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Spiritlinking Leadership:
Working through Resistance to Organizational Change

Author: Donna J. Markham
Copyright: ©1999
Publishers: Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey
Book Review by: Cathy Bernatt

Spiritlinking Leadership

Fact one is that change is a given. Fact two is that people predictably resist change. The assumption is, that "spiritlinking leaders", by venturing head-on into this unpredictable world of change, by confronting the predictable patterns of resistance that accompany change and by telling the truth to those afraid to venture in, these spiritlinking leaders will gain trust and support and in the end will transform the people and organizations to "...create a global community committed to promoting a more compassionate and safer life for future generations." (Markham, xiii)

A key question that Markham asks is "In ... times of ambiguity and extraordinary complexity, when anxiety is high and chaos abounds, how do leaders promote human worth, dignity and creativity?" (Markham, p. 2) The answer is through spiritlinking, "the deliberate and untiring act of working through resistance to organizational transformation by building the circle of friends, fostering networks of human compassion and interweaving teams of relationships through which new ideas are born and new ways of responding to the mission take form and find expression." (Markham, p. 2-3). By entering and moving through chaos and confusion, innovation and deeper cohesion result. There are many parallels to Robert Greenleaf's Servant Leadership. For Markham, like Greenleaf, if individuals are respected and thought to bring value and wisdom to the organization; if they are trusted and given freedom to contribute, the results will be astoundingly positive both in the short term and long. Leaders must, "...eliminate the impact of fear on those who work with them. Fear of making mistakes, fear of doing something differently, fear of getting lost for a while, fear of conflict-" (Markham, p. 13). It is in confronting conflict where truth-telling becomes essential. But in the process of truth-telling, respect for differences of opinion and for people is essential.

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In chapter two, resistance is defined as"...an unconscious process of retarding or blocking the process of transformation." (Markham, p. 24) Markham takes a look at seven ways that resistance is manifested, the signs and symptoms and how we can work through them. To work through resistance, we need to ask four questions. First, to define the mode, ask, "What is going on here?" Second explore the motive, "Why might this be happening?" Once we know why the resistance is happening, we can take a look at the implications by asking, "What are likely consequences if this behavior continues?" Finally, we can look at desired actions to overcome the resistance by asking, "What are we willing to do?" (Markham, p. 46) To answer the first question about what is going on requires us to tell us the truth.

Chapter three is about truth telling and the resulting increase in pain that comes from telling the truth. "Truth telling promotes disruption as it calls for heightened communication. The more communication, the greater likelihood of divergent opinions." (Markham, p. 54) Everyone can agree that telling the truth is scary and uncomfortable at times and those courageous to stay to truth are also responsible for the resulting chaos that often ensues. Chaos is a gift and if we can enter the period of disequilibrium, remain patient, trusting, honest and compassionate, something new and better will emerge. The leader must be competent at handling the conflict that will emerge through chaos.

In chapter four, Markham explores the reality that conflict is a normal part of any human relationship and how it is myanaged by a leader will determine whether the outcome leads to a positive, healthy outcome or a destructive one. No topic can be off limits. Pressure to fall into groupthink is dangerous. Leaders, who work well with conflict, "...model a capacity, through a clear commitment to pursue the future together, to make a difference in the world. They exemplify a certain fearlessness and passion in repeatedly calling the organization to fidelity to its identity in mission." (Markham, p. 84) They help us discover that "... the good we hold in common is nothing less than the participation in the mystery of the yet unimagined." (Markham, p. 89) It brings Greenleaf to mind again when he reminds us of the key question we need to ask ourselves, "... do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? (Barnes, p. 56) To affirmatively answer this question, we need to foster community.

Fostering community and interpreting metaphors is the focus of chapter 5. "...metaphor uses ordinary language to express the extraordinary truth of what it means to be human." (Markham, p. 93) Community is the human expression of the yearning for relationship and purpose. (Markham, p. 96) Phases of group development are examined as well as the resistances to collaboration. Markham then defines a collaborative work community. Such a community results from healthy leadership which is about, "...building relationships, about unifying a community of colleagues, about believing in the value and worth of each person, about serving and teaching and, when the time comes, about entrusting the next generation with what has been learned." (Markham, p. 114)

Unhealthy or pseudo-leaders threaten to destroy organizations. Four types of pseudo-leaders are discussed in chapter 6: the Unrecovering Addict, the Narcissistic Personality, the As-If Leader and the Alexithymic Talking Head. After examining these, Markham comes full circle back to the Spiritlinking leader.

The heart of the author is captured in a quote by Matthew 13:4-9, "Imagine a farmer going out to sow some seed. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path and were trampled on, and the birds of the air ate them up. Some others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil, and when they came up they withered away because they had no moisture. Some other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew with them and choked them. And some seed fell into rich ground and they grew and produced an enormous crop. Listen anyone who has ears to hear!" These final seeds are spiritlinking leaders.

Robert Greenleaf's test question for servant leadership is key. Donna Markham provides the concrete skills and tools we need to develop to become a servant or spiritlinking leader. This year, in dealing with my family crisis, I moved through great fear and resistance and took a quantum leap to a new place that is very exciting and freeing. I have a new level of clarity that is allowing me to do better work than I have ever done.

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