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The Theology of the Leadership Pipeline
God From The Point of View of Management Theory
The skills, values, and attitude required to be a great engineer are not the same as those required to be a great manager of engineers. The skills, values, and attitude required to be a great manager are not the same as those required to be a great manager of managers. Although we pass through many graduations and promotions, formal and informal, throughout our lives, we don’t usually appreciate the existential implications of these transitions in live-time. This is the thesis of celebrated business advice book The Leadership Pipeline: How To Build the Leadership Driven Company. The leadership pipeline clogs when we fail to accept that what got us to point B won’t take us to point C. Excellence in one area doesn’t always translate into excellence in another. Sometimes we have to unlearn what allowed us to get the promotion to excel at the next step.
This is all very conceptually reasonable, though much harder to internalize. It also offers a fresh perspective on the variety and progression of the Books in Scripture. What if the God of Genesis (the solo creator) needs to level up to become the God of Exodus (the God who inspires and empowers others)? Genesis shows us a God who creates worlds, but Exodus shows us a God who teaches others, like Moses and Aaron, to lead. The first part of Exodus shows us a prophet who does miracles, but the Book of Numbers shows us that these wins won’t be sustainable unless the people come to have faith themselves (the miracles prove immaterial once the people acclimate to them). The God of Deuteronomy is decentralized in comparison to the God of Leviticus. In Leviticus, priests call on God all the time, seeking divine presence and attention multiple times a day. In Deuteronomy, God is invoked, but hardly bothered. God is recalled, but from a distance. The Five Books of Moses end, as it were, with a step up for all—no longer is God the manager of the world or the manager of the people who manage the world, but more of a figurehead than an executive. Rabbinic Judaism applies this even further by suggesting that in post-Temple times the interpretation of the law by human beings is preferable to and more reliable than oracular pronouncements from prophets claiming divine inspiration.
All of this points to a kind of process theology, the idea that God and world evolve and grow and experience crisis in the midst of time. It also suggests a counter-intuitive notion of mastery, namely, the ability to switch from a local view of excellence (being good at a craft) to a more global one (being good at getting others to be good at their craft, or being good at getting others to help others be good at their craft).
One critique of large organizations is that the further you get to the top, the farther the leaders are from the on the ground work. Some companies, like Trader Joe’s, make it a requirement for executives to spend time on the “floor,” i.e., at stores. This may be thought of in terms of incarnation theology, as one reason that the abstract, impersonal God must also come down to earth, if only periodically. Empathy with and understanding of all levels and wings of the org is a pre-requisite for wise leadership. Perhaps, then, the story is not one of Genesis being replaced by Exodus being replaced by Deuteronomy, but one of integration. God will always be connected to Creation, but it’s just not God’s main thing anymore. Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically.
What business books discuss—leadership, governance, and culture—is the bread and butter of theology, both Biblical and natural. There is no way to understand the world without appealing to these terms. Even an atheistic worldview takes a stand on these topics, replacing God with Nature as CEO (thank you, Spinoza). One way that the early Church Fathers understood the Trinity was as a separation of functions in the Godhead, not unlike the various role distinctions at a company or a government. The same could be said for Kabbalah, with Keter (the Crown) being the Chief Strategist and Malchut (Sovereignty) being the entry-level employee. And if this is the case, then let’s not forget the paradoxical teaching of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi: “The lowest is the highest.”