Intrapreneur as Priest and Prophet: Cultivating the Space Between
Published on October 4, 2022 by Greg Klimovitz
Imagine this familiar situation:
A newly-hired community leader is compelled to innovate in the face of change, expand the collective imagination, and experiment with fresh possibilities. There are members of this organization who are enthusiastic about exploring emerging practices.
This same leader meets with the organization’s stakeholders, decision makers, and process gurus who are are deeply invested in the preservation of the community and adhere to inherited and established systems.
The tension is real.
Is there a way to be an entrepreneurial leader within this institutional reality? Can playful risk happen within these tenured structures? Perhaps we can learn that these things are possible in our churches, non-profits, and a variety of other organizations.
First let us consider one dichotomy we are faced with.
When I was in seminary, one of the critical differentials discussed for ministry leadership was between the prophet and the priest. A prophet works outside the bounds of a given (religious) system and institution for the sake of a valued community, often in the form of grassroots organizing. Prophetic work involves variable risks and willingness to speak truth to (religious or social) powers when they are at odds with the collective vision. Prophetic work is hard, sometimes lonely, and can put a leader at odds with the very hands that feed them.
Prophets are entrepreneurial leaders, and institutions closed to these vital voices become oppressive in function, perpetuate injustice, and breed despair.
Then there is the priest. A priest is the face of both the institution and the people. In religious contexts, a priest mediates among the people and God through established practices. The priest serves a vital role in the community, intended to be an arbiter for divine justice and reconciliation. Priests wear the garments of the (religious or social) systems, speak the languages of the institution, and are charged with moving the shared narrative forward for the benefit of future generations.
Priests are the institutional leaders among us. Prophetic imagination without priestly partnership risks a movement’s isolation and death, no matter how clever the intentions.
Prophet and priest – entrepreneur and institutional leader. Each are vital and carry with them their own quirks and pitfalls, hopes and aspirations, but they do not have to be in opposition to one another.
At Learning Forte, we think resolution can be found in the space between, through a vital skill called intrapreneurialism.
“[Entrepreneurs] are the ideas people, the disruptors, the individuals who have seen an opportunity and are out to make a difference. You may not be aware that key individuals within your organization display the same traits. These are the intrapreneurs, the individuals who are not content to sit back but who have a burning desire to help their organization to succeed and the imagination and drive to carry change along with them. Intrapreneurs are the organization’s natural innovators, comfortable with navigating uncertainty and exploring new terrain. They apply entrepreneurial thinking and actions to the role which they play within the organization and that means that above everything else they embody the fact that innovation is everyone’s job.”
Intrapreneurs experiment within ecosystems that may be good, but need to be cultivated. Intrapreneurs are the equippers and implementers who invite new possibilities within an established organization. Intrapreneurs partner with those who love institutional, systemic stability and those grass-roots, fringe folk who dream of designs beyond what has always been.
We need both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to strategically imagine how to lead and serve in our increasingly hybrid world. Many of us function as both at times, shifting roles depending on the context, season, or with whom we need to design our vision.
“Suits or sneakers? Suits AND sneakers! While intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs both try to to solve a genuine problem, the level of chutzpah or mannerliness, the risk and reward, the degree of freedom, the resource opportunities, the network, and maybe most prominently the environment in which they function, are different. They do share having that entrepreneurial DNA, and so it’s no wonder that we see a growing number of people switching roles from being an intrapreneur to becoming an entrepreneur- and vice versa. In a future workplace where one will pursue several careers in one lifetime, it’s probably best to focus not on the title per se, but on further developing the underlying personality and mindset and improving the environment for accommodating both in your organization.”
It is in cultivating a spirit of intrapreneurialism that we are able to move forward within systems and institutions while working together for the benefit of all. We are committed to fostering opportunities whereby prophet and priest dream and vision together to sustain the common good.
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