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Thanks Jonny.

It brings to my mind a Q of mix, how can you have both in organisations and to what degree should you have both - in something as vast as the church universal there is i think i need for some functions to have a highly centralised structures and others to be relatively diverse...

sort of goes back to form/function chicken n egg Q - a leadership structure to start something might not be the best to continue it or even revive it/reimagine it...


Thanks Jonny. Very intrigued by your juxtaposition of CEO and catalyst.
Especially because I have just finished reading an article from the Harvard Business Review that talks about "Level 5 Leadership" and reports a study which showed that the most successful leaders over a sustained period were not the "powerful, directive, in the sportlight" type of leader that you describe but rather the humble, "collaborative, behind the scenes" types.

You have to pay for the article but you can get download it here:


It's well worth a read and shows that even in classic organisational systems (including the Church), "Catalysts" could still lead and (I would suggest) could lead their organisations into tremendous success.


in terms of how you can have both there is a whole chapter on what the authors call hybrid or combo organisations. these are really capitalising on decentralised networks and how they work. so to take a simple example, amazon reviews of books by punters develops feedback loops that are really valuable by using the network and building on trust. or itunes store allows users to register podcasts and upload playlists - so they sre still selling something in a centralised structure but decentralised networks of music lovers of various genres acan participate and share info through the site. how this plays out in church i don't know. i think it's pretty closely related to the instincts of web 2.0 that i have commented on elsewhere.

thanks david - i'll check that out...


Thanks Jonny... after hearing you talk about it yesterday I promptly ordered it on Amazon.
What's interesting to me is that, In my experience, people are very suspicious of moving toward being leaderless organisations (I can give you some nice cast studies, but can't post them here).

What I see most is people who fear the organisation will collapse without a controlling and ordering centre, but people fear the personal responsibility which comes when control and authority is devolved.


"a leadership structure to start something might not be the best to continue it or even revive it/reimagine it..."

Hence the ascension? There appears to be no earthly reason why Jesus couldn't have stuck around. But thank God he didn't.

Leadership in a devolved, decentralised structure is fascinating. It certainly doesn't mean no leadership; it probably means lots of people stepping up to the plate with different people exercising leadership different situations. Specialisation / knowledge / power is thus not centred in one person.

Good (pricey) book: The Emergence of Leadership - Linking self-organization and ethics.


I blogged some thoughts based on it:



excellent review that inspired me to buy it. so many things that can be considered achievements for congregations (i.e., owning a building, having paid staff, having a critical mass of attenders) have been considered barriers to leaderless models, but many companies, etc., that exemplify leaderless organization have those same "barriers". they work with them.


Great stuff Jonny. I am bookmarking your blog. Looks like you and I are on the same wavelength. I have been writing on this for a while using some synonyms for "catalyst" like "Rah Rah" - the one who is a stone in the shoe of the maintainers, to quote the Godfather. Rah Rahs are quickly ejected from most organizations - spiritual or otherwise. It is interesting that only 20% of new church starts as well as 20% of new business start ups survive past the 5 year mark... for many reasons - as a veteran church planter - on my fifth church now (all have done very well in terms of momentum and numbers - my last one grew to 7,500 on weekends and spun off close to 50 others) - I saw after 15 years of leading the organzation the I was beginning to over-innovate the organization. My rapid fire innovations drew people - caused evangelism to happen, but spent the staff to the point of burn out. It is a giant mistake to "kill" the Rah Rah, but it is an equally giant mistake to allow the Rah Rah to stay at the head of the organization past his / her point of greatest efficiency - the launching stage... thereafter I recommend the organization allow the Rah Rah to serve as a consultant, more or less - to keep the spirit of the place alive - w/o the Rah Rah the organization will die - guaranteed. I have seen it many times. History is filled with many examples - Church history as well as mainstream history...


So the book title is essentially misleading? there is a leader, but they lead by "catalyst" rather than CEO? am i hearing you right?

i ask cos i think it's a really important distinction. i hear a lot of talk in alt.worship/ec circles about being "leaderless" which is really a revolt against CEO leaders. but "catalyst" is still a person, gifted, leading, just in a different way ....

Alan Hirsch

Yeah Jonny. Glad you liked it. Strangely enough, I will be speaking (doing a keynote) with Ori Brafmann this weekend in LA at the CMA conference. I suggested the book to Neil Cole (and yes, he loved it too) and promptly invited him to come to the conference. Its is in LA, details on website http://www.cmaresources.org/greenhouse/conference.asp

Cool eh?

alan hirsch

BTW, I should say that I got the tip about Starfish from the ever insightful, fruitfull, Linda Berguist from SanFran.

Jon Sampson

Thanks for the book recommendation. The first chapter looks great. Good food for thought.

I've been wrestling with how decentralized a group can get and still be effective. There are tradeoffs. I'll look forward to seeing what the rest of the book says.


