Edwin Friedman wrote this about what he called “data junkyards”: “As long as leaders….base their confidence on how much data they have acquired, they are doomed to feeling inadequate, forever…Our orientation toward data and technique…devalues the self in several related ways that affect leadership.
- It overwhelms leaders.
- It confuses them with contradictory results.
- It emphasizes weakness rather than strength.
- It de-selfs them (leaders) by ingnoring the variable of individuation.”
I am watching a church struggle with the question of what it should do about a controversial decision made by its synod. The leading body of the church – members who serve on a council – are pressured to choose of path of either accepting or rejecting the synod’s direction. Either choice will cause waves of reactivity and change.
The group knows what the issue is. It knows what its mission is. It knows how some members will react to either choice. But, the paralyzing fear that whatever it chooses will be unpleasant has sent them to the decision-avoidance activity of gathering more information. So, they put out a survey. When they see the results (which will confirm what they already know – the issue is divisive) they will be no better equipped to decide a course of action. Probably even less so as they subjectively focus on the feedback. The survey gives them cover, even from each other and the hard consensus work to which they are obligated.
Instead of gathering more data, the group should just lead.