Lecture 3: Global Trends Affecting Leadership

Course: Leading Healthy Church Culture

Lecture 3: Global Trends Affecting Leadership

Youth, urbanization and globalization have created certain trends for leadership today.

A. Youth

Well, we need the encouragement of Hebrews chapter 13 and the memory of the leaders in our past because leadership has become increasingly difficult today due to several global trends. These trends increasingly involve youth, urbanization and globalization. For example, young people in Belarus tend to have more in common with people in Baltimore than they do with people in their own neighborhood. So, the global trends are deeply impacting leadership and our capacity to lead. It is making leadership a much more difficult challenge than it has been in the past. The first global trend is a rising cynicism and this isn’t just among young people, everybody is growing more cynical. A barometer that reflects this social attitude is a bumper sticker that reads, ‘don’t vote, it will only encourage them.’ People are pessimistic about the future; they are pessimistic about leaders in almost every aspect of life whether it is business or education or the church, etc. It is difficult to lead when people have a high level of cynicism that exists today.

B. Shifting Power

The second global trend is shifting power; I have been told that there is more computer power in this small computer than existed on earth in 1950. That means that those with technology have more power today than those with titles. So, the old way of leading simply doesn’t work. IBM once referred to their mainframes as masters and the terminals that sat on our desks as slaves. Some of you may not be old enough to even remember that kind of language. But in the computing world of today, the newer relationship is the client server. Power has gone to people, to the clients, to people with access to that information. With access to information at our fingertips, what does that mean? Power has shifted away from those in the corner office to those who have this computing power that has this access to information wherever they may be. Thomas Freedman wrote the book, ‘the World is Flat.’ He also wrote, ‘the Olive Tree.’ In the World is Flat, he contends that this power shift is responsible for the flattening of hierarchies and the movement of the center of gravity from the powerful boss to the empowered people. Today a younger person from a lower cast in India can be literally connected to the whole world just sitting in their village. This shift is threatening Indian’s cast system for the first time in hundreds, if not thousands of years. In today’s client-server world, yesterday’s master-slave, that power and authority motif just doesn’t work anymore and to stand up in front of people and to think that you have authority isn’t even a relative conversation in today’s society.

I remember several years ago, I was asked to give a lecture, a three-hour lecture to a group of PhD students at Regent University on leadership development. I had done my research on the area of leadership development. There were seventy-five students, brand new PhD students in this huge lecture hall. At Regent, these halls are the most modern thing you could imagine. It had theatre seats with long tables wired up for all kinds of technology. So, they are all sitting there with their computers and I started to talk. I go on for about an hour and a half and I noticed a young man sitting on the front row about three people in. I noticed that he never looked up or at me the entire time. He was just staring at his computer screen. Well, I kept on going but at break time, this fellow comes to me and introduces himself. He was a twenty-seven years of age that inherited millions of dollars and he is not running a foundation. I didn’t know why he was taking this doctoral program. So, I started to tell him a little about myself but he stopped and said that he knew everything about me. How is that, I asked? I’m been googling you for the last hour and a half plus every reference that you mentioned when you shared something from a book or a quote. Interestingly, these kinds of examples give us a reality check in our lives; we live in a world of computing power and those with it hold a different sort of sway. In today’s world, the power and authority motif simply is no longer effective and so there has to be a different way to lead in today’s world.

C. Globalization

The final global trend has to do with changing contracts. Permanent jobs are becoming scarcer, while the temporary workforce is on the rise. More people are more self-employed than they were twenty-five years ago, many of whom not by their own choice. Project teams are formed to provide a service and when the project is finished after a year or so, the team is disbanded and those people are looking for another job. The organization’s loyalty to people and people’s loyalty to the organization is becoming a relic of the past. The new contract promises employment only in exchange for a commitment for excellence. There is a little cartoon that is both cute and sad showing resumes of people who can replace us. It is no surprise in such a climate that employees are hiring themselves out to the highest bidder. I was consulting with a Christian organization recently; being an older organization, some of their people have been there for thirty-five or more years. They have been missionaries in this organization and as they began to share about when they first came into the organization, they were asked, ‘are you called and committed to this ministry for life?’ They had to sign a statement that they were committed and called to this organization. But over the last five to ten years the organization has shifted, saying we are no longer committed to you and if you don’t keep up your skills you will be out of a job. So, the land underneath the employees has radically shifted. People no longer sense any loyalty from the organization and they are hiring themselves out. IBM, a number of years ago moved from what they called lifetime employment to now lifetime employability.

There is a huge shift in thinking and therefore it is difficult to inspire commitment. We now live in that kind of a world. Have you seen these trends that I’m referring to? How are you reacting to those? What do you think about this rising cynicism, shifting power and changing contracts? Have you experienced that yourself? Have you seen that in the emerging generations? One person from the audience said that there was a rising distrust which is part of cynicism. Anytime you can go global with a thought or picture or image which the internet allows us to do, you have a sense of power and with that comes distrust. We used to talk about the haves and the have-nots, but now there is a whole new definition to this and how to get to be a have from a have-not is not as clear as it used to be. Another person refers to hopelessness being far away from cynicism; there is behavior in the world that makes us think in these terms. There is increased poverty leading to increased starvation with many areas in the world, thus increasing hopelessness. In my way of thinking, this rising cynicism is due to the access of information. Back when John Kennedy was president, he was a rascal in some of his doings. The press and media weren’t on top of that even going back to F.D.R. We know about his charades as well. Because of that, we held these leaders in much higher esteem than we do now. Now, this access brings these leaders into more focus and living color into our living rooms every night. We don’t perceive there is much secrecy anymore. We have sort of done this to ourselves. We have made caricatures out of our leaders because of the access to information. I think those two can play hand in hand perhaps. Another person from the audience says that many Christian leaders would confess one thing but then you see a different side to them and perhaps this has increased the cynicism that we are talking about. There are things that have entered the Christian culture that are no longer necessarily Christian; there is no longer authenticity with Christians.

So, these trends make it very important for us to reassess what leadership is all about. I want to submit to you that as we talk about Christ-centered leadership; I believe this effectively deals with all three of these issues in a very powerful way.