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A Sea Change in Leadership Style / Will Millennials Lead Differently?

May 24, 2011

A Sea Change in Leadership Style / Will Millennials Lead Differently?

As most of you know, the topic of “Management” has been a lifelong preoccupation. Several books I have noted lately argue that there is going to be a significant generational shift in the way Millennials will go about life and leadership. Cheryl Hall, of The Dallas Morning News, began a recent article (May 18) this way: “Don’t talk to Millennials about leadership … they will tune you out.” This was in the context of reviewing a book with the curious title, Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving It, by Jeremie Kubicek whose company puts on large scale leadership events around the country for the under-30 crowd. Kubicek uses the term “influenced development” instead of “leadership” which he obviously visualizes as the top down “you’re fired” Donald Trump style. The article says that under-30s “aspire to be influencers.” “They want to have impact and leave an imprint more than get rich.”

More than 3,000 Millennials were gathered two weeks ago in Addison, Texas to hear Kubicek push the idea he calls “a liberating leader.” It is about empowering and liberating others to be all they, and the organizations they work for, can be. The focus is on service to others and giving yourself away through memorable, positive impact on others.

My other longtime preoccupation has been the application of management to the growth and effectiveness of what people now call megachurches. An article in USA Today (May 16) titled “Faith in America; Get Ready for Change” leads with a question: What is the future of religion in the USA? followed by a supposition: “One in which church is less rigid, creedal, and hierarchical.” In this evolution, Christianity might just return to its roots.

The author, Oliver Thomas, says, “It is almost a return to early Christianity which was spiritually fluid with an emphasis on prayer, worship and acts of charity … Young adults appear mostly uninterested in our denominational joisting over ‘correct doctrine.’ They seek opportunities to worship, serve, and become part of an emerging community that cares deeply for one another … They are interested in what works and are not worried so much about what is religiously proper or acceptable … Young people don’t need much in the way of intermediaries … They want to experience God for themselves.”

Not long ago, Linda and I went to hear New York Times columnist, David Brooks, speak in Dallas. His major interest these days has been brain research and psychology. There is lots about the inner life coming at it mainly from a secular but sympathetic-to-religion point of view. In a NY Times piece (also dated May 16) titled “Nice Guys Finish First,” Brooks says, “Humans build moral communities out of shared norms, habits, emotions and gods, and then will fight and sometimes die to defend their communities … For decades people tried to devise a rigorous ‘scientific’ system to analyze behavior that would be divorced from morality. But if cooperation permeates our nature, then so does morality and there is no escaping ethics, emotion, and religion in our quest to understand who we are and how we got this way.”

Last week I spoke with Reggie McNeal, who writes a great deal for congregational leaders, pastors and staff leaders. Reggie directs a group of large church leaders who focus on what we at Leadership Network call Missional Renaissance. Some might call it community outreach. I asked Reggie to comment on the Dallas Morning News and the USA Today articles. He said that “religion for younger people today is more personal and authority is less positional. Leadership is determined by the task to be accomplished, not so much clergy dominated – lots of collaboration. The church is more in the business of searching for how we are alike, not how we are different, more centered on Jesus and less on denominational distinctives. There is a focus on getting things done, on Christianity as a way-of-being not just a way of believing.”

Is this a “sea change” in leadership? The more I observe younger cohorts, the church leaders that Leadership Network convenes week after week, the more I am convinced that something big is going on. If I were to summarize what I see as the “futurity of present events,” it would go something like this:

  • From hierarchies to networks.
  • From institutional learning to learning from best practices.
  • From good intentions to results and performance.
  • From tell ’em what to do to support their aspirations.
  • From catch & keep to catch & release.

My friend, Ken Blanchard, the management bestselling author, and now “Chief Spiritual Officer” of Blanchard Training and Development, says in Lead Like Jesus, “The more I read the Bible, the more evident it becomes that everything I have ever taught or written about effective leadership over the past 25 years, Jesus did to perfection. He is simply the greatest leadership role model of all time.” Ken taught me what I began to call “Management by the Third Way,” which I keep with me on a wallet card.

My wallet card sounds pretty much like what’s going on now!

So What About You?

  1. Do you interpret these changes as favorable or negative for churches?
  2. Where do your kids and grandkids go for authority (friends, media, school, etc)?


I would love to hear from you. I read all responses.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dianne permalink
    May 24, 2011 10:13 PM

    Hi Derek.

    Could you give us some explanation of the symbols on the pocket card? …and I am having trouble reading the writing on the baseball field, and I would appreciate a few words about how the two diagrams are related.

    One more request: could you define “sea change” a little more clearly? It is probably very obvious, but I don’t quite understand what you mean by this term.

    Thank you!

  2. June 2, 2011 2:58 PM

    Derek love the wallet card – my experience on college campuses continues to be there is an electrification around servant leadership. It is not leadership that is dead. It is command control leadership (selfish leadership) that is dead. The emerging generation is going to be the game changer. Just watch! Cheers Dave

  3. Bruce permalink
    June 13, 2011 6:32 PM

    Sorry, but this all starts with the assumption that people change. They don’t. Styles come and go, technology evolves, but skin-on people never really change.
    Every generation has enough youthful arrogance to believe they need to do away with what came before them, only to discover that the generation behind them will do the same. “A church less rigid, creedal, and hierachical?”Gee, sounds a lot like the church of my youth and the Jesus Movement. “What works versus what is proper or acceptable?” Same thing. It’s fairly insulting to people who are older to insinuate that they diddled away their time jousting over “correct doctrine.” And trust me, at some point the day comes around again when someone says, Mmm, maybe we ought to rethink that doctrine thing. There’s an ebb and flow to all of this, but it is patently wrong headed to think, “Hey, unlike those stiffs before us, we’ve really figured out this church leadership thing.” Keep prodding the church forward, but recognize God’s work through fallible people all along the way.

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