Strategically viral?
December 7, 2008, 12:00 pm
Filed under: uncategorized

My friend Petey and I talked on the phone for over an hour the other day.  We were talking ’bout “missional” leadership styles.  He asked what I thought about decentralized forms of leadership and organization, like the concepts and examples discussed in the book The Starfish and the Spider.  I told him I was all for that   approach to leadership, but we have to be honest and admit that it’s a tough way to  run an organization.  Over and over I have found myself having to reassure those who follow my leadership that they DO have permission and encouragement and empowerment to go do things, get involved in projects, participate in activities.  We still live solidly within a leadership paradigm that forces people into top-down modes, and people still have a hard time believing that it’s o.k. to step out of that mode.  The “leader” is still seen as the one to catalyze things into action.  Leaders bring vision, provide the road map, energize the followers to action, and send them out with a pep talk.

And yet, it sure seems like the whole “viral” thing is what is really bringing about the most change in the world.  The book referenced about gives lots of internet examples of movements and companies that took off because they had a decentralized structure that allowed for more fluidity, responsiveness to challenges, and grassroots energy.

Viral seems to be the way to go these days.  But getting back to the concept of missional leadership, the question is, how do we go about giving leadership in such a way that viral movements are stimulated and grown?  In other words, is it possible to be both strategic and viral simultaneously?  That’s tricky business.  Providing enough of a vision, enough of a compelling call to change, enough of a push to get people moving, but not so much that it become too leader-driven, structured, or mapped out ahead of time that there’s no room for creativity in the moment for people.

I do think it’s possible to be strategically viral, but it’s so hard to know how.  I think it involves being highly experimental, knowing that you’re going to fail many more times than you’ll succeed.  And the things that you will come to call success may look like failures for quite a while before they’re understood in different ways.  It involves creating environments more than game plans.  It involves developing an ethos among people more than a list of rules, behaviors, and marching orders.

What do you think?  Am I full of hot air?  Are strategic and viral mutually exclusive terms?  Why? Why not?


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Not exclusive. Mutually interdependent.

Comment by Glen

Great post my friend! You’ve mentioned that book to me in conversation several times now, and I relaly think it’s time to read it.

It really is hard to lead a church or organization this way, but more and more are learning the value of being permission givers and collaborators. The thing is…most people in church (my world) still want to be lead and are far from seeing themselves as leaders or what I call “Jesus Apprentices”…

You bring up failure and this to me is key to the viral concept of leadership. We have to consider failure as a positive thing in evaluating success. Very few failures means little sustainable success…only short-term wins.

I’d love to sip some coffee and talk more about this with you. When you have the time…

Comment by rexhamilton

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: