, try to name it-do you feel sad, angry, overwhelmed, helpless, irked, betrayed, bitter, shocked, confused, etc.? To be an effective leader in any sphere, you have to discipline yourself to regularly create space to tune into your emotional state. This is especially difficult for Type-A, driven personalities. But you have to do it nonetheless. If you can’t do it on your own, find someone who can help you do this.

Second, try to name the sources of the negative emotions. Spend some time reflecting on where the bad feelings come from. Don’t worry about trying to solve anything at this point. The goal is to take an accepting and compassionate stance toward yourself. You’re just trying to describe your feelings with an attitude that says, “whatever you are feeling is understandable and OK.” There are reasons for your emotions. Some of the reasons will be due to the current situation, and some of the reasons will inevitably be due to your connection filters (see the first entry in this series on connection strategies). The very act of naming the negative emotions and source events begins to transform them.

What you are doing here is integrating two ways of knowing: gut level knowledge and head knowledge. When you translate gut level knowledge into words, it transforms the gut level knowledge.

Third, talk to someone outside the system who will listen and not try to fix the problem. Often times it helps to solidify this translation process by talking through your feelings and experiences with someone you trust. They can help you see things you can’t see, and validate your experiences. Even if they see where your filters are operating, if they point this out to you in a compassionate way, this can be tremendously helpful. It can sting, to be sure, but if you can handle the sting, you will learn things about yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise.

Fourth, don’t respond until you no longer feel anxiously compelled to respond. What do I mean by “anxiously compelled?” Well, there’s a negative sense of being compelled and a positive sense, and they feel different internally. You may be compelled by love, or gratitude or generativity to help someone, or to move the dysfunctional system toward health. But you also may feel compelled to respond out of anger, frustration, bitterness, anxiety, and the list could go on. If you feel compelled to act based on negative emotions, don’t do it. Put it on the shelf and don’t respond for awhile. If you don’t have the space internally to respond in a positive manner, then you have to create the space externally first.

Give yourself enough time and space until your negative emotions decrease and then start to focus on positive solutions. How can you model the health you want to create in the system by the way you respond? And it’s important to remember it’s not just the content of your response that matters; it’s also the emotional tone with which you respond. In fact, your emotional tone is more important, because that is what others in the system will catch.

Stay tuned for practical strategy #3: Move toward your strengths and create value.

Reflection: What are ways that work for you to create space to tune in to your emotions?

Leading in a Dysfunctional System, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Understanding your own underlying connection strategies can make or break survival in a dysfunctional working environment

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

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Recently, I met with a manager I’ve been working with who is working in a very dysfunctional system. Two executives are in a political battle for the area in which she works and she is caught in the middle of the conflict. Several of her colleagues are rude, disrespectful, and explosive. Her direct reports are becoming disillusioned by projects stalling out due to the political turf wars. Work feels like a land mine; she never knows when something will blow up and so, naturally, she is constantly on guard. This is decreasing her effectiveness and leaving her feeling bitter and burned out.

Chances are you have experienced working in some capacity in a dysfunctional system. After all, every system is dysfunctional to some extent. I have worked in systems like this and have worked with many leaders trying to survive chaotic systems. Leading in a system like this can start to eat away at your soul.

While there are many things outside of our control, there are six practical strategies (among others) you can focus on to make a positive impact and prevent burnout. In this blog, I’ll discuss the first practical strategy. In the next five entries in this series, I’ll discuss the other five strategies.

Practical Strategy #1: Understand your own connection strategies. There are three common strategies most of us use to manage our sense of connection with others. These strategies stem from how we connected with important authority figures in our lives. These experiences become “connection filters” that influence our gut level perceptions of relational experiences, particularly with authority figures such as leaders, and groups. The challenging thing is that this filtering process happens outside our conscious awareness in real time. There is a substantial body of research suggesting that our connection filters operate with groups and leaders with whom we work. Understanding your typical connection strategies can help you navigate a dysfunctional system. The three most common connection strategies are:

– a secure strategy promotes: 1) a balance between connection and autonomy–or the ability to inhabit your true self, 2) perspective, and 3) flexibility in responding.

