Presbygrow's Reviews > The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations

The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman
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's review
Jun 02, 2009

bookshelves: transformation

Reviewed by Craig Williams

The overleaf of this book says, “If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; but if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.”

A friend of mine observes in a dissertation that church organization often follows the organizational structures of the prevailing culture. In the 50’s denominations mimicked the United Nations and in the 80’s Wall Street. We are in a different and fast changing time. This book is a helpful analysis and challenge. It looks closely at the success of many companies that have decentralized leadership. It looks too at how those practices can be incorporated in other places. The authors challenge us to look at our roles and see if they help or hinder an organization in accomplishing its mission. It is one of the questions facing our denomination – Does our organization help or hinder our mission? Maybe that question has been answered by most – that it does hinder our mission. But the next question is – What do we do about it?

The title is a misnomer. These organizations are not “leaderless”, but neither are they controlled by an individual or small group “at the top.” One of the helpful observations is that the starfish organization is led by catalysts not CEOs. Here’s a quote:

“While both are leader types, catalysts and CEOs draw upon very different tools. A CEO is The Boss. He’s in charge, and he occupies the top of the hierarchy. A catalyst interacts with people as a peer. He comes across as your friend. Because CEOs are at the top of pyramid, they lead by command-and-control. Catalysts, on the other hand, depend on trust. CEOs must be rational; their job is to create shareholder value. Catalysts depend on emotional intelligence; their job is to create personal relationships. CEOs are powerful and directive; they’re at the helm. Catalysts are inspirational and collaborative; they talk about ideology and urge people to work together to make the ideology a reality. Having power puts CEOs in the limelight. Catalysts avoid attention and tend to work behind the scenes. CEOs create order and structure; catalysts thrive on ambiguity and apparent chaos. A CEOs job is to maximize profit. A catalyst is usually mission-oriented.” P. 129

One quick question:

Which style of leadership seems more like Jesus?

One quick observation:

When we adopted the CEO model for church and pastoral leadership (following

the culture) we moved away from the ways of Jesus.

For a more complete discussion of this book, go to It Takes a Church on the blog page.

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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

dateDown arrow    newest » I couldn't agree with you more on several points, the first being that the title is a misnomer, probably written that way for marketing purposes. I am looking at this from a business perspective, a parenting perspective (scary!!), and a church perspective as we work to implement a discipleship process based on Simple Church.

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