Associates in Advocacy
Reconciliation and Restoration Where Possible
As I’ve said many times, when bishops and I meet informally to talk or in passing, the experience is almost always gracious. They are attentive to what I say even when it is clear they do not agree with me. And once in awhile, they surprise me by bringing up something I said in another context and are positive about it. I practically never get responses to my letters, which I accept because I understand how busy you are. My letters are meant to get you and your colleagues to thinking and maybe acting more wisely and effectively if and when you agree with me. It’s planting seeds.
Over the years, I have been trying to help bishops see things from the ground up, not just from the top down. My letters have been appreciated by some older bishops, though usually out of the hearing of other bishops. While I have not been as consistent in my writing since I retired, I always try to find something worth sharing. Sometimes it is a critique and sometimes it is directly positive in nature. This series is of the latter nature.
Last May, I wrote to you about an attitude I have seen coming from the Council of Bishops for many years, that the main problem our denomination faces is incompetent pastors. In my practice as an advocate, consulting with pastors who were facing removal from the ministry for incompetence or worse, that was not what I was seeing as the major problem!
I offered a number of specific suggestions, most of which were legislative, only a few of which were directly or indirectly things that you could do. In this series of letters, I want to give you something that supplements the good things you are already doing. I’m excited about how much help it can be because it has already affected how I am operating.
Here’s how it came to my attention: My son called to see how we were doing. After chatting a bit, I turned the question back to him. “Things have gone pretty well,” he said. “Our business grew 89% just last year alone. We haven’t had a bad year as long as I’ve been with this company.”
“In this economy?” I asked. “How in the world did you all do it?”
“Using situational leadership.”
The company my son works for showed an 89% increase in business last year, despite the sluggish economy. When I asked him how they did it, he said it was by effective use of situational leadership styles. I asked him if there were any good books on the subject. He said there was one in particular, revised and updated from a book written in the 1980s. He said it was based on a different understanding of leadership. I thought I knew what he was talking about. I then described the following to him:
Back in the 1980s when I first began writing one page “continuing education” letters to bishops, the hot new idea in leadership was the inverted pyramid. In the standard model, within the church, the laity served the clergy and the clergy served the bishop who sat atop the pyramid.
As those who were in active ministry at the time recall, in the inverted pyramid scheme, the bishops were to serve their staffs and the staffs were to serve the clergy. The clergy were to serve the laity, and the laity were to serve the world.
I was impressed how many laity understood “serving the world.” They expected to be the hands and feet of God, doing good, encouraging the despairing, teaching the young, often serving their communities through people professions (teaching, medicine, social work, etc.) or in politics. Most laity I knew during my ministry came to church to be sure they understood how best to “love one another” and perfect their caring of those who were challenges. They were often hurting about not being more effective and wanting reassurance that they were on the right track.
Clergy were being encouraged through pastors’ schools to train the laity for ministry in the world, to “upbuild one another in love,” to help their respective churches to be effective mission stations, to be “hospitals for sinners and not hotels for saints.” Seminaries emphasized pastoral care as a critical role for clergy.
Unfortunately, that was as far as it went. Superintendents and conferences officers reported to the bishops. Pastors reported to conference officers (mainly superintendents). And laity were expected to pay for it all. Despite the enthusiasm for the new model exhibited among the laity and most clergy, the pyramid never fully inverted in the UMC despite the new terminology.
The “servant-leader” is still alive in our words to this day, especially with Pope Francis bringing a breath of fresh air to the highest level of leadership in the church.
My son listened patiently to my narrative. I asked him if there was any chance for the Church given this history. He asked if I had seen a recent Sprint ad on TV. A few weeks ago, Sprint ran an unusual ad. It showed scenes from the daily tasks of Sprint workers. It had an interesting “voice-over” that went something like this:
“There are some people who call me their boss. They come to work every day even when it is a hardship for them. These people serve our customers. In the constantly changing environment in which they work, they are creative. They give themselves to provide our products and services in ways that are effective. They are the face of our company. While they still call me their boss, they are wrong.
“Really, I work for them.”
My son said, “If they understand that, it’s a beginning.”
He said it was like reading an extended parable. “Straight forward,” he said. “Takes about an hour to read it. Probably another hour to take notes as you go. It pulls together all the good leadership ideas from over the years. The main point is that good leaders use different techniques with different workers and even change their techniques with those same workers as the workers become more capable.”
My son then asked me, “Haven’t you been complaining about bishops and superintendents being empowered to bring complaints against pastors?”
“Yes.” I responded. “That became church law in 1980 and morale has become terrible in many conferences ever since.”
“The book has a good name for that kind of leadership,” he said. “’Seagull management.’ That’s where ‘seagull managers are never around until you make a mistake. Then they fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everybody, and then fly out.’ That’s about the only negative thing in the book. There are a lot of really good things, great quotes, excellent illustrations,” he said.
“Anything about incompetence?” I asked.
“Some very good stuff,” he said. “The book does not presume everyone is competent. Nor does it presume that good leadership can help everyone attain competence. But the baseline for leaders is how they view those having difficulty succeeding. There’s a great quote near the end of the book. ‘Everyone is a potential high performer. Some people need a little help along the way.’”
I said, “This approach helped your company increase business 89% last year?”
I asked my son to say more about the issue of incompetence.
He said, “Good leadership uses all four basic skills: establishing direction, coaching, supporting, and delegating. Incompetence is to be expected in the newest workers, and especially once the worker learns enough to realize how hard the job is and loses enthusiasm. Rather than coming down hard on the worker, the good leader becomes a coach. When the unexpected happens and the more competent and experienced show signs of incompetence, there is probably is a health problem and the leader has to be alert for dynamics that may or may not be work-related.”
“And this approach increased your business 89% just in one year?” I asked again.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Since we instituted the situational leadership approach, we have not had a bad year. It took a few years for us to perform as well as we did last year.”
“That sounds so counter-intuitive to the way our church’s leadership tends to operate,” I said.
“It is counter to the CEO mentality in most companies. That’s why the Sprint ad was so unusual,” he responded. “There’s been a discontent with both autocratic styles of leadership and with the laisse faire styles among leaders in all kinds of businesses and institutions. Situational leadership offers an excellent combining of alternatives that have been floating around and connects them to a sensible approach. The book is LEADERSHIP AND THE ONE MINUTE MANAGER. Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi are the co-authors.”
I said, “Isn’t Ken Blanchard the one who handles the ‘Lead Like Jesus’ program?”
“Gives you the feeling that maybe his book might be a help to the church,” my son said. “It sure helped us achieve 89% growth last year.”
In the covenant of the clergy,
Rev Jerry Eckert, AIA contact person