Church Life

The Professional Church: leadership (part 2)

Intro to Leadership

The first principle from the private sector is leadership. The second principle is effective team building. Both go hand-in-hand. In a small operation like a parish (even a mega-parish) every hire needs to be a leader. You cannot afford to hire non-leaders, even if they are not in “Director” or “Coordinator” positions. And just because someone is ordained by the grace of God in the sacrament of Holy Orders that does not automatically make them a good, effective leader.

Leadership is a topic of so many nauseating business and self-help books that it is a little frustrating to sift the good content. I sought after books authored by, or written about, men and women who proved their leadership in the arena of for-profit work, not just those who make a ton of money selling self-help leadership books and giving seminars. This way I avoided empty-headed, nice-sounding rhetoric about leadership and immersed myself in the praxis of real world principles, tactics, and examples.

The experience-and-subsequent-analysis approach is far more enlightening than people standing on the outside of the leadership pressure cooker saying what the laws of leadership are for everyone. So these are the types of books that I am drawing from for today’s content.

And remember, I know a church is not the same thing as a business. I also know there is a lot not said about Christian leadership because that is not the point of this topic. The topic is to bring together insights from the business world and apply them to the non-profit parish setting (or, as equally applicable, the diocesan setting or the lay apostolate). 

 

Management and Leadership

In the business world, if the company knows how to hire correctly (which is a whole topic unto itself!), then the managers are also leaders. Yet, those of us who have worked in the world have experienced tons of bosses who were anything but dedicated leaders. Politics, rewarding past loyalties, seniority, and “they’re due” are all horrible reasons to put a person in charge of others. It needs to be a meritocracy.

Every business should be cultivating leaders, mentoring them, and giving them regular evaluations of their performance to make sure that they are not in the wrong position. After all, if someone is in the wrong position, not only is that bad for your organization, but it is also bad for their careers. (Thus regular performance reviews ought to be the bedrock of assessing effective leaders in management positions.)

In a parish setting there are several types of managers, some more overt than others. The pastor and parish administrator are, of course, managers of the time, treasure, and talent of the parish and its staff. Managers are also made up of the directors and coordinators of all the big programs you offer, like Adult Faith Formation, or Elementary Religious Education. They have the right-sounding titles and it is expected of them to manage their direct reports, their staff.

However, especially with youth ministry, there are whole teams of volunteers- core members, catechists, chaperones, small group leaders- that need to be managed, led, and mentored as well, though some may not think of the lowly youth minister as a manager. 

Not everyone is a manager, but everyone should be a leader.

And this goes double for managers, first and foremost. If you are hiring or promoting people into management positions and do not know how good of a leader they are, you are making a huge hiring mistake. You cannot field an “A” team with “B” players. Even worse, “B” players will commonly hire “C” players to keep from looking bad. Mediocrity will dominate such a team whose boss is too afraid to hire leaders smarter than him/her.

 

The Essentials of Leadership: Level 5 Leaders

We start with true leadership. The most common trait of excellent leaders, and not just ego-driven managers, is their profound personal humility. Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, analyzed the CEOs at great companies and was astonished by the combination of two, seemingly opposite, character traits: profound humility and fierce resolve.

This is what Collins calls "Level 5 Leadership". This ranks above the egocentric "Level 4" leaders who drive excellence in the company by their will power and big personalities, and thus make the wholly dependent on them. The business becomes an extension of their egos, or at the very least, the arena in which to showcase their awesome selves.

Level 5 leaders do not care how they look, only how the organization thrives. These people are building successful and lasting companies, not their own egos. They are personally humble, passing credit through to others (windows) and yet taking the blame upon themselves (mirrors).

In fact, when pressed to reveal the secret to their company’s success, these Level 5 leaders almost always say that “luck” and their “great team” had everything to do with it. And this is genuine.

 

Responsible Leadership: Self Movitation

Leadership means taking responsibility without hesitation.

First, they take responsibility through self-motivation. They do not seek others to affirm them into working hard, nor care for money, fear or praise as sole incentives. For them, the motivation is to do the job exceedingly well, to ship a great product. Winning, producing, satisfying the customer more, is the internal drive. In a word, "better" is their goal.

This is what motivates the great performers you see with non-profit volunteers, observes Peter Drucker. The individual often works for free or a much lower pay than what he or she could receive in the for-profit sector, and does so willingly, because they are personally dedicated to the cause and not to the next paycheck. Money may be a great way to broadcast your recognition of an employee’s hard work, but it cannot make a mediocre employee do great work. Hard work cannot be bought.

Many people in parish settings are such dedicated people. They work long hours, often off the clock, in order to get the job done right.

But others cling tightly to their job descriptions, complaining that any extra work required ought to come with extra cash, and are quick to play the “injustice” card when it suits them. Such people are not self-motivated, do not have the success of the parish overall in mind, and are not team players. They ought to be cut from the team as soon as possible because they will pull it down with them. Negative attitudes like this will spread quickly, too.

 

Responsible Leadership: New Reality

Responsibility also means that if an individual on your team fails, the leader is the reason why this failure has taken place. You absorb the blame for the mistakes of your team because they are your team. And beyond this, a real leader takes little praise for him or her self, but heaps up praise on those people who deserve it most.

When an employee becomes a manager, something new happens. No longer is he or she judged on his or her own qualifications and results, but on that of the team. Leaders recognize this altered reality and embrace it, seeing the amplification of other people’s skills through mentoring and the elimination of problems through careful and honest evaluations as the top priority. The manager stops being judged on his merits and is now judged by the collective merits of his or her team.

This is a crucial distinction.

After all, when it comes to the coach, no one cares how far he can throw the football, even if he is a retired quarterback. The only thing that matters is if he is a good enough coach to mentor the current quarterback to throw farther, faster, and more accurately.

 

Responsible Leadership: Team Work Ethic

For a final note, when it comes to team work, the leader sees the success of the team as the only measure of success. Everyone has their own personal goals, projects, ideas and whatnot, but the leader makes sure that the mission effectiveness of the team is his/her sole priority.

Imagine if a football coach only honed his skills to the neglect of the team. Sure the guy might still be talented, but what does it matter since the team will never win a game? Star performers who “carry the team” have a tendency to ignore teammates in pursuit of personal glory. But, honestly, at the end of the game, even if the star has broken a record or two on the field, if the team loses, he loses.

In the business world and in the parish, if a person’s ambitions destroy the effectiveness of the team, he has to go, even if he is the star performer, or the darling of the boss. Team cooperation and cohesion is the stuff of winning.

 

Next Post: The Professional Church (part 3): leadership continues

The next post will also have to do with leaders, especially in fleshing out those qualities that make a great leader and manager. We will draw from famous CEO Jack Welch, as well as from author and researcher Jim Collins.