– an anxious strategy promotes fear and anxiety that groups and leaders will not be consistently available for connection. When this is operating, you expect and look for leaders and groups you work with to do a bait and switch. So you are always on guard, and this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy to some extent.

– a distant strategy promotes a lack of awareness of your own and others’ emotions. When this is operating, leaders feel like they’re the only reliable people on the planet, and so they dismiss others in numerous ways. When people on your team feel dismissed, they will shut down to what you have to offer, and true dialogue comes to a screeching halt.

Which strategy kicks in for you when the system gets particularly crazy? (Keep in mind that you may use different strategies with different people). If it’s one of the insecure ones (anxious or distant), here are two practices you can do to help:

1. Reflect on what experiences contribute to your strategy, and spend some time trying to separate your filters (based on your past experiences) from the system’s dysfunction.

2. Then look for ways you can change the cycle of your perceptions by taking some risks. If you’re anxious, try to give others and yourself more space and seek out support outside of work to help you manage your anxiety. If you’re distant, try to tune into your own and others’ emotions, and focus on hearing others’ perspectives before responding.

Reflect: What is your primary connection strategy and how do you see it operating in dysfunctional systems?

Next Post in series: Staying Above the Fray: Leading in a Dysfunctional System, Part 2: by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Seven Ways Leaders Lose Authority with Students, by Tim Elmore

Ongoing Series: Two Handed Warrior Authors and Leaders you should know

Tim Elmore is one of the world's most articulate voices for next-generation leadership development

Dr. Tim Elmore is the founder and president of Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization created to develop emerging leaders. Through Growing Leaders, he and his team provide public schools, state universities, civic organizations and corporations with the tools they need to help develop young leaders who can impact and transform society.

Since founding Growing Leaders, Elmore has spoken to more than 250,000 students, faculty and staff on hundreds of campuses. He has taught courses on leadership and mentoring at nine universities and graduate schools as wells as numerous corporations across the U.S. and in more than 30 countries.

Dr. Elmore has written more than 20 books, including the best-selling Habitudes™: Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, Life Giving Mentors, and Nurturing the Leader Within Your Child.

From the classroom to the boardroom, Elmore is a dynamic communicator who uses principles, images and stories to strengthen leaders.  Here he shares key insights on the importance of relational authority.  (See, Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion.)

Seven Ways Leaders Lose Authority with Students

Recently, I overheard some students making fun of an executive director at a local community theatre program here in Atlanta. The students were 18-years-old, and they had been a part of this program before. Now, their entertainment was at the expense of this director. I felt badly for her, but the laughter sparked a question in me.

How did this leader lose her authority with her students?

She isn’t unlikeable. She has a good sense of humor and can be fun to be around. So how did she plummet from a leader students respect to the brunt of a joke?

What Do We Mean by Authority?

Authority is a fuzzy word. It conjures up all kinds of emotions inside of us when we hear it. Here, I am defining the term as an inward, moral authority that comes from the life a leader lives, not just his or her position. It’s clout. It is inward power earned by the leader — not automatically included with a title. As parents, it’s what we all want with our kids; as coaches, we want it with our players; as teachers we hope for it with our students; and as employers we desire it with our staff. Perhaps the best way to describe how it is earned is to list how it’s lost by so many leaders.

How Leaders Lose Authority with Students

Hypocrisy: Failing to live up to what you say.

This issue came up first with students. The quickest way leaders lose their moral authority with students is to fail to live the life they demand of others. Your words and your actions don’t match. It’s funny. Kids may put up with this in their peers, but not their leaders.

Cowardice: An unwillingness to demonstrate courage.

Regardless of how brilliant or unspectacular you are as a leader, if you fail to show any courage when times are tough, students’ respect for you will usually diminish. When a decision must be made or a step taken — they expect the leader to step forward and take it, not shrink as a coward.

Posing: Pretending to be someone you are not.

This one is huge with kids today. When adult leaders “pose” as someone they’re not in reality, it’s not only a turn-off, it’s a joke. For students, the only thing worse than being uncool is being unreal. When adults try to act young or hip, and it’s forced or comes across inauthentic — it’s a death sentence for student respect.

Irrelevance: Having no current success stories.

Students lose respect when all they ever hear from their leader is stories from “back in the day.” At first these stories work, but if teens don’t see current stories lived out in front of them, eventually they don’t take you seriously. They begin looking for someone who can do it now. Something current.

