Functioning At Your Best as Leader
Someone once asked an imaginative question: “What if some day scientists discovered a differentiation gene?” It was a fun question to ponder, but, genes don’t work the way most of us imagine. Bowen’s Scale of Differentiation posits that one characteristic of the highly self-differentiated person is the capacity to separate thinking from feeling (e.g., choosing to act on principles rather than feelings), and, the ability to manage the togetherness-individuality reciprocity in personal and systemic relationships (e.g., not overfunctioning, avoiding enmeshment, avoiding groupthink, etc.).
Differentiation is a product of relationships in a system, the evidence of which is how one functions. If we were to go down the gene therapy route, or more specifically, the biological engineering route related to Bowen Systems Theory, then a more likely focus would be how to lower anxiety, and we already have medication for that. But differentiation is about functioning in relationships.
As I observe leaders who function at their best I’ve identify the following characteristics:
- They are balanced in their work and play, family and relationships, responsibility and self-care
- They are clear enough about goals so as to not be sabotaged easily
- They are clear enough about their core values so as to not second guess their decisions
- They are clear enough about their principles so as to maintain purpose and agency (self-determinate)
- They can be adaptive enough to change patterns of functioning, especially those that tend to lead toward stagnation or stuckness
- They can stay connected with all parts of the system and do so proactively
- They can maintain boundaries in work (do not overfunction) and relationships (do not own other people’s feelings)
- They can receive challenges as opportunities and not problems. In fact, they are energized by a challenge which brings out imagination and creativity
- They can challenge and hold others accountable without assigning blame, denigrating them, or being punitive
- They can avoid personalizing reactivity from others (does not take it personally and does not make it personal)
- They can take responsibility for their position or job and not for outcomes beyond their control, or, for the ultimate fate of the organization
- They can seek the cooperation of others without requiring loyalty or personal support
- They can seek the welfare of the system above the happiness or predilections of individuals without feeling guilty.
Want to learn more about being a differentiated leader? The Center for Lifelong Learning offers the Leadership in Ministry workshops in five locations: Atlanta, Boston, Portland OR, Kansas City MO, and Lynchburg, VA. To learn more about the Leadership in Ministry workshops.
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.