One of the catalytic moments for me was talking to the guy that replaced me at a church a few years back. He said he was finding it hard to "control" the evening service and I then realised that "control" was simply not part of the structure I been involved with. That was 1998 at it was like a light went on in my head.

Thanks for the review, I've added this to the must read list!


"catalyst" is still a person, gifted, leading, just in a different way ....

No. Because a catalyst lacks power. This is the key point: what does leadership without power look like?

In the book I recommended above, one of the things it talks about is leadership simply being 'facilitating communiction'. Some leaders are those who put people in touch - catalyse them - but then step back and don't control what happens. The CEO model puts them together, and controls the output too.

This is just one role a 'leader' might take in a decentralised system. Others might step in to fulfil other roles: trickster, organizer, meal-maker... The essential thing being that these roles are played by different people.


thanks everyone - be great if some of you read the book and love to hear your thoughts...

steve i don't think many people in alt worship are talking about leaderless any more. i think they have distributed or shared leadership and its played out in different ways. kester made some good posts about leadership a while back on his blog that i was quite inspired by. and he says above someone who catalyses often has no or very little power - it's about leading by example or influence, and being trustworthy and letting go pretty quickly - i agree with that comment about power - that is key.

w.r.t. catalyst they may be a leader or not - it depends on the situation. so one example is AA where the guy that kicked it off was clearly a catalyst but anyone could then take the idea, start a gorup and share the leading of it. he wasn't the leader. it was then distributed. another is P2P music sharing - some of these have had a catalyst who lead the way but one is emule which no-one knows who created it but it's out there, being downloaded and enabling file sharing. the catalyst started something and then disappeared... there is a whole chapter on catalysts - the book also says that a key part of decentralised groups is a champion, which is different kind of leadership again. someone who is able to enthuse and talk up what has been catalysed - get it out there.

alan, great that you are meeting ori - hope that is fun! i wonder if they would be surprised that the church is relating to their book? thanks for putting me on to it - i read it in a day - couldn't put it down.


thanks jonny and kester - i'd like to push back at you both in different ways but feel the limitations of a blog comment/s. probably best saved for a face to face beer. peace.

steve l

Hmm. Maybe the dynamic for emerging churches is to be the test-tube as well as the catalyst? Shuttle between the two. Catalyse change, but also learn how to be a neutral space in which new catalysts can spark their revolutions? Reactions, after all, can burn out, as stevearino (above) has shown.

In this sense, is the leader as test-tube or Cradle a third type alongside the CEO and the Catalyst? Drawing a trinitarian parallel, the CEO imposes, the Catalyst inspires, and the Cradle supports. At a guess, we embody aspects of all these, consciously or unconsciously. The leader who becomes aware she is a Catalyst can implement an agenda as an undercover CEO, but only if she is content to let these aspects of her leadership rest easy when change happens elsewhere.

I suspect the emerging church conversation has in the last four or five years become aware of its self-awareness, so it is in the position of the Catalyst and CEO combined. If it grows similarly aware of its role as Cradle the tensions that are evident at present can have a place to resolve or release themselves?


or else blow the test tube up- those were always the aim of my chemistry school classes :)


i'll look forward to that beer steve...

i have become a team leader at work recently - the role hasn't actually started yet. it's a team i am already a part of and a few people have jokingly referred to me as boss since. i wince when i hear it and have been thinking about why. when i look at the two lists above i hear 'boss' as all the CEO charateristics. but the second list describes all of my instincts/approach much better.


The other key concept the book I mentioned deals with is our tendency to attribute a character and personality to a 'system'. So your local Anglican church is a 'system' - you talk about it as if it were a singular person, rather than a collective of individual people, each of whom are individually responsible for their decisions.

The danger of such attribution? The 'leader' becomes the face of such a system, and thus either is seen as hero (when things are going well - it was all them - amazing!), or demon (when it goes badly - it was their fault, not mine!)

This leads to a situation a) where people don't step up to take responsibility for their own work/life/faith and b) where power abuse becomes the norm.

In a distributed system both of these are avoided. To take Jonny's situation - and forgive me mate if I shouldn't ( I should add I know very little of it) - the dangers of him being denominated as 'boss' are that a) he'll be tempted to pool the credit if things go well - but also have to take all the blame if things don't and b) others in the team won't step up and take full responsibility for their work.

The first of these is really 'external' - the image of the team that people see from the outside, the 'system' that people engage with externally. The second is more 'internal' - the dynamics of the team.

Getting these external and internal perspectives right are what will govern the success or otherwise of a distributed leadership model...

Andrew Gear

Jonny - thanks for highlighting this book - I love the starting point of spider & starfish as a metaphor.

However, I feel a lot more uneasy about the differences in leadership. I think most of the most recent books - "Good to great" by Jim Collins and the Servant Leadership work from the Greenleaf foundation would be saying that leaders in today's world have to be a lot more in the right hand column than the left. A servant leader exists primarily to give away his leadership to others not to hold it in a command & control model.

However, if the leader is responsible for carrying the vision then the role is much more complicated in an emerging church dedicated to multiplication rather than growth.


I think that's perhaps one of the key issues Andrew: the leader isn't responsible for carrying the vision.

Put the vision down! Share it around!


thanks again for comments - there's very little danger kester of the boss thing happening in our team. everyone is leading/stepping up to the plate. it's a fab team and they don't need leading if you know what i mean... they all are already. the boos comments were more ironic i think! but they still got me thinking.

andrew i didn't quite get what you were uneasy with? sorry if i'm being thick. can you spell it out...

i like the role of catalyst described as i said and i see myself in it but it is describing a role in a decentralised system or organisation, not describing leadership that is applicable in all situations and contexts. so to talk about that in a local church community isn't really applicable, not that aspects of that role wouldn't play out there.

steve l

Sorry guys, but I'm going to flog this Cradle idea a bit:

CEO | catalyst | cradle
boss | peer | servant
command and control | trust | nurture
rational | emotionally intelligent | spiritually resilient
powerful | inspirational | supportive
directive | collaborative | contemplative
in the spotlight | behind the scenes | the stage
order | ambiguity | void
organising | connecting | cupping

Do you see how it works? The dualism between CEO and Catalyst is just not enough - that way leads to reactivity. Jonny, in your new role you will also be a Cradle. And the emerging church needs to embrace this third model too. Think the Trinity and how we hold an image of the trinity within us: son and spirit, but godhead too.

Dana Ames

Steve, that's just brilliant!

sacred vapor

The starfish analogy of leadership in decentralised systems is brilliant. Now I have another book on my to-buy list.



Looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the tip. I think some of the best books I have read in the last 12 months or so have come through tips from this blog.

Just to add that a little book I read while I was at CPAS a few years ago was called 'How to get things done when you're not the boss.' It was from the populist philosophy/management shelves in a bookstore on a station platform and I may have left the book on the train afterwards but it did begin my thinking on the whole influence-example thing.

One of the lines was something like this:

Have a million ideas. Don't share any of them if you can keep them in. When someone has one of your ideas get very enthusiastic.

It does seem to work.

Gill Poole

Extracts from the conversation about leadership between Brian D McLaren and Tony Campolo (in "adventures in missing the point")
[The scene in the Wizard of Oz where the great Qizard is revealed as a normal guy hiding behind an imposing image] made me wonder what image of leadership would replace the great Wizard. The answer, of course, appeared in the next scene. The leader wasn't the lion, the scarecrow, or the tin man. It was Dorothy.

At first glance, Dorothy is all wrong as a model of leadership .... Rather than being a person with all the answers, who is constantly informed of what's up and what's what and where to go, she is herself lost, a seeker, vulnerable, often bewildered. These characteristics would disquality her from odern leadership. But they serve as her best credentials for leadership in the emerging culture.

Dorothy is a lot of fun and makes her partners on the yellow brick road feel good, but she is not what you would want in a leader, say, during a time of crisis.

Though Campolo also confesses that there are times when a "Dorothy" is needed.

Michael Kruse

Thanks for this review and the great discussion. One of the issues this raises for me is polarity managment.


Ask yourself, “Which is more important to breathing, inhaling or exhaling? These are polar opposite yet essential functions to a healthy organism. I think many of these binaries mentioned are not decisions that must be made one direction or the other. They are not two poles between which we should try to find a happy medium. They are to vibrant aspects of healthy living we should embrace. The problem is that due to temperament each of is inclined to one pole of binary versus another. We stake that pole out as the superior mode of operation and insist everything be ordered according to that mode regardless of what the circumstances might dictate for healthy breathing organic existence. The challenge is to be an organic entity inhaling and exhaling in a healthy way.

I look forward to reading the book. Thanks for highlighting it.


OK Jonny, read it, blogged it, processing it...

Andrew Gear

Jonny - my uneasiness is with the polarisation of the CEO / Catalyst columns as I don't think they reflect the reality of leadership today in highly fluid organisations.
Here in Oxford Diocese we run a Servant Leadership programme for our clergy - people operating in a distributed leadership environment. When we are asked what's particular about Servant leadership, we offer 2 key responses - firstly the model of decision making is persuasion not control/authority and secondly the primary purpose of "the leader" is enable and grow other leaders - to give away their leadership. The definition of Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf is really challenging:

The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. He or she is sharply different from the person who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. For such it will be a later choice to serve – after leadership is established. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The difference manifest itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer , is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?”

Taken from the Servant As Leader published by Robert Greenleaf in 1970.


Roland Allen's "Spontaneous Expansion of The Church And The Causes That Hinder It" addressed many of these issues in the early 1900s. Check it out:



Johnny, thank you for posting the book. I blogged it and started a German translation of the Introduction and ch. 1. I think it gives very helpfull hints for unserstanding Jesus and the first Christians.

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