Chasing the Leadership Dragon (part 7 of 8)

Welcome to part 7 of 8 in “Confessions of An Anxious Leader or Chasing the Leadership Dragon.” In each of these posts I’m listing how systems thinking affects how I think about leadership. I now think about leadership as a matter of maturity.

What systems theory has taught me is that we grow and mature as we shift focus or emphasis in several categories of life. Some of these categories apply to individuals, some apply to congregations, some apply to both. I list these shifts or directions in no particular order. Today we look at item number six.

6) Maturity manages the sabotage that inevitably greets change. Systems theory outlines a predictable sequence of responses whenever someone starts to function well in the presence of others. Once a change occurs, a system will respond unconsciously, unthinkingly, and predictably in the following manner. First the system will respond to a change by saying, “You’re wrong.” The initial resistance will list all the reasons why the idea won’t work. When the leader persists, the system will then say, “Change back.” At this point the system might get personal because the change is “ruining things.” Allies might be gathered at this time. When the leader persists, the system will say, “Change back or else.” At this point the system delivers an ultimatum. These ultimatums are often a threat of writing to the bishop, leaving the church, or taking all the toys home. When the leader persists, the system usually adapts to the new reality. If not, then the challenger can leave with the honesty and the integrity that their sense of self-definition or discipleship is called to be lived out with another community.

Nine times out of ten, the content of an argument is not the issue. Most of the time what is really going on is the emotional process of the system. “Moses won’t you please take us back to where we at least had three square meals a day?” If the decision was made out of principle (No. 4), If the decision is for the best principles, strength, and mission of the organization (No. 5), and if the decision-maker can handle their own anxiety about the loneliness of leadership (No. 6) then lasting change can happen. Indeed, until the above emotional process gets activated by a change, it’s probably not a real change. Without some degree of discomfort (No. 5 again) chances are that the system is not significantly growing, maturing, or adapting. In her book, Leaders Who LastMargaret Marcuson writes the sober reminder that, “You never really get away with leadership.” A price is always paid for maturing.


See Related Earlier Posts


1) Maturity focuses on self-definition.

2) Maturity stresses adventure and direction towards these goals rather than safety.

3) Maturity operates out of principle rather than the feeling of the moment.

4) Maturity looks to accept appropriate responsibility rather than find someone to blame.

5) Maturity knows it’s always integrated into emotional process, and thus accepts pain as a part of growth, even seeks it out to a degree.



  1. Dan, thanks for mentioning me. I agree 100% that leadership is a matter of maturity. It’s far more important than skill or intelligence. And yes, there’s a price to be paid. But I think it’s worth it for the greater impact you can have in your leadership.

    1. Thank you for the comment. I think you’re last sentence is a critical piece that I left out. It’s worth it.

  2. […] 6) Maturity manages the sabotage that inevitably greets change. […]

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