Sunday, February 03, 2013


This little piece is on how running a large corporate business and coaching an NFL team are largely similar. Basically, the premise of the article as I understand is to debate the question, "What makes a good leader?" I think this has an interesting twist if one looks at this from a standpoint of priestly/parish leadership.

I am usually loathe to read "leadership" self help books and other Master's of Business degree staples because they all often lack application of common sense. Common sense and meaningful originality are both qualities you can't teach or replicate in others. You either have it or you don't. I would argue the most worthless individuals I have ever met or worked for or with have MBA degrees. There seems to be this culture out there that thinks you have to have an MBA or Ph.D. in something or other to be a good leader. I will also admit that as I get older, I have become less and less impressed with the silly piece of vellum that people, institutions, and businesses think you need to have on your wall to be able to do your job. In my experience, those with the vellum start coming up with buzzwords and policy wonky paradigm schemes like you end up with at the end of that article that are not helpful other than to boost the self esteem of the HR people who come up with these flashy but lacking in substance models of leadership.

In some cases, I think this is true. Don't get me wrong. I mean, I would not want someone drilling on my teeth who doesn't have a degree from a dental school. In those cases, however, the degree meant they had to pass competency exams to work in their profession. And even then, it's the hands-on residency and not so much the book learning degree that really makes the difference. I am a chaplain one summer at a learning hospital about the time the new medical residents fresh out of med school started their medical residencies. I saw more blatant malpractice in the name of "learning" while on call in the E.R. than I care to remember. In fact, I would just as soon bleed to death on the side of the road than be taken to a learning hospital with a fresh batch of resident med students. My point it, it is the hands on experience that makes a qualified doctor or dentist, not the book learning. The book learning is helpful, but if you don't have the common sense and practice to apply the book learning, it is all for naught.

In terms of business management, there may be internships and such, but there isn't usually competency exams or business residencies for MBA folks. The market usually takes care of that. If they trash a business, they are out of work fairly quickly. Oddly in the NFL, coaches can go from one job to the next, never staying for more than 3 or 4 years unless they meet with instant success. As the article above premises, the expectations are so high that most coaches who are very intelligent and qualified, but are out on their ear after one mediocre to bad season, only to be rehired by another team. This is called the "coaching carousel."

Sometimes coaches are just incompetent or are in way over their heads. Some do well in college and not the NFL or vice versa. Nick Saban largely flamed out as the Dolphins head coach, but started a dynasty at Alabama. I can think of a host of good NFL coaches that flamed out on the college level because the schemes they brought were simply too complicated from 19 or 20 year old good ole boys off the farm or inner city kids to grasp. Again, common sense would have headed off those kinds of colossal flame outs, but common sense is something you can't teach or learn in an MBA program.

Now, I finally come to the point of this little essay. I think that article I linked too above has applications for parish ministry and pastors. Good Guys Wear Black is an excellent little discernment blog that some folks in the Orthodox church runs. It is obviously written for those considering Orthodoxy, but a lot of the articles on discernment and day to day parish life are truly excellent and I think apply to pretty much any denomination. In particular, in the last couple of weeks, there has been posted there two excellent articles that I have been debating on how to respond to. One is entitled, "Read This Before You Think About Seminary" and the other is "I Think I am Burned Out!"  (The latter is particularly sad because I know people in that very position.)

So, what does make a good leader in the Church? This is a very hard question on a number of levels, not the least of which being that the Church operates on a different model than a simple business corporation. We are to be about the Kingdom of God not the Kingdom of the Almighty Dollar. That is a completely different philosophy. (Now, there is nothing wrong with being a business man if one runs an ethical company, but that is not the point of this essay. I am focusing on pastors and priests here.)

Another question is that there are different types of leaders in the church and different parish cultures. Running a Cathedral as a dean takes a whole different skill set than running a small country parish where the priest has to be the jack of all trades. The original business article I linked to makes an interesting observation, "So what’s the difference between a good leader and a great one? The great leader has willing followers, Damon says. Great leaders get to the heart, soul and minds of their organizations instilling values that will develop and are all about team."

When one has complete control of a business, that is more easily accomplished than at a parish church. In the Episcopal church, what does a clergyman do when the values he is trying to instill are at odds with the theological direction that either the parish or denomination is going? Does that mean he has failed at leadership, or does that mean that it just 'isn't a fit'? Does this precipitate a "clergy carousel"?

I would be interested to see what people think about this. Please comment.

1 comment:

Timothy Fountain said...

Church leadership's primary focus is faithfulness to God. This is a hard "product" to quantify, and does not lend itself to metrics used in most other forms of leadership.

There are some good things to learn in the various leadership resources, certainly. I've found them helpful in recognizing personal shortcomings and ways that my "style" might get in the way of the people hearing what I have to say and engaging with it.

The clergy leadership role is challenging because it is an effort to put flesh and bones on unseen spiritual reality - it is the mystery of the union of Christ's divine and human natures in action. So it can be crazy making, going from lofty and sublime to earthbound and banal in a split second.