Choosing Principles over Relationships

Choosing Principles over Relationships

November 27, 2017—This is one of those rules that at first pass sounds “anti-Christian” and counter-intuitive. We are taught that relationship is at the heart of what it means to be Christian and at the center of what it means to be “in community.” We are taught that, to be loving, patient, and longsuffering are paramount Christian virtues. But the point here is that a self-differentiated leader holds well-articulated guiding beliefs and values that allow him or her to discern the difference between moving toward a life goal (a life calling or vision) and being enmeshed and held back by those who prefer homeostasis.

The leader often has to make choices based on what is best for the system as a whole rather than what is convenient, or best, for individuals in the system. The critical leadership function of providing a vision for the system means that clergy often will need to make a commitment to the principles and values that lead toward the realization of a vision, or the integrity of the mission, over the desires or needs of certain individuals in the system. Of course, the undifferentiated lack the capacity to tolerate distance, or to appreciate when someone is moving toward their own goals and dreams. For them, it will feel like abandonment, betrayal, and callousness and will often result in reactivity like sabotage or seduction.

Self-differentiation is all about functioning. One manifestation of the extent to which one is functioning in a self-differentiated manner is how well one can separate feeling from thinking. I recently consulted with a normally steady and effective staff person who found herself stuck on a particular issue. In this case she knew the right thing to do, and was able to quote the company guidelines that needed to direct her action, yet, she was second guessing herself.

By the time she called me to think through the issue she had triangled in two people in different offices in her organization (anxiety spawns triangles), reviewed the company guidelines several times, and called a person in a different company to double check legal regulations. Despite all that, she still felt stuck. After working through the issue she gained enough insight to see how her emotions kept trumping her cognition (actually, in this instance, it was about how someone else’s emotions and anxiety were feeding her own anxiety and emotions). Despite knowing what she needed to do, she was stuck not being able to follow through.

This situation highlights how important it is to hold clearly articulated principles. A clearly articulated principle can be a stay against confusion in the moment when decisiveness and action is called for. In the midst of anxiety, when cogitation and cerebration becomes a challenge, recalling the principles that must guide action can keep one from getting stuck.

Here are examples of principles that can be of help when one needs to decide on one’s feet (these are mine; you’ll need to come up with your own):

What principles guide your actions in times of challenge?

Adapted from Perspectives on Congregational Leadership: Applying Systems Thinking for Effective Leadership.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to the Digital Flipchart blog.

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