Matrix Leadership: Navigating Between Parallel and Colliding Worldviews!

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Jan 212014

Travelling Between Parrallel UniversesWe are living in a day, when maybe more than ever, there are growing chasms, nasty collisions, and ugly cultural wars being fought around which ideologies, worldviews, theologies, systems, and perspectives on social issues will shape the world we live in. One doesn’t have to look far in the arenas of politics, the church, and economics to see this reality. The following are blatant examples of these wars going on. Who can forget the gong show last year in America exhibited in the utter intransigence of the left and the right to budge nary an inch over how to deal with the budget and debt ceiling crisis. The polarization and unwillingness to seriously dialogue and seek solutions from both sides led to the shutting down of the American gov’t. What about the kerfuffle that the singer Neil Young stirred up in the last couple of weeks with his, sometimes informed and sometimes ignorant of the facts, crusade against the oil sands development in northern Alberta? How about the media battle waged over the Christmas break between those who are pro and those who are against homosexuality and gay marriage demonstrated in the Duck Dynasty controversy, and the scrutinizing of Pope Francis’s comments about gays.

In leadership circles, there are the ongoing debates about the merits of flattening out and implementing ofCollisions in Worldview 1 more egalitarian models of leadership versus the more hierarchical, top down styles of leading. In systems and organizational theory forums, there are discussions over whether a centralized or de-centralized system is better than the other. Then there are the social justice issues as they relate to where we shop based on the ethics of how our clothes are produced. Do we know whether the workers who are producing   our favorite brand name clothes are being paid a fair wage and working in horrific conditions or not?  Are all the box stores and multi-nationals to be avoided in favor of the boutique shop? What about only shopping from local, organic producers? Are simple, small churches better than large, mega churches?

Parrallel universe 2In the church, there are vociferous theological battles being waged over everything from the existence of hell; to whether homosexuality is an acceptable sexual orientation one is born with, or an abnormal, sinful choice made out of rebellion or gender confusion; to hermeneutics (how we should interpret the Bible). The Neo-reformers and emergent folk are lobbing verbal grenades of judgment at each other that at times gets quite personal. People are being branded heretics for believing in the ‘openness of God’ perspective (the view that God may choose not to exert meticulous control over everything that happens in this world), or for having a different angle on the penal substitution theory of the atonement.  The post modern emergents are not without fault. Often emergents can come across like snobby elitist liberals who have somehow attained perfect enlightenment on the truth, and hold disdain for their right wing conservative brothers and sisters who they view as stuck in the dark ages and neanderthals.

I can appreciate the fear and concern coming from the conservative neo-reformers that absolute truth is beingParrallel Universe 1 watered down into a milquetoast relativism, or a universalism where it doesn’t matter what you believe because all roads lead to God. Yet the longer I live and the more I study history, I realize that most of our wrestles with truth are not new. None of us have the corner on truth or on Jesus. We all know in part. There is absolute truth, but none of us have the corner on absolute truth. A genuine seeker of truth is both humble and hungry to find truth never claiming that they have fully arrived. We are all progressively coming into greater revelation of the Truth. We all are needing to close the gap between what we say we believe, and how we then live.

The resulting polarization, mean spirited vitriol, and violent gun slinging with words and actions is leaving a lot of collateral damage, division, paralysis, disdain for leadership, rejection of the traditional institutions they lead, and even sometimes death when folks revert to violence to defend their point of view.Tug of war

Around the world we see the push and pull either towards tribalism or nationalism, rigid fundamentalism or intolerant liberalism, and the accordion effect from centralization to decentralization and back. Just look at the mess in the Middle East, especially Syria. These clashes of ideology are not going away. Our world seems like a complex matrix made up of opposite, yet intersecting universes. It is overwhelming and scary. We can choose to either bury our heads in the sand and pretend these tectonic collisions are not happening, or out of fear we can dig in and defend our present position at all costs.