White lies: Exaggerating the truth.

This is a double-edged sword. Most students today admit to telling little white lies. Yet, those students lose respect when adult leaders do it. When asked to report on how a game, a project or a performance turned out — they admire leaders who tell it like it is, and don’t make the stats elastic or plastic.

Incompetence: The inability to hone your gift and excel.

This is true for followers of all ages. Leaders lose their moral authority when they can’t demonstrate they have developed their gift or talent and become excellent. This doesn’t mean they expect leaders to be good at everything, just something. It’s the law of respect: Folks follow leaders who are stronger than they are.

Fuzziness: Failure to focus the team on the primary goal.

Finally, you’ll lose authority if you are scattered and cannot focus your instruction to your team. This is why leaders are necessary. Some of your students are smart — but they need you to direct them with clarity. When you don’t, you have a hole in your pocket and you lose a little moral authority.

Keep in mind — it is possible for you to be liked by students as a friend, but not respected as a leader. We all must decide what we want most: Buddies to hang out with or young people who follow our moral authority to a worthwhile destination.

Continue reading….

You can follow Tim Elmore’s personal blog and learn more about developing the next generation in his latest book:Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. To purchase Generation iY, go to: www.SaveTheirFutureNow.com). Follow Tim on Twitter at @Timelmore.

Leading Artists and Musicians, in @CatalystLeader

Part of ongoing series: Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion.

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Born in 2000 as a Next Generation Leaders Conference, Catalyst attendance is now over 100,000 and growing

Catalyst was conceived as a Next Generation Leaders Conference in 1999 by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, John Maxwell, Lanny Donoho and several young leaders. Catalyst was able to meet that demand by creating a conference specifically focused on leaders under the age of 40. In October of 2000 in Atlanta, GA, Catalyst convened 1500 church leaders for this inaugural experience. With a unique approach to programming and learning, defined by a fun, dynamic attendee experience, leaders were personally challenged to become “change agents” within their organizations, churches and communities… even and especially Artists and Musicians..

Leading Artists and Musicians

Okay, so alot of us who run organizations, or manage teams, or have staff direct reports, are leading those who consider themselves to be ARTISTS of some sort.

Whether it’s musicians, or designers, or writers, or entertainers, or worship leaders, or those who sketch/paint/draw, I’m going to lump them all together for the sake of this conversation and my thoughts on how to best lead them.

Here is a disclaimer… I’m not so sure I’m the best at this. Specifically leading artists.

Disclaimer #2…. we are ALL artists. In regards that we all are called to create things of excellence. Some of us are way more “Artistic” at our core than others. That is who I’m talking about here. You know who they are on your team. Guaranteed.

I’m also VERY INTERESTED to hear from you on how you best lead/manage artists. Please comment below and share your thoughts.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. Start with reality. Artists are different. Not in bad weird way. But in a great weird way. So just begin with this, and it will help tremendously.

2. Lead, don’t manage. Share vision, inspire, and let them loose. Managing an artist type like you would an accountant, or a project manager, or a typical hard charging type A, is not a good idea.

3. Be very specific on areas that most think are ambiguous. Most leaders think that because artists are spontaneous and spatial in their thinking, that they don’t want specifics. So alot of leaders will be totally ambiguous in their interactions with artists. But just the opposite. Most artists need and desire very clear, focused and specific direction.

4. Give them room to dream. This might mean they need to spend an afternoon at a coffee shop or in the park or at the lake. Let them do that.

5. Allow them to decorate and make their area “their own.” Their office or cube or space needs to reflect who they are. Otherwise, finding inspiration could be tough in the office.

6. Release them into their areas of greatest strength. Don’t burden a great artist with tasks and responsibilities outside their strengths. If it’s a money thing, pay them less but let them do what they are great at. Most artists care way more about doing their “art” anyway.

7. Aggregate artists in “pairs” and team lead them. I like to always have at least two artists in a meeting, on a team, working on a project, sitting together, and ultimately working together. It gives them more energy and allows them to vent to each other. Also, if you have personality conflicts with artists on your team, then “team” lead them. Don’t take it personal, but figure out the best way to release them and inspire them. It might be that you are not the best person to do that, and it’s okay that someone else on your team is.

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Since inception, over 100,000 leaders have made the annual trek to Atlanta to participate in the Catalyst Conference experience, and this October, once again over 12,000 young leaders will gather to experience Catalyst up close. In addition, over 3,000 leaders will gather for the Catalyst West Coast experience in Orange County, CA and 3,000 more will gather for the first ever Catalyst in Dallas.

Leadership has been the topic of focus for the Catalyst brand since inception and will continue to be so. Catalyst and the annual Conferences provide a wide cover for addressing a variety of topics specific to Next Generation Leaders, including organizational leadership, personal leadership, integrity, character, relationships, and teamwork, among others. Over the last eleven years, Catalyst has grown in influence and reach, now offering three annual events on the East and West coast and in Dallas, regional One Day events, multiple resources, a dedicated online magazine, online community, the Filter content program, a bi-weekly podcast, and many other tools for young leaders. Catalyst has only just begun to go deeper with the Catalyst Community in taking them beyond a conference experience and into a relationship that provides ongoing support for growth and continued learning.

For other posts and information on how to register for a Catalyst Conference near you visit: Catalystspace.com

Teen Role Models: Who They Are, Why They Matter, by David Kinnaman

Part of ongoing series: Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion. (Note please pray for David, Dan Allender and I as we speak to the National Student Leaders Network in Orlando later this month.)

David Kinnaman is President of the Barna Group and quickly becoming one of the most articulate voices for next generation faith in America. David has designed and analyzed a wide range of projects for a variety of churches, parachurch organizations and for-profit clients. As a spokesperson for the Barna’s research, he is frequently quoted in major media outlets. He also speaks and writes about new models of church experience, the profile of young leaders, and generational changes. In 2007, Kinnaman released his first book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters, co-authored with Gabe Lyons.

Teen Role Models: Who They Are, Why They Matter

A national study led by David Kinnaman, president  of the Barna Group, revealed that while celebrity plays a significant role in the preferences and tastes of teenagers, the greatest impact in students lives is made by those who invest relationally in their lives.

The Role Models

The nationwide sample of teenagers asked 13- to 17-year-olds to identify the person whom they admire most today as a role model.

Among the non-celebrities mentioned: “relatives—37% of teens named a relation other than their parent as the person they admire most: This is typically a grandparent, but also includes sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles (parents were excluded from the study). After “family,” teens mention teachers and coaches (11%), friends (9%), and pastors or other religious leaders they know personally (6%).

Celebrity influencers included “entertainers (including musicians and actors) were named by 6% of teens, followed by sports heroes (5%), political leaders (4%), faith leaders (4%), business leaders (1%), authors (1%), science and medical professionals (1%), other artists (1%), and members of the military (1%).

The “Why”

“Respondents described a wide range of reasons why they named a particular role model. The most common rationale (26%) was the personality traits of that person (e.g., caring about others, being loving and polite, being courageous, and being fun were some of the characteristics mentioned most often). Another factor in teens’ thinking was finding someone to emulate (22%) or that the teen would like to “follow in the footsteps” of their chosen role model.
Encouragement is another reason for teens’ selections (11%), which included those who said the individual “helps me be a better person,” is someone who is “always there for me,” and is the person who is “most interested in my future.”

What it Says

“Kinnaman offered four insights about the current mindset of teenagers based on the findings:

1. For better and worse, teens are emulating the people they know best. More than two out of three teens identify people they know personally as their primary role model. Many parents and youthworkers fret about the role models of the next generation. Yet, one reason to remain hopeful about the development of young people is their reliance upon the people they know best: friends, relatives, teachers, pastors, and coaches. At the same time, that reality underscores the insistence of many parents that they influence the people with whom their child associates, in order to be sure that their kids are surrounded by people modeling positive values and life choices.

2. Teenagers’ role models reveal that teens want to get ahead, accomplish goals, overcome obstacles… and be encouraged along the way. For all the talk about the social consciousness of the next generation, their role models are rarely selected because of a person’s service or sacrifice for others. Young people, like most other Americans, choose their role models because those people are achievers and because they help teenagers feel better about themselves. None of these aspirations is necessarily misguided, but the focus tends to be uniquely American: on tasks and self, rather than on God and others.

3. Spirituality is only of modest concern to the aspirations of most teens. Teens rarely identified spiritual mentors. Moreover, few teens consider issues of faith, religion or morality when deciding whom they will try to emulate. Even among young Christians, their role models are virtually no different than other teenagers. (The only exception is an expected outcome: those teens actively involved in a church are slightly more likely to identify a spiritual or faith leader as one of their models.) While other Barna research shows that teens are active spiritually, that behavior generally does not influence the “who” and the “why” of teens’ role models.

4. Outside of their personal relationships, teen role models reflect a broadening mindset. The next generation selects its heroes from a wide spectrum of both people discovered through both the global stage and micro-niches. The menu of celebrities crosses multiple sectors, ranging from skateboarders and MTV hosts to international graphic novel artists, scholars, social innovators and historic leaders; from teen idols to celebrities who came of age in the 1960s. The eclectic nature of the role models they embrace is not new but the diversity of pools from which they choose those models is atypical. Their choices are substantially affected by media imagery and exposure.”

So… while celebrities exert significant influence, relational authority and genuine servant leadership are still key to providing role models for the next generation.

 

Read complete article: Teen Role Models: Who They Are, Why They Matter

Pseudo Servant Leadership and Pseudo Celebrity: Manipulating the Paradox of Power

Part of ongoing series: Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion.

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A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when others obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you.

-Lao-Tzu, China, c. 550 BC

Lao Tzu first described the Paradox of Power 2500 years before Lady Gaga

“Servant.” “Leader.”  Few words in the English language seem more mutually exclusive. Leaders give orders. Servants take them.  Leaders have followers. Servants have masters.  Leaders are powerful. Servants are powerless.  Everyone wants to be a leader. Everyone wants to have a servant.

But are they really so opposite?

In his classic novel, Journey to the East, Herman Hesse tells the story of a band of travelers sojourning across the south of Europe. Their journey is sponsored by a religious order that has provided them with not only all of the necessary equipment but also a rather unobtrusive servant by the name of Leo.  The trip goes well.  They make good progress.  They become good friends.  On the road and around the fire, there seems to be magic about the group.

Then one day Leo disappears. No one is particularly concerned.  After all, he was only a servant.  Soon, however, cracks begin to appear in the fragile bond that holds the group together.  Tasks go undone.  Emotions fray.  Soon the music around the campfire is replaced by stony silence.  When no one is able to repair the damage, the group simply breaks up.  Unable to continue the journey for lack of leadership, the narrator of the story, one of the travelers, decides to join the religious order that sponsored the journey.  He returns to the order’s headquarters to begin his initiation.

There he finds Leo and discovers that their servant is actually the leader of the entire order. Upon reflection, the narrator realizes that Leo had really been their leader all along.   He was the source of the magic in their group.   Yet, if he had asserted his position as leader of the order, the group probably would have rejected him outright.  However, by seeking to meet their needs the group had willingly made him their leader without even realizing it.  By becoming their servant he had become their leader, not by position, but by influence.  Character had triumphed over authority:  service over position.[1]

This is the paradox of power that has troubled mankind since the days of Lao-Tzu. There is something in the very nature of leadership that implies service.  True leaders, those who people follow because they want to not because they have to, always begin with and return to the needs of their followers.  As James MacGregor Burns states in his monumental work, Leadership: “The ultimate test of practical leadership is the realization of intended, real change that meets people’s enduring needs.”[2]

3D films are proof that Hollywood understands the Paradox of Power: meet the customer's need for a unique in-theater experience and they'll vote for your movie with their wallet.

Leadership is essentially a transaction. Followers give their leaders power in exchange for service. We simply will not follow someone who does not meet our needs.

The American political system bears testimony to this.  We call our elected officials “Public Servants.”  If they serve us well, we re-elect them.  If they serve us poorly, we elect others in their place.

Business practice bears this out well. Companies who serve their customers well are highly rewarded with return business and referrals.  Companies that do not meet the needs of their clients soon find themselves filing for bankruptcy.

Hollywood creatives are painfully aware of this process. The best screenplay ever written won’t last a week in theatres if it fails to touch a chord in the hearts, minds, or funny bones of a significant audience.

