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Functioning at a high level of self-differentiation is the golden fleece sought by organizational and congregational leaders who are students of Bowen Systems Theory.
Especially during times of acute anxiety and systemic reactivity, effective leaders will work on focusing on the repertoire that will help them navigate the storm.
In no particular order, here’s “The Repertoire” experienced systems leaders tend to follow:
It may help to write down “The Repertoire” and keep it in your wallet or tape it to your desk at the church office as a reminder for when acute anxiety bubbles up in the system.
Acute anxiety will tend to focus on the person in the position of leadership (that’s you), so it will feel personal.
The common reaction is to feel under attack or betrayed.
When that happens, our most important resource goes out the window: our capacity to think through the problem, realistically assess what is going on in the system, and responding out of guiding principles and insight.
Three Responses to Differentiation
Assuming we’ve followed “The Repertoire” successfully and have managed to differentiate from within our position of leadership in the system, we need to also take into consideration its aftermath.
Experienced systems leaders know enough not to expect anyone to say “Thank you!”
There are three predictable responses to a leader’s act of self-differentiation in the midst of an anxious system:
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. 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 & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.