There is a desperate need for a different kind of leadership. Most people are fed up with the bickering and are looking for leaders who will bring people together rather than polarize. We need leaders who seek a common center that embraces paradox while avoiding partisan politics and the extremes of either side. We need leaders who have an appreciation for conflicting ideas where the answer may not be either/or but both.

Travelling Between Parrallet Universes 2“Matrix leadership is the ability to travel between two divergent universes holding onto the strengths of each worldview while discarding what is blatantly evil, and challenging the polarizing behavior or blind spots of either worldview. Matrix leaders are at ease with paradox and mystery. They are able to rise above myopic thinking to see the big picture solutions that transcend partisan politics. They seek a higher ethic, give space for divergent opinions, and  don’t see diversity as a threat, but a thing of beauty.”



Ecclesiastes 7:18 says it this way: “Its best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it”


Matrix Leadership Skills to Practice and Develop:

  • Become a Gatekeeper, Synergistic Thinker, and Cross-Cultural Translator: This calls for a person who is willing to immerse themselves in and understandCollisions and Beauty cultures, languages, and the customs of 2 worldviews that are polar opposites in many ways. For example my wife grew up in Japan and I grew up in Africa, yet we are both Canadians. How Africans view time is quite different from how the Japanese view time. A Japanese train is rarely late while a meeting in Africa rarely starts on time.The funny thing is that when it comes to time my wife is more African and I’m more Japanese! This skill requires developing a third worldview or perspective that can hold in tension the diversity of 2 opposing ways of thinking on an issue and offer up a 3rd alternative. They are good at using humor to poke at the blind spots and inconsistencies in a particular perspective in a non-threatening way. They are good at translating the meta-narrative of one worldview into the language of the opposing worldview in a way that brings appreciation and understanding.
  • Become a Statesman and Storyteller: This skill requires searching for creative solutions that move opposite poles to a common center where both sides compromise and feel they are able to contribute. Learn to tell stories that unify us around a grand vision, and communicate our deepest longings in the language of the heart.
  • Matrix 1Become a Curious Life Long Learner: Read, study and become versed in both sides of an issue of ideology, theology, or economics. Most of us react to the other side out of ignorance and fear.
  • Become a Peace Maker and Negotiator: Learn the skills of conflict resolution. Take a course on the subject. Make it part of your life’s work to help bring reconciliation between estranged family members, friends, and conflicts in the work place.


  • “Matrix leaders are bridge builders, peace makers, and statesmen or women who can hold in tension paradox without compromising core values and ideas.”

  • Become a Relationship Broker and Connector: Create spaces where you bring people of different views together to hear each others story. Develop friendships and enter into respectful dialogue with people who hold an opposing view on politics, theology, economics, or sexual orientation. Do not enter into the dialogue with the goal of trying to change the other persons beliefs, but simply listen and try to understand their point of view.
  • Become a Systems Architect and Collaboration Coach : A systems architect will give room for differentParrallel Structures 1 shapes and structures to co-exist and even support each other without trying to change one another, compete with one another or  judge one another. In a large business, organization, or church where there are multiple departments that are competing for resources, there is a need for leaders who will help competing entities see that through sharing of resources all can win.


  • “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if large, mega churches or businesses would financially support and help start simple church movements or small businesses without having to control them or keep them under their organizational umbrella.”

  •  Develop a thick skin as you will have arrows shot at you from both sides.

How Do Organizations Stay in a Movement State? Part 3: By Practicing the Accordion Principle

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Apr 222012

Starfish have no central brain or head!

In the book The Starfish and the Spider, Brafman and Beckstrom compare the nature of a spider and a starfish when it comes to multiplying. If you cut off the leg of a spider it may survive, but if you cut its head off it will die. Yet in a starfish there is no head. The major organs are replicated in each arm. So if you cut a starfish in half it will replicate itself. With the Linckia, or long armed starfish, you can cut it up into pieces and each piece will grow into a new starfish. For a starfish to move, one of the arms must go through a process of communicating with and convincing the other arms that they should also move. (p.35) What an amazing creature! This is the nature of how de-centralized movements function.


