Now, I have to say, that word jarred me. It is a strong, harsh word. As a writer it is not a word I would choose to use--it sounds a mite judgmental. Bill (let's call him that) went on to elaborate on the concept of his first sphere. "When leaders begin to envision change they often do it in a relational vacuum that has ignorance at its center. People in the organization may not appreciate the real significance of what is going on that is prompting a leader to consider change. People may not get the motives for change. But the leader is in the sphere of ignorance as well in the beginning. The leader doesn't know with depth what the people know about the situation, or how people are reacting to a proposed change, or how people might actually improve upon a new direction. For leadership to really happen a leader needs to move everyone--including the leader--beyond the sphere of ignorance. Unfortunately some leaders never do that, ignorance prevails and--consequently--change will rarely take place."
"So you seem to be talking about the importance of dialogue in planned change" I said.
"Absolutely" he said. "That's the second sphere."
I thought a lot about Bill's insight while driving home. When talk of change begins in a church a lot of congregants can go suddenly silent. The culture of respect and kindness--a part of so many congregations--can inhibit people from sharing their thoughts. Also, congregants may not appreciate their capacity and the value of "leading up", through which they can contribute to enhanced planning. They may believe that leadership is meant to be left to office holders. Leaders may also prefer the silence, because they can fear that the alternative might lead to conflict or bruise their self-esteem. But letting the silence continue robs congregational leaders of one of their greatest opportunities dialogue provides to them: the opportunity to learn about people's motives that would favour or disfavour a new initiative. The writer John Maxwell has given leadership a famous, simple definition: "Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less." If you don't know about people's motivation for or against a new initiative, then you are missing the fundamental knowledge for influence.
In books about congregational leadership there has been virtually nothing said about the importance of motivation for congregational change. This has been our sphere of ignorance. And yet when we think about it, we readily acknowledge that people have to have some motivation if they will pursue any change. And how does one discover the motivation of congregants? By opening dialogue about change in a congregation, making it a leadership priority to discover people's motives for change, so leaders will know how best to express influence.
So I now like the idea that the first sphere of the leadership relationship is ignorance. Perhaps using such a strong word will help push us into the next sphere--dialogue--where new directions can be clarified and improved and motivation fostered. Here's to ending ignorance!