Describing the attributes of a good leader has been described variously as “like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall,” or “…capture fog in a net.” However, when social scientists study the behaviors, habits, and attributes of successful and admirable leaders, patterns emerge that inform us of some key dimensions.
The emphatic “and” in the or last sentence points to the fact that there have been many effective leaders who were amoral, insane or both (Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin…). And how many admirable leaders have we known who were well-liked, even revered, but who could not build and run a successfully running organization?
For a leader to be both successful and admirable, CorrValues believes that a person needs strength in what we call the Five C’s of leadership:
Influencing others, motivating them to achieve the church’s mission, represents the primary role of leadership. (Managing, although closely aligned, refers to the nuts and bolts of running the facilities, paying the bills; generally, “keeping the trains running on time.”)
We like the definition of character that nowadays experts teach children and young adults: Character means doing the right thing even when no one else is watching.
However, church leaders have a higher standard to meet. We believe that church leaders must bring to their ministries a Christ-like devotion to helping others benefit from God’s grace through love that nurtures through the Fruit of the Spirit.
This creates a standard of perfection toward which we all strive but which none of us can achieve. It demands that church leaders not only keep the Commandments but also the lessons from the Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of the New Testament.
(Compare this standard to the discouraging and just plain bad behavior we see daily among leaders in politics, corporations and so many other human endeavors and we see that the gap between them and what we expect of church leaders is galactic.)
Any leadership role requires a certain baseline level of knowledgeability and skill.
For instance, an engineering manager, a head football coach or a night shift supervisor in a factory all need to know their stuff. They know things and can teach those to others. They can solve problems based on learning from their studies and their experience.
In the case of church leaders, this competence begins with and extends well beyond theology and ritual. Church leaders need to understand how their organization operates like a business, even though churches are clearly different from a for-profit endeavor. They also need role-specific knowledge and skills. Think of the expectations we have a music director, education director or youth pastor/minister.
This Competence requirement may seem too obvious to warrant mention. However, consider what we have seen in small businesses, especially family-owned and -run companies, when people hire uncle Joseph or cousin Mary because they are family. The repeating pattern is chaos, conflict and too frequently failure.
Here, Chemistry refers to interpersonal relationship skills, the ability to build rapport with just about anyone and to influence others to achieve the church’s mission.
The clearest pattern that emerges here is that successful and admirable leaders show respect for every individual, especially to “…the least of Mine…” They also approach others with His Love, of course.
And they also have what experts call emotional intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence is the capacity to maintain composure under stress; to think clearly when others are responding emotionally vs. rationally. Strong EI allows individuals to maintain awareness of their own emotions and to control those feelings, while even helping others understand their emotions and manage their emotions as well.
Rudyard Kipling said it well in his classic poem, If:
“If you can keep your head when those about you are losing theirs,
and blaming it all on you…”
For church leaders this standard is almost as stringent as Character. In the ultimate, this requires the wisdom of Solomon and mindset of the Disciples, yet another unachievable perfection.
Over time, some of the bigger challenges leaders face in any organization involve change. The changes may occur within the church’s flock or begin from external dynamics or events.
The potential internal changes are many and varied. A beloved youth minister is called to another church. A key volunteer relocates with his or her family to another city.
External changes may be unforeseeable, such as a destructive storm or a sudden influx of new church members when a large company opens a new facility nearby.
Some external changes are more foreseeable, such as trends in society, which cause change more gradually but no less significantly. For instance, over the past 30 years technology has changed so much about how we spend our time, how we communicate and how we shop.
Of late, the gun violence that plagues our society has impacted the security and safety of all of our lives everywhere, including at church.
Effective leaders not only know how to lead the flock through the change, but also see changes, and their impacts, coming. They then help the church prepare for the change and respond effectively.
Managing change is an essential skillset, the details of which are too lengthy for this brief post.
Every organization has a culture. Culture is the traditions, practices and rituals. Culture is also the values (beliefs held strongly enough to impact decisions and behavior) and the expectations we have of others in terms of their behavior.
Cultures are often similar among churches, especially churches of the same denomination, and yet are always unique in at least some ways.
Paradoxically, the strongest dynamic in defining an organization’s culture is the behavior of its leader(s), and simultaneously if a leader’s behavior runs too much contrary to the current culture the leader becomes ineffective because the flock will reject his or her efforts to influence them, to motivate them. The flock may even ask the leader to leave.
Experts say this happens because, “Culture eats change for breakfast.” What they mean is that when leaders try to implement change too starkly or too quickly the others in the organization cling to their cultural norms and resist. Sometimes they resist so doggedly that they reject the leader’s attempts to implement change – or respond to external change – that they reject the leader him- or herself.
However, a leader with change management and leadership skills can get the culture to accept the change, even if that takes time, in some cases years. Leading change in general and culture change specifically will have to wait for another blog post.
Perhaps the Five C’s seem a bit daunting. Perhaps the feel very daunting.
If they do, then you have taken the first step toward being a better leader! Considered alone, each of the five requires a lot of a leader; taken together they demand an unachievable perfection. Yet, through life-long learning, loving self-examination, and with the help of others, progress is very achievable.