Asians have had trouble assuming the stereotypical, Western modes of leadership. And like it or not, it tends to weigh on us like a self-fulfilling prophecy when we try to spread our wings. In the corporate world, it’s been called the “glass ceiling”. And already the question has been brought up of “Why are Asian American Executives Scarce?” by Dan Woog.
And yet, there seems to be something attractive about the Asian styles of leadership, take for instance, this line from a Harvard Business School professor:
Humility is a very uncommon trait in the American CEO. It is sometimes found in Asia. It is often a trait of the most effective leaders, as it was in the best-respected of all American political leaders, Abraham Lincoln.
Asian leadership, from Prof. Donald Quinn Mill’s pen, is stylistically unique today, but is developing into three different prototypes in the business world. Furthermore, he concludes with this interesting statement:
Styles of leadership are currently different between Asia and America. Culture colors the way things are done, but less so what is done. The differences in styles most markedly reflect the stage of development of the economies and companies of Asia. As Asian companies seek access to world capital markets, they will move toward professional managers who will employ leadership styles more akin to those now used in the United States.
And so it seems that in order to be a rising leader, you would think that Asian Americans would somehow be able to converge the stylistic, cultural strengths to be great leaders. In fact, that is perhaps where a group like LEAP has been significant over the last 20 years or so. But I wonder, despite our unique strengths of leadership, if the Western model of leadership will prevail in business, after all, cultural distinctions are seen as economic inefficiencies, and inefficiency is to be reduced, often by our very own Asian industrial engineers.
But what about Asian leadership in church? Sam Metcalf brings up some interesting questions in his blog, on this post about Asian church leadership issues, namely:
- How can new generations of leadership emerge in contexts where status, shame and saving face are such predominant values?
- Authoritarian leaders who abuse their followers are unfortunately the norm, not the exception in this part of the world. How can such a dysfunctional cultural paradigm be replaced by biblical, servant leadership?
How’s that for hitting close to home, eh? Aren’t these the same Asian leaders that in business were humble and concensus-seeking? My, my, my — we are a complex bunch.
As Timothy Tseng points out in his research, “Viewed from within Asian American Christian communities, this study reveals that Asian American ministerial leadership is quite gifted and has reached a high level of achievement…Nevertheless, from the mainstream perspective, Asian American ministerial leaders remain marginal and isolated.”
This seems to be saying that we might be limiting ourselves to being “masters of our domain” and little more. The problem with this, and one that I’ve brought up before, is that we often end up with too many leaders and not enough followers; which ultimately means, too many churches, and not enough leaders.
Our leadership in the Asian American church can be frightfully shortsighted and not taking advantage to synergize the Eastern and Western aspects of leadership to our advantage. It is shortsighted in that we do not play to the full measure of our capabilities. Some of that is because the continual fracturing and oversaturation of churches structurally weakens the leadership pool and the potential to unite and push in common direction. Other aspects of this assume that Asian Americans have limited appeal to others outside our demographic.
As Asian American believers, we have a unique historical and generational position to energize and transform both our mother culture to help them answer the questions that Sam Metcalf brings up; and appeal to our adopted pluralist American culture to say your Western models of leadership isn’t the only one out here. We need to be able to say to other races here in America, we are the sons and grandsons of Buddhists and Confucianists, but we worship Jesus today– and we find that some of the best aspects of Asian leadership reflect his humility and his leadership. Why don’t you quit searching for a savior in our texts, because he is risen and the kingdom is near, and we follow a great leader. Have you heard of him?
But we cannot claim this truth if we do not take up the mantle of leadership with more gravity. Gravity that cherishes the next generation, that is concerned about the disenchantment that our quibbles create, that is willing to stay ten years in the same church and city, that is willing to forgive at our own personal expense so that this generation would see that our leadership comes directly out of our discipleship to Christ, that we would be willing to mortgage our church buildings for them to achieve their destinies in Christ.
What good is it if we multiply churches but disillusion another generation? What good is it to have praise night after praise night when the worship leaders we truly need should get out of the four walls of the church and lead praise in the home of the weeping and downtrodden? We have preachers in churches when we need preachers in businesses and schools. Our greatest ambition should not be to start a church, but to extend the kingdom, and that is when our leadership will demonstrate that we are more followers than leaders, and that is exactly how God desires it to be — Asian or not.