Catalysts work at not becoming the center

The nature of most movements is that they start out being decentralized, and yet over time there is a natural gravitational pull to become more centralized. This happens as the movement develops structures to serve the organic life of the movement. The struggle revolves around the ebb and flow of centralization and de-centralization. So the seminal question in most organizations, businesses, church denominations is “How do we remain in a movement state?”  A subset of questions is: “How do leaders keep from staying in the center, so that if they die or resign the movement shrinks or dies?  How do we steward power and authority? Is it possible for de-centralized movements to exist in harmony within more centralized movements?” The core of the questions revolves around the issues of leadership and structure.

“Every river has banks to guide the water to its end goal; every tree has a trunk to support the sap getting to the extremities of the branches; and every body has a skeleton to contain the spirit.”

Sometimes organic movements overreact, out of the fear of becoming a hierarchical organization that is a bottleneck to change and growth, by becoming very suspicious, or even anti or allergic to any type of leadership, or anything that smacks of structure, ritual, or deliberate planning. This is one of the central themes or plots of history. The upstart spontaneous movements throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. During the Luther led reformation, people reacted to the Catholic tradition of icons and relics by tearing down and destroying many of the icons in their churches. All icons and relics were seen as potential for idolatry and tools to manipulate people. Thus we get the word iconoclastic. On the other hand, the older more institutionalized organizations often see the new movements as a threat and try to squelch or even stop them.  This has resulted in numerous rifts, schisms, and divisive splits.

These same proclivities to swing from one extreme to the other are evident today. For example, look at what is happening in the Alberta political scene with the Progressive Conservative reaction to the Wildrose Party, as they threaten to unseat the PC’s from power in the upcoming election. Another example is the strong negative reactions and polar swings of some of the de-centralized emergent or postmodern forms of church, which reject any type of leadership or organization in meetings.

The Art of Moving From De-centralization to Centralization and Back Again

An alternative way which Brafman and Beckstrom raise in their book is the accordion principle. In the study of systems, what is being discovered is that a healthy organization will learn how to navigate the natural rhythms of moving like an accordion from de-centralization to centralization and then back again to de-centralization. If leaders learn how to deliberately take steps to move from one spectrum to the other in the life cycles of an organization, it is possible to remain in a movement state. Thus the question is not whether there is a need for leadership and structure, but more so how do we lead, and how do we adapt structures to serve life?


Brafman and Beckstrom posit the 5 legs of a movement that are keys to remaining in a movement state, moving back and forth from de-centralization to centralization.

Look for Circles of shared vision and trust!

1. Circles:  These are pockets of organic life organized around a common vision and natural relationships. These groups are small, self-governing, self-supporting, and self-multiplying. There is a strong sense of ownership for the raison d’etre of the circle, and there are norms that are passed on as a way of life that is caught, not as a set of rules or procedures that are passed down from on high.

  • Where are there circles of three people in your business, church, neighbourhood who have shared vision and trust one another?
“When people feel like a vision is their own they will voluntarily and joyfully sacrifice much to see the vision become reality.”


2. Catalysts:  Catalysts are inspirational leaders who develop an idea,  start a circle, and then get out of the way. They don’t care about recognition and holding on to power. They love to empower people to pursue the vision they already carry within them. They are allergic to hierarchy and becoming the center that the movement revolves around.  An example of a catalyst is Granville Sharp, who, even before Wilberforce, was the initiator of the anti-slavery movement in the 1800’s. Most of us have heard of Wilberforce, who gets all the credit, though we know nothing of Sharp, the original catalyst.

  • How can we inspire people with a big idea or help to draw out the vision in folks and encourage them to go for it?
  • What are some leadership models for charismatic catalysts to be who they are, and yet not mess things up by becoming the center or the bottleneck?
  • How are decisions made in your organization and who holds the trump card in the decision making process?
3. Ideology:  This is what I like to call the ‘Big Idea’ that grips people, or the song that already resonates with the longings in people’s hearts. For example, these days people are moved by the vision for justice, and ready to get involved in stopping human trafficking or dealing with poverty.
  • What big idea has gripped you so that you would voluntarily sacrifice to see that idea become a reality?
4. A Preexisting Network:  All movements are birthed out of a preexisting organization. For example, the Quakers were a platform for the antislavery movement in England.
  • How can existing organizations serve new movements being birthed from within, instead of fearing them and trying to control or stop them?


5. Champions:  These are folks who are salesman for the ‘Big Idea’. They are people persons and hyperactive networkers. In the anti-slavery movement, a fellow named Thomas Clarkson worked with Sharp to spread the idea of anti-slavery.

  • Who are some people persons you know who are great at networking and selling a ‘Big Idea’?




The Journey of An Architect Learning How to Be An Artist

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Sep 302011

The Grand Vision of the Architect Ready to Be Executed!

For most of my life, I have operated from a leadership philosophy/paradigm and a set of practices that cascade out of the notion that the role of a visionary leader is to be solely that of an architect. The prevailing thinking that has influenced my leadership training and practices flows from a Newtonian, mechanistic worldview in which predictability, creating plans and programs to produce order, and determining the end outcome are the key objectives. From this perspective, people can be viewed as cogs in the machine which can be manipulated to get the desired result, or seen as replaceable pieces to be discarded when no longer productive. An effective leader’s job is to come up with a big vision, to cast that vision to a group of people, to find the people with the necessary skill sets to execute that vision, and to implement the five year plan to bring that vision to fruition. This approach to leadership does bring about results and seems to work.

Yet we are entering a time when our Newtonian mechanistic worldview is colliding with other realities. Discontinuous or random change happening at an accelerated rate is making it more and more difficult to have long range, rigid plans.  The realization through chaos is that we are not as in control as we think we are – just look at the fluctuations of the stock market in the last month. There is a growing awareness that systems/organizations are not machines, but a network of interconnected relationships where even little decisions can have great impact on the whole – look at the grassroots revolutions in the Middle East in the last year. If you want to reflect more on some of these ideas, I suggest Margaret Wheatley’s book, “Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order In a Chaotic World”.

This collision of worldviews has given me an opportunity to complement the leadership skills of an architect by learning another way of leading. There are some who in reaction to the extremes of present and past forms of leadership are proposing no leadership, or anarchy.

Vision Flows out of the Imagination

Vision Flows Out of the Imagination!

What I’m discovering is that I need to learn to lead like an artist alongside my penchant for being an architect. Now I’m not much of an artist when it comes to painting or drawing. Although, I’m not too bad at sketching stick figures or randomly throwing paint on a canvas! I love art…just come look at my house sometime. I am learning that art is a way for us to get in touch with our longing for beauty, a portal to help us catch glimpses of the eternal, and a conduit for the creativity embedded by God in our imaginations to be unleashed. The art of leadership is not just casting a vision but creating contexts for others to unlock their imaginations, and together put strokes of the vision we see on the canvas. As leaders we are to create the borders to the canvas which are a few values and practices that make it safe for people to explore and express the vision they carry in their imaginations of what a better future would look like.

Creating Together

This means we as leaders have to give up control of what the end picture will look like, which, if we are really honest with ourselves, no person can determine anyhow! The borders or boundaries around the canvas keep us from tipping over into the abyss of rugged individualism – everyone doing their own thing – or the top down power politics where only the few most dominant or gifted get to paint on the canvas of vision.


Here are some questions to ponder as you contemplate learning to lead like an artist:

  • What does the desired future that brought us together look like?
  • Who needs to be at the table to put a stroke on the canvas of our painting of a desired future?
  • What are the values or practices that will make it safe for us to explore and paint together?
  • What borders or structures will complement the painting we are creating together?