Faith communities are subject to this paradox as well. People join churches and follow various teachers and rabbis because they sense their needs are being met.  They “vote” for their favorite spiritual leader with their attendance, their giving and (in the burgeoning religious marketplace) their buying.  Churches that truly meet the needs of their congregations grow large and prosperous.  Their pastors become famous.  Their methods and teaching become models for others.

In a celebrity-driven culture, the Tweet is becoming the most powerful voting booth on earth.

But is this all there is to servant leadership? If so, then anyone can do it.  Just give people what they want and you’re a leader.  But are you?  Really?  Is the ability to attract a following by promising and (sometimes) delivering what people want all there is to transformational leadership? If it is, then we are in real trouble.

The paradox of power is the exact process that “pseudo celebrities” currently use to manipulate public opinion for their own purposes. (See, Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God.) “The pseudo celebrity “develops their capacity for fame, not by achieving great things, but by differentiating their own personality from those of their competitors in the public arena.”[3]

Rather than serving as heroic celebrities who actually meet the needs of others through self-sacrificing service, pseudo celebrities prey upon the perception that they are meeting the needs of their followers when their real goal is to meet their own needs to sell more product, enhance their fame, etc. As I stated in the Paparazzi post, In a society hungering for close personal relationships, the pseudo celebrity system delivers pseudo-relationships with people we feel connected to but have never met.” Media outlets create the illusion of accessibility and relationship we crave, without actually delivering the goods. With enough Twitter chatter anyone can be a cultural leader.  Why bother to actually accomplish anything for my “followers”?

High-flying Bernie Madoff carefully managed the (false) image that he was serving his clients

Best-selling business author Jim Collins warns that this pseudo celebrity approach to leadership is a cancerous growth on the future of transformative leadership in America, from the pulpit to the boardroom. Pseudo celebrities are not only “famous for being famous,” they are paid for being famous, and revered for being famous regardless of their providing any actual value to the lives of others or the organizations they lead. They score “covers of magazines, bestselling autobiographies, massive compensation packages—despite the fact that their long-term results failed to measure up.”

Collins prophecies: “If we allow the celebrity rock-star model of leadership to triumph, we will see the decline of corporations and institutions of all types… These leaders were ambitious for themselves, and they succeeded admirably on this score, but they failed utterly in the task of creating an enduring great company. Smart people instinctively understand the dangers of entrusting our future to self-serving leaders who use our institutions… whether in the corporate or social sectors… to advance their own interests.”[4]

Jim Collins: "If we allow the celebrity rock-star model of leadership to triumph, we will see the decline of corporations and institutions of all types."

But are we really so smart? The rampant tragic decline of American business, banking, government, education, church and media enterprises stems largely from the ascendancy of self-centered pseudo celebrity leaders. Like Israel during the reign of Saul, self-centered leadership wears the crown, while Davidic servant leadership is banished from the halls of power.

Can we learn to discern the difference between pseudo celebrity leadership and heroic servant leadership? I believe we can. In fact, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth provides both clear teaching regarding servant leadership and a compelling example of living it out.

Continue reading next post in series: LOST Lessons of Servant Leadership

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Notes


[1] I am deeply indebted to the late Robert Greenleaf for not only helping me reassess my high school hatred of Herman Hesse, but also for providing the foundation of my overall understanding of how servant leadership functions in the business world. See, Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant leadership: a journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (New York: Paulist Press, 1977). See also, Don M. Frick, Robert K. Greenleaf: a life of servant leadership (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2004); Larry C. Spears, Reflections on leadership: how Robert K. Greenleaf’s theory of Servant-leadership influenced today’s top management thinkers (New York: J. Wiley, 1995); Mark A. Wells, Servant leadership: a theological analysis of Robert K. Greenleaf’s concept of human transformation (PhD Thesis: Baylor University, 2004).
[2] James MacGregor Burns,  Leadership (New York:  Harper and Row, 1978), p. 461.
[3] Chris Rojek, Celebrity: Critical Concepts in Sociology (London, UK: Routledge, 2010), 16, 52.
[4] Jim Collins, “The Misguided Mix-up of Celebrity and Leadership.” http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/the-misguided-mixup.html