Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Seminary PL2: Styles and Traits of Leaders

Last week I started a new subject in my Seminary in a Nutshell series: Pastoral Leadership. The previous section was on the Person of the Minister. My resource for today is Peter Northouse's Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice, and the first post in this new series was:
Today I want to discuss the styles and traits of leaders.
1. There is no one right or always effective style of leadership. If leadership is influence, then to be a leader is to have followers, people whose actions are impacted by you. John Maxwell has famously suggested that a person who thinks he or she is leading, but has no followers, is just taking a walk.

People follow someone for different reasons. They can be very positive reasons and they can be negative. A leader is a leader because people are impacted by them, and people can be impacted by others for different reasons. Accordingly, there is no one style of leadership or type of leader.

2. Of course followers can be coerced. That is perhaps the oldest style of leadership, leadership with a club. This is the authoritarian leader. [1] It can be effective in terms of what the authoritarian wants, although not so pleasant to everyone else. It is the style of dictators and tyrants. With the help of armies and "strong men," some live a long and (for them) happy life. Perhaps more are overthrown and die violent deaths.

There are autocratic pastors and church leaders. Some church structures officially give significant powers to bishops and archbishops, to patriarchs or to a Pope. But even "low church" structures can have autocratic style leaders. The more independent a church, the easier it is for the head pastor to exert a more directive style of leadership. Some large church situations can develop a kind of pastoral cult.

In some cultures, strong pastoral leadership is the norm. In some cultures, a leader is hardly a leader if he or she is not somewhat autocratic.

There are times when a leader may need to be directive, even in the face of opposition. The leader then usually uses up some leadership capital. The proverb to "choose your battles" comes to mind. If you use your leadership chips on one issue, you don't have as many to spend on the next one.

I knew a pastor once who hesitated to start a building program, even though it needed to happen. But he intuitively knew that if he expended his leadership capital to raise that money, he wouldn't be able to expend as much on leading change in people's lives through preaching. He much preferred to use his influence in a spiritual than in a material direction.

3. Not all leadership styles are autocratic, however. On the other end of the spectrum is the "laissez faire" leader who is not directive at all. [2] The danger here is chaos. If there is no vision, no clear sense of direction, then the church or organization is likely to go no where. By definition, if there is no influence, there is no leadership.

One can be directive in one area, however, and allow freedom to move in others. Or even more, a person can empower others to become self-directed, to become leaders of themselves or of smaller groups. When there is a pastoral staff, there is something to be said for a leader that empowers and entrusts the staff to do their work without micromanagement and interference.

At a particular size of an organization, no single leader can have his or her fingers in everything. Unless a leader can learn to delegate well, an organization or a church will not be able to grow beyond a certain size. Once a church reaches a size of 150-200, the pastor will need more staff and/or volunteers before the church can grow further. And that leader will need to let go of control of all the details and trust others to play their role.

4. Probably the safest normal operating mode of a leader is in a more democratic style. A leader casts vision, but unless there is "buy in," it is likely to go no where. A leader may have a great idea, but it would be hazardous to move forward in the face of overwhelming opposition. A leader can lose the confidence of those he or she is leading. It may not even be the leader's fault. But a leader is not leader if he or she does not have followers. In such cases, it is probably time to move on.

It can take some skill to get a people on board with a leader's vision, and it can take some skill to get a people from point A to point B. There will rarely be unanimous support for a leader's vision. In the past, people were less in tune to the subtle maneuvering of talented managers. But younger generations in the West have seen enough clever movies to be able to sniff sneakiness, hypocrisy, and manipulation a mile away. This calls for a greater openness than perhaps was necessary of leaders in the past. This is not the age of the sneaky leader.

There is much to be said from a Christian perspective for a servant leader. This is a leader that focuses on serving his or her people in leadership. We have to think of the Philippian hymn (2:6-11), which speaks of how Jesus emptied himself of his divine prerogatives and took the shape of a servant.

Nevertheless, there is a time for directive leadership, and there can be a time when serving the people calls for pushing in ways they might not prefer to be pushed. Such pushing also serves them, however, even though it usually comes at a cost. There is a time to "wipe the dust off your feet" and move on (Matt. 10:14). [3]

5. There are any number of classic theories about leadership that may capture a corner of the situation but that we can probably dismiss as overall theories. For example, we can quickly dismiss the "great man" theory, the idea that "leaders are born, not made." There are leaders of all kinds, with all sorts of personalities and gifts. [4]

However, there are certain traits that are found in a large number of individuals that we would say are typical of great leaders. Northouse mentions the following: intelligence, confidence, charisma, determination, sociability, integrity (Northouse, 28-33). One can be an effective leader without these particular traits. Different situations call for different types of leadership. [5] But these certainly help.

A person may have good ideas, but if someone lacks confidence in their presentation, determination to see them through, or the sociability to present them, it is less likely that one will be able to lead others to their implementation. Much to the chagrin of the competent but uninspiring, charisma and confidence often win the day. A charismatic personality by definition accrues a following, while a less inspiring person with better insight may be alone on the sidelines.

But not always. Sometimes introverts win the confidence of a people. Sometimes a people comes to trust the competence of an uninspiring leader over the flash of the charismatic. And there are different kinds of intelligence. Sometimes a leader has insight in one key area that leads to organizational success, even though they are generally unintelligent in other areas.

So while effective leadership highly corresponds to the traits mentioned above, it is not always the case. There is no one set of traits that make a leader, and individuals can grow in these traits, even if some of them are not a natural disposition.

[1] The authoritarian leader is sometimes associated with Theory X in relation to management style. In Theory X, people are thought to be unmotivated and need constant supervision to make sure they do what they are supposed to do.

[2] Theory Y might be more associated with a laissez faire style of leadership. In Theory Y, people are thought to be naturally self-motivated to work and so are left to work under their own self-direction.

[3] Some pastors may think themselves martyrs when they are forced to move on. However, in some cases, it is the pastor who has pushed too hard or has failed in leadership, and the congregation may have greater wisdom. Pastors can be wrong in their sense of vision too.

[4] The Big Five test examines five traits that often either contribute to or distract from good leadership: 1) openness to new experiences, 2) conscientiousness, 3) extraversion, 4) agreeableness, 5) neuroticism.

[5] Sometimes called "contingency theory."

No comments: