Thursday, January 8, 2009

Being Reverent and Irreverent

As a part of his Innovate or Die series Tom Peters writes on the necessity of being irreverent. This triggered memories of my childhood where we were required to be reverent always. But I wonder if a kind of irreverence associated with innovation could have made a greater difference within our church congregation pastored by my uncle of some 10,000 people.

Tom Peters writes:

"Irreverence. Innovation is about changing course before it's absolutely necessary. Hence excessive reverence for the past is Public Enemy #1. Establishing a 'culture of irreverence' at the top is far easier said than done. But done it must be."

Being the youngest of 12 and trained by my mom, aunts, uncles, and every elder at our church about the necessity of reverence, I lived to understand what worked well in authority figures and what did not over long periods of time. At church we were required to respect our leaders even if they were not respectful. (I pushed the envelope. Believe me.) I was required to honor my older brothers and sister, and to "give honor to whom honor is due." The latter was how how I got mine. Nice balance.

I watched leaders of our church very carefully. Those who lacked the ability to say they were sorry often lacked the ability to change, alienating others who then found covert ways to retaliate instead of overt ways to improve. Those who lacked the humility to acknowledge failure were also not able to move people forward, hence being unable to lead effectively even though outwardly church members played the reverent roll well.

A church of 10,000 members in the 70's dwindled by the 90's significantly. (My uncle had passed by then but he set the wheels in motion after having been given a great torch from my grandfather.) There seems to be very little difference in leadership in corporations today that do not value innovation which seems to need a kind of irreverence. Reverence is most certainly necessary, but irreverence is also a must--well, to a point. Some things die hard.

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