This is the final blog in the series #koinonia. I hope it’s been useful. I’m concluding the series with a focus on leadership. Bowen’s definition of the family leader was made in the context of family therapy. The quote below applies to leadership of any kind.
“Operationally, ideal family treatment begins when one can find a family leader with the courage to define self, who is as invested in the welfare of the family as in self, who is neither angry nor dogmatic, whose energy goes to changing self rather than telling others what they should do, who can know and respect the multiple opinions of others, who can modify self in response to the strengths of the group, and who is not influenced by the irresponsible opinions of others . . . A family leader is beyond the popular notion of power. A responsible family leader automatically generates mature leadership qualities in other family members who are to follow.” (Kerr and Bowen 1988, 342-43)
Leaders have a vision.
The apostles Paul and Peter were visionary leaders at the beginning of the Jesus movement. The decision to include gentiles is attributed to Paul based on Paul’s confrontation with Peter. But Peter, for his part, has a vision recorded in Acts 11:1-8. Peter’s vision is a departure from the purity laws of Leviticus that were used to define the community. Like Paul’s assertion of inclusivity, Peter’s vision includes all people in the Jesus movement.
As Peter takes steps to welcome the Gentiles, he receives a swift pushback from the community. Peter is accused of breaking the law. In response, he articulates his thinking. The community eventually accepts his new belief. This predictable response is described in Dr. Bowen’s family research as the “change back” process.
Leaders are clear, calm and connected.
If one takes an action step based on a new belief, rooted in observable facts and good thinking, then the relationship system (family, work, congregational, etc.) will react predictably to the change. Bowen described it as a fear-based response to a perceived threat. Leaders can navigate this process in three steps. First, a leader does their best to articulate a new belief, being as clear as they can. Second, as other’s react negatively to the new belief, the leader does not react back. Third, the leader stays in good emotional connect with important others without telling them what to do and without walking away. Bowen’s research showed how others in the system eventually come around to accept and respect a new position. It is recommended that leaders practice this process with their family and with the guidance of a coach.
Leaders pay attention.
As one observes the emotional process in the relationship system, it’s possible to “see” how anxiety is transmitted, picked up and managed in self and in others. The ability to watch the flow of anxiety and how it impacts one’s behavior, and the behavior of others, is a first step in defining a self. Good questions can help one pay attention. How does the system influence what one thinks, feels and does? In what way does the system hamper one’s freedom to think, feel and act? How does one influence the behavior of others? More than being self-aware, paying attention is the ability to identify the emotional process and the role each person plays.
I continue to resonate with Bowen’s view that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have but that we can all do better. Leaders work to be the best version of themselves they can be. Leaders lead the way.