Sunday, 25 January 2009

Midwifery as a metaphor for management

For some months I've been reflecting on the midwifery role in terms of management and leadership. It seems to me that the midwifery role is a good analogy for the leadership role. In many cases there is a lot of solid relational work that goes on before the birth, also some coaching perhaps and then as birth approaches both encouragement, reassurance and the ability to be present and know when it is crucial to intervene and when not, when to use technology and when to let nature take its course.
Of course saying that I have been reflecting on this really just means that it has occurred to me in a few idle moments on the bus and that I seem to come back to it as an interesting and useful metaphor.
Perhaps it's also the feminist theologian in me that is interested in this metaphor. I have always liked the image of God as midwife. In management terms though, it is not about power in the traditional sense but is more about a manager encouraging a new thing to be born that is different both from the person or group giving birth to it and from the manager themself.
As I started my management course I wrote that I was convinced that management was theological work. I still wonder exactly what it is I meant when I put that down. I think that what I am groping towards at the moment as I prepare to write my diploma this year is that management is actually about bringing theological skills, knowledge and models to bear on actual situations and organisations. The thing I think I have most learnt on this particular management course is that it is as much psychology and community building as blatant power that are the building blocks of pushing change through in organisations. What I am learning about drawing different things together is that insights from pastoral and systematic theology may be important alongside insights from systemic management theory and analysis.
Whether we choose to effect change in a way that presents people with a fait accompli, in a way that respects or disregards due process, in a way that is up front or secret, in a way that is top down or bottom up, in a way that waits or pushes, may well also show up theological issues we or our organisations are facing or trying to deal with.
I am not yet quite clear what it says about me - a woman who has no children - or about my management style, theological issues or systemic organisational analysis - to say that I am interested in the issue of midwifery as a metaphor for management. It expresses to me something about some outcomes being so precious that they require and should be offered some extra support, encouragement and coaching. And it also makes me reflect on how difficult the modern workplace is for so many people - and how very western my model of midwifery is. Throughout the world women are giving birth to babies without much hope of this kind of support before, during or after the birth. Many of their indigenous widwives have been lured to other countries where money is easier to come by.

One of the things that regularly happens to me when I think I am having an original thought is that by googling I discover my thoughts are nowhere near as original as I thought. So it is with this. There's an interesting link here on Facilitation as Midwifery, another here on midwifery and philosophy and a very interesting article by Sharon Bell on midwifery and film making here. She can see pluses and minuses in the image of the midwife as a model for creative leadership in the knowledge economy. She also claims that the midwife may be at least as useful as the more male football coach image often used in management and says "the midwife epitomises the concept of leader as engaged facilitator."
Ah well even if my thoughts on this were not as original as I had perhaps hoped at least there's going to be lots for me to read and think about on this subject.