Sunday, May 18, 2008


May 18, 2008

A number of opportunities have converged in a way that has me thinking about leadership. I have been teaching a contextual education course at Candler that is about preparing students for parish and other pastoral ministries. The assumption of the course has been that we are preparing students for leadership in a church environment that is very different from that of twenty years ago for example. We want them adept in and rooted theologically as a basis for managing their own sense of self through times of trial. One resource has been Edwin Friedman’s Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

A second reason I find myself thinking about leadership is that I am chairing a ‘taskforce on leadership’ in the diocese at the request of our Bishop. He is concerned about the development of leadership capacity in current clergy, the ability to measure and/or predict leadership capacity in those offering themselves for the discernment process that sometimes leads to ordination, and the development of leaders among the laity not only for parish offices, but for diocesan and national work. We are not very far along in this task but are already going back and forth between those seeking a working definition of leadership and those wanting to define desired outcomes and allow those to shape our task.

Finally, I serve on the National Advisory Council of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. The Dean and faculty are attempting to add specific and defined elements of leadership development into the Anglican Studies curriculum and are pulling together a group to help them sort out how to do that.

These are all worthy efforts, but the more I think about leadership, the less easy I find it to know exactly what we are talking about. Leadership seems to be one of those things that is very hard to define, but that we sometimes know it when we see it and other times recognize it only in hindsight. We know that leaders emerge in particular circumstances and that war time leaders have qualities different from those needed in peace time. Some leaders make the transition form war to peace and vice versa with ease while others flounder. We know that there are a variety of ‘leadership styles’ and no one right way of leading. We know that most leadership is relational and that leaders who have been in place for a while can take risks and accomplish things that they could not have done at the beginning of their tenure.

I’m finding it increasingly helpful to think less of leadership per se and more about circles of influence that can apply to just about anyone in just about any circumstance of life. Rabbi Freidman wrote for ‘parents and presidents’ when he wrote of leadership, with the critical issue being the self-differentiation of the leader/person of influence/person invested in healthy change.

If you are aware of current literature on leadership that is particularly useful you would be doing me and many others a great service if you would leave a comment with your recommendations on this blog. I’ll keep you posted about how this progresses.

1 comment:

Mark Siegel said...

The best single thing I have ever read on leadership is a little book that is not explicitly about leadership. It is "The Rule of St. Benedict," a volume so old it's new again.

If you filter out Benedict's discussions about the kind of food monks should eat and other matters that aren't relevant to us now, you are left with a (to me) startling discussion of the role of the abbot in the monastery.

The abbot is the community's ultimate authority on all matters. There is no ambiguity about that in the book. But Benedict instructs the abbot to wield his power very carefully and judiciously, to provide appropriate discipline when someone makes a mistake but not do so harshly, to consult with others before making decisions, and much more.

And then there is the matter of credit and blame. The handling of both reveals much about a leader. Based on Benedict's Rule, everything that goes well in the monastery is credited to God. When things go wrong, only the abbot is to blame.

I think there are only a few leaders who would have the courage to accept this kind of burden, that is, all credit goes to my group when good things happen but all blame falls on me when bad things happen. This is the true servant leader.

The Rule of St. Benedict would be most appropriate in any class on leadership.