One of the most fascinating and transformative books I have read in a long time is The Art of Possibility; Transforming Professional and Personal Life, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.  Leadership is an art of possibility, according to the Zanders, who draw on their experience as teacher, communicator and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (Ben) and family therapist and consultant on conflict and transformation. (Rosamund).

The Zanders are convinced that the conductor/leader is not a dominator but a conduit of possibilities.  We lead by making others powerful, by never doubting the capacity of the people we lead to fulfill the dreams that we set out for them and that they claim for themselves.  The book is full of brilliant insights about how leaders empower others to become their truest and best selves.

  • Step into a world of possibility.  As leaders, we are called to set before people a vision and then become the possibility ourselves.  “Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”  Great leaders create new pathways.
  • Give everyone an “A.”  We lead best by reminding those we lead that they are all “A” students.  Giving others an “A” from the beginning is a possibility to live into rather than an expectation to live up to.
  • We can lead from any chair.  We need to communicate to our members that they have the power to make a difference from whatever chair they occupy in the orchestra/congregation.  Every person can lead.
  • Downward spiral talk excludes possibility.  It speaks of scarcity rather than abundance and creates a false picture of how things are going from bad to worse.  We are called to inspire others to stretch beyond their known capacities. 
  • Don’t take yourself so seriously.  When we lighten up our childish demands and entitlements and peel away our pride, we move away from our calculating self to our central self, which is focused on others.  The Zanders call this rule #6 – it’s a rule I have to repeat to myself every morning!
  • Give way to passion.  Performance is not about perfection but passion.   It’s about letting everyone’s unique voice sing.  Passionate leaders take people beyond where they would normally go.
  • Light a spark.  When we set ourselves on fire, as John Wesley would say, we light sparks from person to person, and every once in a while, a blaze is ignited.
  • Take responsibility for all that happens in our life.  Admitting mistakes keeps our spirit whole and frees us to choose again.

The Art of Possibility has limitless applications to leadership the church.  Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Knowing that the orchestra conductor does not make a sound but depends for power on making others powerful, how do you lead?  Do you lead by controlling or by empowering others to lead?
  • Are you willing to be a servant leader, leading by giving up authority and power?
  • Do you and your committee on lay leadership encourage people to lead from any chair in the orchestra?
  • What might happen if you gave everyone in your congregation an “A” before they “earned” it?
  • Do you train and encourage your staff to be conduits of possibility – to identify gifts and empower others for ministry rather than do all the hands on ministry themselves?
  • Can you quiet the voice in the heart of individuals and congregations that says, “I can’t do it?”
  • Do you minister out of an attitude of scarcity or abundance?

I’ve decided that each one of the pastors and lay people in the Grand Rapids District gets an “A!”  Congratulations!  You and your churches have more potential than you may realize.  Go for it!  Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  The whole world is in your hands.  Be the possibility!

Blessings, Laurie

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