ILE 2015 Conference “The End of Leadership?”

Invite (4March 2015) copy

We had a good time together at our conference “The End of Leadership”, held on the 8th – 9th May 2015. In this conference,  we invited scholars from different continents and together explored the changing dynamics of leadership. Since the turn of the millennium, there seems to be a shift of power from the individual leader to the team, the group, and the network – at times even to broad social movements in our societies. Instead of established authorities, social networks have taken an increasing role in leading change and innovation across business, politics, as well as other segments of civil society.

Abstracts from our Conference

(This will form the basis of our volume, The End of Leadership? in our series CPLSE. For more information about the volume, please contact us)

In our conference, we had four tracks where papers were presented. These tracks were:

1) End of Leadership & Authority (Focuses most explicitly on ‘end of leadership’ themes) 

2) Complexity & Networks (Focuses on complexity leadership and leadership in networks as key areas of interest for ‘end of leadership’ themes)

3) Ethics & Prudence (Focuses on the ethical challenges of ‘end of leadership’ themes, often characterized by the need for deliberation and prudence) 

4) Charisma & Authenticity (Focuses on charisma and authenticity, often perceived to be key dimensions of new leadership styles in response to ‘end of leadership’ issues)

Abstracts of each track is presented below:

End of Leadership & Authority

a) Jack Barentsen:The End of Authority? A Theological Assessment (Jack Barentsen)

In a world where the self is a continual project, tradition and authority have little value, while technology is celebrated as means for individual self-actualization. Leaders must be accountable, transparent and authentic, as they continuously legitimate their leadership and vision of the organization’s mission and identity. And yet, rapid changes in an increasingly networked and global society create feelings of uncertainty and insecurity, so that a sense of identity and authority is ever more elusive, and thus urgently demanded. This is perhaps most evident in ideological organizations that require forms of public ideological or religious leadership at a time when ideology is viewed with suspicion. Thus, leadership research indicates a shift towards shared authority and more collaborative leadership styles, effectively ending authority as we knew it.

Still, a society cannot function without authority. Humans are created as relational beings to function within community held together by authority. Thus, God’s intrinsic authority delegated to human authorities is a divinely intended characteristic of healthy human relationships. However, the human penchant for selfishness and self-protection requires Christian discernment to safeguard the proper exercise of authority (which is reflected in common belief in market forces or government interventions, as well as in Reformed and Baptist theologies of ministry). Without God’s intrinsic authority to underpin all human authority, and without communal exercise of discernment, the postmodern insistence on the self as ultimate project easily leads to the collapse of all authority or the rise of absolute authorities, the disastrous results of which are clearly evident in today’s global society.

ILE Conference 2015-6b) Carlton Reed: The Telos of Leadership: Phronesis and the Leader as Guide

Barbara Kellerman’s recent book, The End of Leadership, serves as a significant signpost of the change occurring in leadership studies.  The chastening critique that Kellerman and others bring to the obsession on leaders for the flourishing of organizations is a welcome one.  Yet the role that leaders play for organizations remain.

This paper proposes to reframe “the end of leadership” to explore the telos or underlying purpose of leadership.  Within Christian theological constructs, the “end” could well be something beyond the scope of a leader to actually deliver.  Thus, leadership functions in a communal way, relating to both the divine and human elements that are in play within the situated contexts of churches or organizations. Using the sources of the Christian tradition, the paper will utilize the concept of phronesis or wisdom as the guide for leadership practice.  The paper will utilize the particular way the apostle Paul develops the term “phronesis” in the Philippian letter in the New Testament as an example.  To conclude, the paper will offer a theological model for leadership rooted in phronesis with a fourfold frame of attentiveness to God, communal reasoning, affectation, and action.

Complexity and Networks

a) Nelus Niemandt: Complex Leadership and Missional Transformation

In this paper I will follow a mixed-methods approach and, through participatory action research and literature study, reflect on missional leadership as a form of “complex leadership”, as defined by Plowman et al (2007). I will show that there is no missional transformation without leadership, and that this transformation is dependent on transformational leadership.

I will describe and integrate my experience with denominations in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, as well as research into “missional congregations” by Cordier, with the insights of Plowman et al.  I will show how the following three mechanisms were used by leaders as enablers in emergent, self-organisation systems (typically found in missional transformation): (1) Leaders disrupting existing patterns, (2) leaders encouraging novelty and ((3) leaders acting as sensemakers.  I will also attend to specific actions associated with each of these mechanisms: (1) Leaders create and highlight conflict and acknowledge uncertainty; (2) three phenomena are at work in encouraging innovation: the establishment of a few simple rules, swarm behaviour of membership and staff and promotion of non-linear interactions and emotional connections among people; (3) sensemaking is supported by leaders assuming the role of a “tag,”’ and leaders creating correlation through language.

ILE Conference 2015 - 8b) Volker Kessler: Swarm Intelligence – The End of Centralized Leadership?

Swarm intelligence is a fairly new strategy method (Bonabeau & Meyer 2001). The idea is to learn from swarms like ants and bees. The corresponding strategy method is: Strategy as a set of simple rules. As soon as the simple rules are given there is no need for a hierarchy. The members of the swarm act autonomously without a center. Some authors would conclude from this phenomenon: An end of leadership.

In the paper I will give a survey on the applications of swarm intelligence in many different disciplines like biology, computer science, cybernetics, politics, and, of course, management theory. Then the implications for leadership in general will be discussed (May 2011). How does swarm intelligence fit to the very popular concept of visionary leadership?

I will especially look at examples from mission history like the rise of house churches in the communist China. Furthermore, I will link the method of swarm intelligence to a pneumatological approach in church leadership (Bohren 1975).

c) Johann Kornelsen: Strength-Based Leadership in the Context of Dying Hierarchical Approaches

As twenty-first-century leadership research continues, there is a growing recognition that “traditional top-down theories of leadership are at best overly simplistic” (Lichtenstein et al., 2006, p. 2). While hierarchies have dominated for decades in business and churches, hierarchies are with several shortcomings including the interruption of the natural order of business and being an impediment to communication (Bishop, 2014). Other authors argue that at the root of command-and-control structures is fear (Ford, 2013) and that hierarchies are the opposite to serving organizational members (Wilson, 2011). Next to these disadvantages, the future leaders of our Western societies, the Millenials, see the world through a perspective that is opposed to the traditional world that is often hierarchical (Balda & Mora, 2012). To conclude, contemporary leaders will have to rethink their leadership and organizational approaches in order to adapt them for the networked millennial generation and future Western world.

A relatively new approach in the field leadership research, strength-based-leadership, also referred to as strengths-based development or strengths-based organizational management, seems to be a promising leadership approach in order to solve the outlined problem. Strength-based leadership theory asserts that individuals are most productive when operating within their strengths (Burkus, 2011). Based on the necessity to find new effective leadership approaches in the context of dying hierarchical approaches, the proposed paper will outline the nature of strength-based-leadership theory and the consequences for leadership and organizational approaches in the future. The implications are relevant for business organizations as well as for non-profit organizations and churches. It could be even convincingly shown that strong arguments can be drawn from the Scriptures, that Jesus and the Apostle Paul had rather non-hierarchical leadership approaches in mind when describing ecclesiastic leadership. The proposed paper will show that strength-based leadership means that leaders should act as networkers, trainers, and facilitators in their organizations in order to help members of the organization to identify their individual strengths and to allow those members to serve the organization with their particular talents. This approach demands concrete adjustments to hierarchical structures and leadership approaches, but has the potential to result in more satisfaction of organizational members and organizational success.ILE Conference 2015-4


Ethics & Prudence

a) Kirk J. Franklin: A Paradigm for Leadership Communities in Global-Glocal Contexts

The interconnected, multi-religious, multi-cultural and inter-cultural world requires communities of leaders who understand how to respond to contexts that are quickly changing. Could such leadership communities respond from a framework that has ethical and spiritual components to it? In order to find an answer, a qualitative study of the leadership philosophies of 15 experienced global missional leaders from 10 cultures provides data in the form of categories, themes, characteristics, values and key terms. These are analyzed and grouped into ten clusters. The clusters are compared to classical and contemporary leadership traits to determine insights these clusters provide for any type of leadership community.

The study also identifies the role of the ‘reflective-practitioner’: a person or community that demonstrates an integrated nature of action and study, that is glocal and global, biblical and responsive to global and glocal contexts. A qualitative study of eight years of formal reflective-consultative discussions on issues of importance to a global missional community identifies reasons this process enables reflectivity through asking new kinds of questions and through letting biblical narratives ask their own questions of the context.

The combining of the leadership clusters with the reflective process creates a foundation for responding to unpredictable contexts for any leadership community.

ILE Conference 2015-1b) Benjamin Spring: Self-Love, Norms, and Prudence in Leadership: A Perspective from Paul Ramsey

The tarnished image of leadership is largely due to overdone self love. In the forms of simple egoism up to narcissistic tendencies, it can distort a leader’s moral compass significantly. In a relational endeavor like leadership, this will result in damage. Theological ethicist Paul Ramsey (1913-1988) used self-love as opposite to neighbor-love (agape), the core of his ethics.

In organizational life, norms are the means of choice to rein in self-love and the resulting behavior. But reliance on norms to balance self-love leads to sustained egoism. By keeping agape front and center to his ethics, Ramsey modifies the reach of norms and their validity. Ramsey suggests practical prudence as guideline for norms and as universal tool for discerning ethical behavior – secondary to agape, of course, but helping agape take shape in behaviors and decisions. Practical prudence is seen as moral skill helping agape make the right distinctions between what helps it and what hinders it.

This will, of course, facilitate healthy self-love as well.

