Once again, in a meeting. Heard a thing. The thing keeps rolling around my mind.

In conversation about a program my work here in Austin manages, we were asked, “Have your participants spoken of a shift from command control to relational control?”

I’m a dork so I couldn’t resist. I emailed the person, “When you asked that (the above written) question, I wanted to see if we could meet and talk more about the principle you were pointing toward.”

Little did I know I would end up at a restaurant with one of the University of Texas’s first doctoral graduates in the field of leadership and power dynamics. 😳

She is amazing. Norma Barr spent a few hours with me not only sharing her own story and journey through leadership, but what she has learned, taught, and shared as an expert in her field. She has traveled the world, particularly helping a portion of the US government navigate power structures to accomplish projects in other countries. I felt like I was sitting across from a leadership and authority genius.

In reference to her comment in our meeting she unfolded for me the possible framework for how we “were working” versus how younger generations seem to want to work today. We started at the leadership structures put in place during the industrial revolution, and how really, this is where many of our current leadership paradigms still linger today. Assembly lines, production, product, these things created a clear hierarchy, an amazingly climbable ladder. Power became staged, not always earned. Production took priority over people. (Side note, if I’m honest, my personality would have loved this era. Let’s get stuff done!)

Soar up to the 50s, 60s, and on into Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z, and here we are. Norma shared that through all the years she worked with leaders, through the “control command” framework – the idea that you are “told what to do and you just do it in order to be successful/the person in control has command” and now examining “relational command” – where relationships lead the way, the person you have the best relationship with motivates you – throughout both systems/paradigms, the themes for success stayed the same, even if they weren’t observed. Organizations that had a culture of trust and support had better longevity and measurable success than organizations that lacked those features. Organizations that were missing trust and support could be successful, but in shorter stints compared to those where relationships seemed the strongest.

I’m sure for most all of us this comes as zero surprise. I can’t imagine anyone reading this and thinking, “What!?! Are you kidding me?! I had no idea!” Especially as Norma commented, “We now have three generations that have not been trained to recognize hierarchy, three generations that don’t simply want to be told what to do, but want to learn, to be challenged and to be a part of something worthwhile. They are starved for honesty, truth, trust and honor” Agree. Agree. Agree. However…

Now I’ve got this thing in my head. I’m comparing the structure Jesus stepped into during the first century, the struggle of the religious system of his time, and what attracted people to Jesus as a leader. Now I’m thinking about how this “relational command” vs. “control command” is maybe less a generational issue and more a humanity issue. Perhaps, when we see or experience pockets of work or church that still have an “assembly line” leadership approach it’s a carry over, but I’m more struck by this push and pull thing we seem to do across all generations.

I’m not sure I’ve met anyone that doesn’t want to be trusted and seen as honest and honorable. Most people I meet want to be a part of something worthwhile. I think often the problem emerges when we aren’t taking time for honest examination and conversation with God about these traits within ourselves well before our expectations for these traits in others. In other words, we sometimes end up defaulting to “control command” because the work and effort to examine our own “relational command” is taxing and time consuming. It’s the speck and the plank. We oscillate between, “Will someone just remove this thing for me!” or a game of speck and plank measuring through comparison, losing the point.

The other day I was reading a Lenten devotional. That day’s reading talked about the moment Jesus knelt down, writing in the sand, as a woman caught in adultery was brought before him for judgement. Most likely you remember this scene, it’s for sure one of Jesus’ most famous moments. The author of this devotion reflected on Jesus’ statement at the end of this dramatic moment, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?…Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” He offered an interpretation that allowed both the grace and challenge Jesus demonstrates to this woman to also extend to her accusers. That those that establish control command at the expense of relational command are both as in need and as worthy of receiving grace and truth as well. Those that lead well, and those that do not, still need Jesus. Those that struggle in big public/obvious ways, alongside those that battle internal thoughts and judgements on themselves and others, still need Jesus.

Where are you in the scene? Are you a stone thrower? Are you knocked down by shame? I have been both.

How are you loving and leading people? Are you looking for ways to hide, to avoid being seen? Or are you in the forefront with stones in hand, paying most of your attention to how others are behaving? I have been both.

The only way I have found myself being anywhere near where I should be in these dynamics is from time and talks with Jesus. So cheesy, I know. If you want to lead well, you need more time with Jesus. If you want to be someone that is being led better, you need more time with Jesus. And not in some “fairy dust/Jesus sprinkles some magic over you” way, but in a real, quiet, honest, consistent way. We will keep pushing and pulling within ourselves and with one another, that’s part of what we do, but wouldn’t you at least like to do that dance with a little more awareness and rhythm? Not all of us will. But will you?

Conversation with Dr. Norma Barr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *