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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Leading from the Right Side of the Brain

I’ve been a lifelong doodler. At times doodles have turned into sketches and sketches into drawings. This graphite drawing of a sharecropper titled “Toil,” done several years ago, started as a doodle which eventually became a favorite rendering, which today hangs framed in my study.


People sometimes ask, “Wow, how do you do that?” On occasion, my playful reply is “Well, if you do something every day for most of your life you can get pretty good at it.”


Drawing helps artists develop a way of seeing things differently than most non-drawing people seem able to perceive. Artist and teacher Brian Bomeisler was featured in an online issue of *American Artist* magazine. Bomeisler (the son of Betty Edwards, author of the best seller *Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain)* teaches the “Global Skills of Drawing” to help students produce more realistic drawings. In effect, he teaches them the principles that help them see the world as it is as opposed to seeing the world as they assume it is.


The global skills of realistic drawing Bomeisler teaches include these five skills:

  1. The perception of edges called lines or contour drawing.
  2. The perception of spaces in drawing called negative spaces.
  3. The perception of relationships known as perspective and proportion.
  4. The perception of lights and shadows called shading.
  5. The perception of the whole, which comes from the previous four perceptual skills.


Those five skills of “realistic drawing” are applicable to ministry leadership. They correlate to the ways that Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) can help us “see” things differently.


1. Leaders need to develop a perception of edges called “boundaries.” A fundamental idea to the concept of differentiation in relationship systems is knowing where one’s boundary of self (which includes our personal identity, our values, our thinking, and our feelings) ends and another begins. People who lack a perception of boundaries tend to have a larger pseudo-self than a core self. In times of acute anxiety and reactivity persons who lack the right perception of boundaries can become willful and invasive. A lack of boundaries can also lead to overfunctioning behaviors.


Effective leaders not only understand boundaries, they are able to set them when needed. Healthy pastoral leaders know the boundaries between their families and their ministry. They know the boundaries between personal self and the pseudo-self that is appropriately shared with the congregational system. And they know how to draw a line in the sand when dealing with willful church members or persons who lack respect for boundaries and act invasively. (Can you see the boundaries of the sketch?)


2. Leaders need to develop a perception of what you can’t see, like “negative spaces.” We can relate this point to the capacity to perceive emotional processes. You can’t see emotional process directly, but you can see its effect on the system and the individuals that make up the system. It is the driving force that makes anxious people do what they do when they engage in automatic responses. It’s the force that fuels reactivity and the dynamic behind homeostasis.


To be able to see the “negative space” of emotional process is the ability to focus on how people function in a system, rather than focusing on individual personalities. It’s the ability to perceive an episode of reactivity or strength in the context of multigenerational transmission as opposed to an isolated instance in time. It’s the ability to recognize a triangle when you see it (or when you’re in it) and be able to discern your place in the triangle and the forces that put you there. (Can you see the use and affect of negative space in the sketch?)


3. Leaders need to develop a perception of relationships. If ministry is about anything, it’s about relationships. One of the most transformative aspects of BFST related to ministry happens when clergy leaders re-frame their perception about their relationship with their congregations. Gaining a new perspective on the nature of leadership and of relationships can be freeing, if not redemptive, especially for those caught in the trap of transferring their own unresolved family emotional process issues and patterns onto their congregational ministry. (Can you see the relationship of the elements (shapes) in the sketch?)


4. Leaders need to develop the perception of shading. Moving away from either/or and right and wrong thinking is key to better decision-making and emotional functioning. It enables the ability to engage in imagination. Being able to work in a broad palette of hues of grays, rather than in black and white, can help the leader entertaining options beyond the fight or flight reactivity that is brought on by anxiety in times of crises. The ability to perceive tones, hues, and shades can help in relationships also. It helps us see people in a new light and appreciate that all humans are complex, nuanced, multidimensional, and wonderfully made. It can help us move beyond the temptation to simplistically ascribe motives to actions and help us appreciate the influence of emotional process on people’s function—a process they themselves often are unaware. (Can you see the use of shading in the sketch?)


5. Leaders need to develop a perception of the whole. BFST gives us the capacity to “think systems,” to see the whole rather than the individual parts. Like an artist who can see the whole canvas and envision how all aspects of composition help bring balance and proportion to the whole, leaders need to see more comprehensively the emotional field, the system’s patterns, relationships, dynamics, and forces—rather than merely their effects on its particular objects.


Often, it’s not what’s on the foreground that’s most interesting—it’s the rest of the components in the “field” that are making us focus on the object of interest that are the most dynamic forces at play. Leaders are most effective when they understand “what is really going on” and know how to perceive what others cannot. That’s often what we call vision. (Can you see how the detailed and complex elements in the sketch align to make the whole?)


To learn more about leading from the right side of your brain participate in the Leadership in Ministry workshops at the Center for Lifelong Learning. Six workshops at five locations are available.

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.


Dr. G. & Friends