Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tiger's Achilles Heel

            Sometimes what a leader sees as a strength is really a weakness that needs change.

Actually, as it turns out, Tiger Woods’ Achilles heel is not his heel, but his knee.  He has had four surgeries to repair damage done to his left knee because at impact in his 120 mile an hour swing, he violently kicks his left knee strait.  This means his left knee has to absorb the full impact of his champion swing.  What does all this have to say about congregational leadership?  It says a lot if you stay with me.

In Tiger’s own book on the golf swing, he describes this “violent kick” as a distinctive part of his way of doing things.  Of course, today sports physiologists shake their heads at what he does and the damage it has caused him, but my point is that he told us 10 years ago his rationalization for doing so.  It is a unique characteristic of his swing.  Despite three well publicized coaching changes, he still repeats this action.  As Lee Trevino said recently, “Either he will stop doing this, or his career is over.” 

Often, I have found clergy leaders, even very outstanding leaders, who have a unique habit (dare I say flaw?) that they justify as simply part of their individual style.  In other words, they view, what is really a fault, as strength.  For example, I remember a Bishop with a notoriously bad temper who explained to me that “When I am mad at one of my clergy, I sure let them know it.  It clears the air, and afterward it is over and done as far as I am concerned.”  Of course, it wasn’t over and done as far as many of the clergy persons on the receptive side of the interchange were concerned, but my main point is that this leader saw such behavior as a unique part of his own style that was beneficial in some way. 

I also remember a vestry person in my first congregation that would regularly tell me her frank opinion about most church issues.  She would fire off a broadside followed by her comment that “You may not like it, but you always know where I stand.”  I can tell you that her husband, her children, and her employees also always knew where she stood, and most had long since stopped caring. 

In the long run, such justifications are just that, justifications.  They are used to rationalize behavior that one should change, but many leaders use their strengths to justify such things as a virtuous part of their personal style.  I know that I have done this.  I am a mild introvert on the Myers-Briggs personality index.  One day a clergy friend pointed out to me (painfully, I might add) that I sometimes used this as an excuse for not more positively emotionally engaging people on Sunday mornings.  At first, I thought my friend was unkind for saying so, and that he did not really “understand me.”  After time, I came to realize that I was using my introversion as a justification for not carrying out one of my primary jobs of a leader, namely, showing people that I genuinely care about them.  I cannot say it was easy to change this behavior.  I would say that realizing that it was a problem, and that I needed to address it, rather than justify it as a part of who I was, became an important step in learning to be a more effective leader.

Let’s face it, personal insight and commitment to change is hard.  God grant it to us, and God give us also truthful friends who care enough to give us such feedback.  Recently, a colleague shared with me a remarkable book about just such issues.  It is Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima.  If you are a leader committed to growing as a leader, you may want make this part of your summer reading.  


  1. Excellent article Dean Kevin. Seems like some folks go through life justifying to everyone else why they are who they are or "how God made them" as opposed to seeing Jesus as their example in all things, especially that which they see in the mirror.

  2. I really enjoyed this post, Dean Kevin. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Change is hard. It makes us more compassionate though.