Today I am glad to welcome John Johnson to The Exchange. John is a professor of Pastoral Theology and Leadership at Western Seminary in Portland, OR. Along with over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry, he has spent two decades training leaders around the world. He blogs regularly at drjohnejohnson.org, and is author of Missing Voices: Learning to Lead Beyond Our Horizons.
Ed: Why another book on leadership?
John: Books on the topic of leadership tend to voice a perspective that is WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic. In doing so, they often ignore the voices of those in Majority World.
In this book, I work to develop a truly global approach to leadership for the twenty-first century—one that attends to the way in which diverse voices from across the world complement and correct one another.
Further, this book is unique for the way in which it seeks to attune the chorus of global voices to the one voice that matters most, the voice of God. In other words, it recognizes that our thinking about and practice of leadership must be globally and theologically informed.
The global and theological perspective advanced in this book is the fruit of years spent leading and teaching around the world, in both congregational and classroom settings. Leading and teaching about leadership has meant likewise being a student of leadership, listening to what others say about the topic and learning from them.
My hope is that presenting what I have learned will not only serve to inform but also to shape leaders—those who possess both cultural intelligence and theological discernment. I believe that the development of such competencies is crucial for present and emerging leaders, regardless of their context or position.
Ed: How have global voices informed how you approach leadership?
John: One of the more significant ways that global voices have informed my approach to leadership is that they have taught me to look for and learn from the strengths and weaknesses present in different cultures.
The fact is, no single region of the world has a perfect understanding of leadership. As such, where we notice strengths within a specific cultural context, we can work to implement these into our own approach; where we see weaknesses, these can be used to help identify our own shortcomings. In sum, exposure to global voices has helped me to understand that we can learn from one another.
To give one example, there is much to learn from both individualistic and collectivistic cultures—it’s not simply about embracing one and dismissing the other. Individualistic cultures reveal the importance of personal goals, responsibility, and performance; collectivistic cultures, on the other hand, underscore the importance of relationships, belonging, mutual care, and loyalty.
Along with strengths, each of these types of cultures has weaknesses. Individualistic cultures can overemphasize individuality to the point of social disintegration; collectivistic cultures can sacrifice individual input and initiative for the sake of unity.
Ed: Why is God’s voice so important to the discussion of leadership?
John: Listening to global voices is important. However, listening to the divine voice is the most important factor in developing a healthy approach to leadership. There are two key reasons for this.
First, God himself is the source, standard, and goal of authentic leadership; the idea of leadership begins with him, is exemplified by him, and to be directed to him.
Second, God not only is the leader par excellence, he is the ultimate teacher, graciously communicating leadership wisdom to his creatures.
So then, because God is the ultimate leader, and he has revealed how to lead in a way that follows his example, those who desire to become authentic leaders are wise to heed to his voice.
My book identifies eleven significant leadership themes, and the divine voice, provided in Scripture, speaks to each. Attending to this voice gives us a fresh perspective on traditional leadership themes, such as mission, vision, strategy, and tactics.
Considered in relation to God, the proper origin, means, and end of every aspect of leadership becomes clear. Along with this, listening to God’s voice gives us a theological framework for integrating the diverse voices we hear throughout the globe.
In Christ, God’s leadership is made visible, and it is a leadership that brings together people from different cultural backgrounds—Asians, Latinos, Africans, Anglos, and so on—uniting them for a common purpose, one that is bigger than that which can be defined by the values of any one culture on its own.
This broader God-oriented view of leadership is essential. We live in a day and age where problems with leadership are impossible to ignore. Whether in the church or in society as a whole, the manifold failures of human leaders are more evident than ever.
People are desperate for authentic leaders, though real solutions seem to be elusive. There is some value in looking beyond one’s own culture and allowing other cultural perspectives to inform and critique one’s approach.
Still, no lasting solution will be found until we look beyond ourselves, and allow our understanding and practice of leadership to be arrested and directed by God.
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