I would imagine that students of “leadership” are having a field day with the current public drama in the U.S.
Weekly, sometimes daily, issues and policies from local to global scale are flying back and forth like badminton shuttlecocks, batted by different styles of leadership.
There is plenty to observe about leadership styles and their effects, as appeals, distractions, promises and carefully crafted narratives are employed to gain and keep the support necessary for maintaining a given leadership status.
The democratic nature of our political process requires that a person seeking a certain leadership role garner enough support from a constituency to gain office by election, and that usually is accomplished by drawing as much contrast as possible between oneself and one’s opposition.
Campaigns for such leadership opportunities can be quite heated and polarizing, with opposing perspectives and visions for the community solidifying groups of people against each other.
When a vote is taken, one side wins and the other loses; and the outcome is seen as a validation of one side and a repudiation of the other, no matter how razor thin the margin.
This has been the nature of the political process throughout our nation’s history, and it has its parallels in other leadership contexts as well.
In some ecclesiastical traditions, leadership is also chosen by a similar kind of deliberative and democratic process, where different perspectives on needs, styles and visions of possibility vie for support and eventual acceptance.
In such settings also, some points of view and ideas prevail, while others do not; and leadership sets out with some on its side and with others not as enthusiastic.
Recently, a term with a long-standing meaning has come to be applied to a leader’s modification of an earlier emphasis to suggest a different direction.
The term is “pivot” – easily understood as a change of direction or the point at which the turn is made.
If a leader softens a previously strident theme in the interest of making it less polemical, or if a position once at the center of a campaign moves toward the periphery, the leader is said to be “pivoting.”
Watching the current dance among our elected officials between election campaigns and governing roles, it is hard not to notice that what gets a person elected and what is required to govern effectively is a far cry from being the same thing.
Now that governance has become dominated by a continuous election campaign season, it is easy to see which one is controlling our collective life.
It appears to be very difficult for persons who have “won” an election with the support of a “base” whose loyalty is necessary for maintaining the role to shift from election mode to a broader governing mode without being forced to continue “dancin’ with the ones who brung ’em.”
There seems to be a crucial “pivot” in leadership, especially leadership that has come to the role on the wave of support of a particular part of a constituency.
The pivot from being the champion of a particular part of one’s community to serving in a leadership role for the whole of one’s community would seem to be essential for the long-term success of the relationship.
This phenomenon is familiar enough in our political process, but it is also evident in other contexts, such as ministerial leadership in a family of faith.
It seems that most come to faith leadership roles by less contentious and less divisive processes than our political ones.
Still, there are varying degrees of acceptance and embrace of a given leader within the normal diversity that we find in most faith families.
A leader who is able to identify who and where the influential members of the community are and focus attention on keeping them in good favor will probably reinforce the security of the position.
But, faithful leadership, especially but not exclusively in a faith community, will “pivot” from the alignments that the majority embraced in the call to serve and will focus on serving all elements of the community with regard for the common good and not the benefit of one’s own alignments.
It is easy to understand that a pastor or other ministerial leader would be bolstered by the support of like-minded folk, and that support is very helpful in the challenges faced in any leadership role.
But, a leader must “pivot” to a perspective that embraces the wider range of his or her community and its overall well-being, becoming not a champion of the base of support but a servant of all.
Without this shift, his or her “leadership” will remain at a level of maturity that will last only until a new champion rises to the challenge of gaining its place.
And, worse, this level of “unpivoted” leadership will not serve the overall health of the community.
Students of leadership are observing how difficult this “pivot” is to make.
Colin Harris is professor emeritus of religious studies at Mercer University and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.