Catalytic Conversion

Leadership editor Marshall Shelley reports from Catalyst, a conference for young leaders.

After two days at the 2005 Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, I've picked up the mixed feelings that the emerging generation has about leadership. Even though Catalyst is billed as a conference for "young leaders," the attendees I've talked to don't openly aspire to leadership, at least not "the strong, dominant leader" model.

No one openly and forthrightly says (as I heard young people say 20 years ago), "I want to be a leader." Or "I hope to be a person of great influence someday." Instead, the conferees at Catalyst carefully parse the meaning of the word leadership. The attendees see the importance of good leadership, and everyone appreciates being in a group that's well-led. But when picturing such a group, very few mentally picture an individual leader. The mental image of a group that's well led doesn't have a clear and established leader. In fact, a person who identifies himself or herself as a leader, too openly, is viewed with suspicion and maybe even scorn.

The attitude is reminiscent of "the tall poppy syndrome"

of certain cultures - if anyone rises too much above the level of everyone else, and is deemed to be calling attention to himself, he'll be chopped down.

So why are 8,500 people attending a leadership conference if no one wants to be seen as "the leader" of a group?

"I'm not interested in the position of leader, but the process of leadership," one young man told me. The assumption seems to be that no one is a leader; leadership these days demands more than one person. It's about being on a team. Leadership isn't about exercising individual influence or power, and certainly not control. It's about sharing the vision and the load. It's about team building, drawing out the strengths of everyone involved, and pointing attention anyplace but to yourself. It's an exercise in community.

Maybe this generation has heard those lines about "it's lonely at the top" and decided that leadership, like much of their social life, is something best done in groups.

Marshall Shelley

From Atlanta

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October 07, 2005

Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments


October 19, 2005  5:45pm

i agree with bernie...those who are called by God answer that call out of obedience...the one thing..i believe what a lot of my generation (gen-x) struggles with is rooted in the kind of 'model' we grew up with...the CEO model stinks and is as unbiblical as the day is long because it–-like its corporate predecessor–is results-oriented...numbers crunching, sheep swapping, fundraising focused... i see nothing of the sort in the new testament...if nothing else, there must be a better balance struck between FIRST following Christ Jesus our Lord and SECOND leading others into a growing relationship with Him...peace

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Bernie Dehler

October 11, 2005  5:07pm

Bill said: "Who would want to aspire to be a leader." It's not a matter of wanting, but obedience. Moses didn't want to be a leader either. Either we answer the call, or shrink back. The book or Revelation tells what happens to those who shrink back. Lastly, we should do everything in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in the flesh; that's how to avoid burn-out. ...Bernie

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October 11, 2005  1:45pm

Who would want to aspire to be a leader. Think of it in this way. If I am to lead my country, the press can have a field day with every decesion that is made good or bad. And because a person has a job in the media they are allowed to ask anything and act as an "expert" in their interview or editorial. There is always someone second guessing the leader, who has a better idea or a better way but seldom they take to opportunity to be a leader. Culturally it is much easier to be a critic. If I am a leader in school, then if no one follows I am suppose to do the work myself. If I am a leader at work, I have the most responsibility...most work and receive the most blame. Leading today means accepting blame for what does not go right. If things go right, then credit is given to all involved. Wonder why young people are not jumping on board the leadership train at church? Take a look at what happens to to their children and spouses....I look around me and all of those who were called and excited about church 20 years ago, are burned out, used up and have moved on to another calling.

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October 11, 2005  12:57pm

The leadership team model is not only healthy, it is Biblical. Jesus chose 12, then 3 of them as the core group. Not a bad example to emulate.

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Michael Rew

October 10, 2005  11:52pm

This generation has grown up hearing about cult leaders, deposed corporate leaders, denounced evangelical leaders. Everyone wants to lead, but no one wants to be a target.

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