Such a perspective on practical prudence and its role in assisting neighbor-love is one of the possible contributions of Paul Ramsey’s works to a new approach to (ethical) leadership.

c) Peirong Lin: Developing Moral Leadership in Organizational Contexts

Organizations take leadership seriously. Increasingly, organizations have spent more resources developing leaders within their organization as they seek to enhance the quality of leadership of the individual hoping to influence the overall wellbeing of the organization. The moral aspect of leadership has been increasingly popularized in recent literature. It generally refers to “the examination of right, wrong, good, evil, virtue, duty, obligation, rights, justice, fairness, etc. in human relationships with each other and other living things” (Ciulla 2004).

This paper looks at the possibility of developing moral leadership within an organizational context. Besides being good for business, moral leadership should be developed within the organization because of the Christian imperative, where work is related to sanctification, as a responsibility from creation and as a prophetic act (Volf 1991, Cosden 2004). The organization is a noteworthy context to research since much of an individual’s work takes place in such a setting.

This paper describes the need for leaders to be deeply reflective of the experience at work through a thorough understanding about the individual’s experience of space and time at the work place as well as the need to be armed with an understanding of ethics as a hermeneutical framework through which leaders see organizational issues. The implications to the organization due to these recommendations are considered with suggestions to the character of the organization made, particularly in its boundary maintenance and activity systems.

Charisma & Authenticity

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a) Steven C. van den Heuvel: The Dangers of Charismatic Leadership: A Perspective from the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Charismatic leadership has been an important stream within leadership studies, ever since its description by Weber (1922). Later in the 20th century, new forms within this stream developed, which can be labelled as “neo-charismatic leadership” (cf. Winkler, 2010). Most famous among these is the school of transformational leadership (Bass, 1985). Although popular, (neo-)charismatic leadership has also been criticized. Yukl, for example, has pointed to the dark sides of charisma (cf. Yukl, 1994). Also theologically, charismatic leadership is approached carefully (cf. Barentsen, 2014). This paper wants to further the criticism on charismatic leadership from a theological point of view, particularly through the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). Bonhoeffer himself was, by all accounts, a charismatic leader. Yet in his theological work, he fundamentally criticizes charismatic leadership, based on his observations on the effects of charismatic leadership among the National Socialists in Germany. Bonhoeffer voices some of these criticisms in his essay “The Leader and the Individual in the Younger Generation” (1933). There, he also points to an alternative, namely a more authentic leadership in which the role of the leader is to serve the followers, in a much more open and ‘vulnerable’ process. Although he was no expert on leadership, and wrote eight decades ago, Bonhoeffer’s dire warnings about charismatic leadership remain relevant, as does his proposal for an alternative view on leadership. This paper will develop both this warning and this alternative, indicating how theology can be of value in light of the ‘end’ of charismatic leadership.

b) Henk P. Medema: Grow Up! ­ By Growing Down. New Leadership Models in Postmodern Times

In which way is a relational leadership model (or metaphor) from Christian spirituality valuable for use in public surroundings? We will see how three key­words: vulnerabily, fluidity, authenticity, could help us here and (with B. Kellerman, 2012) search for new and post­modern insights.

1 Formal vs. Relational Leadership. The idea of organic leadership (in the paradigm overview of G.C. Avery, 2005) needs exploration towards the challenge for leaders to become followers ­ in Christian phraseology: disciples. To come to this kind of practice, we need to discover how relational leadership models (S.A. Moore, 2014) bring new elements.

2 Leadership Position vs. Leadership Identity. There is reason to doubt whether leadership based on position functions at all within postmodern leadership frameworks. It seems helpful to combine the model of ‘The Undefended Leader’ (S.P. Walker, 2010) with elements of the U­theory (O. Scharmer, 2013): going through one’s deepest identity level, leading from change to change, to a developing identity in followers.

3 Authority vs. Authenticity. Thus, authority is not found in external formalities or leadership positions, but rather in internal, spiritual identity factors (J.J. Breedt, 2012). Nor should we think in lines of anarchistic absence of authority, but authority grows on the soil of authenticity.

c) Ronald T. Michener: Deconstructing Leadership and Authority: Modeling through weakness

Contemporary Christian leadership practices stressing servant leadership and participatory models of engagement reflect a general shift (at least in Western societies) to minimize authoritarian power structures in management by divesting that power into the community. The societal deconstruction of top-down leadership models provides conversational space to affirm the intrinsic value of a Christian leadership sensibility embedded in the character of Jesus and his inauguration of the Kingdom of God.  However, diverting power from the individual to the community (by enabling leadership strengths of particular individuals within) does not effectively deconstruct an inimical notion of power itself that impedes the authenticity of this aforementioned leadership sensibility.  This article suggests that leadership models reduced to the enabled leader and follower will fall short of a robust and authentic Christian leadership sensibility unless qualities of disablement, vulnerability, and weakness are welcomed before the face of the other (hospitality), and recognized as essential for authentic human flourishing.


ILE Conference 2015-3We are thankful to our presenters as well as our participants for the good dialogue we had. We also said our thanks and farewell to Chris Start, as he resigned as part of the steering committee due to personal reasons.

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