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The power of belonging 

 


Discovering the confidence to lead with vulnerability. By Rob Waller  

 

Belonging


Leaders lead from the heart. They may have vision and a leadership position, they may have leadership skills and know how to manage people. Yet, without a steady heart, their leadership will stagnate at best and can come apart in spectacular fashion. There have been too many stories of people who have led – and then lost it all.

John Wimber once said, “Never trust a leader without a limp.” He was recalling the limp that Jacob received when he wrestled with God, and there are many examples of biblical figures who have learnt from their limp and so led better. Paul’s thorn, David’s wilderness, Moses’ stutter and time in the desert – all had to go through this stage in order to truly lead.

The problem is that our modern leadership models don’t allow for the ‘cave experience’. It is assumed that young leaders will become youth leaders who will become assistant leaders and so on. Leadership courses focus on management skills (like budgeting, line management and child protection) or strategies (like team building, your personality type or networking). However, no-one is talking about a deeply personal issue: most leaders feel as if they got there by blind luck, hang on by their fingernails and feel like imposters in their current roles. God may have called them, but the foundations are far from secure.

 


“I feel like an imposter in my own leadership role…”



‘M’, the head of the Secret Service in the James Bond films, said, “Supreme Command is the loneliest job there is.” And how sad is this. It means that senior leaders are isolated, up on pedestals, exposed on all fronts, meant to be jack of all trades and – as a direct result – feel deeply disconnected from the people they are trying to lead.

The truth, however, is that humans were built for something different. Sociologist Brene Brown’s work on courage, vulnerability and empathy has shown that we are all ‘created for connection’. This might sound like a catch-phrase, but it is backed up by neuroscience (our brains light up when your relationships are good) and psychology (where the Belongingness Theory shows that a true sense of belonging is as important as food, warmth and safety – the traditional foundations of human development). Put simply, people who do not feel as though they belong will have stunted emotional lives and be at greater risk of both physical and mental health problems.

The good news is that it is never too late. Thanks to the work that psychologists and sociologists have done over the last 100 years, we can identify the causes of non-belonging and seek to remedy them. Hidden shame, maybe from a past misdemeanour but more often from just simply shutting ourselves down, can be called out and dismantled. For shame cannot stand being called out and cannot stand being shared – its power comes from secrecy and its undoing comes from being known. This doesn’t mean over-sharing, but appropriate sharing and persistent relationships with people who know us, love us and (perhaps most importantly) are not impressed by us…

 


“Shame cannot stand being called out…”



Our Christian faith also gives us a perspective – not a trite “you are known by God” (which may be theologically true but can seem distant) but a rich narrative of belonging and some wonderful shoes to stand in. Chief of these is Moses, whose shame journey runs through his life. He moves from being an ashamed murderer, to confronting this when God asks him to pick up the snake, to using that very snake-staff to set the people free.

I met a senior leader last week who was looking forward to landscape painting in his retirement. He said, “I want to study for its own sake, not for some talk I am to give.” I had to wonder what he had been doing for the past 40 years and why it had to wait till retirement for him to have fun and be himself. We have been told ‘fake it to make it’ – and we do, for it is a strategy that works at one level. But if you do fake it and make it, then where does that leave your soul, where does it leave your heart?

Belonging, like many psychological concepts, is something that can be learnt. In our recent book, The Power of Belonging, Will van der Hart and I unpack the building blocks of belonging and the power that flows from this. Not a muscular power, or even an impressive power – but one that we believe people will follow because it shows them something they can identify with. The twin tracks of belonging are that you belong to community and belong to God. A leader who is human, authentic and empowered by the Spirit to lead.


Image | Unsplash 



The Power of BelongingDr Rob Waller is a Consultant Psychiatrist working for the NHS in Scotland and a Director of The Mind and Soul Foundation.

Together with the Revd Will van der Hart, he has written The Power of Belonging – Discovering the Confidence to Lead With Vulnerability www.powerofbelonging.com.








 


 

 



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Baptist Times, 01/05/2019
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