In my last blog, I asked and answered the question of whether a Bishop can make a difference. My answer comes from my 9 years working directly with Bishop Claude Payne. He made a difference and I am convinced Bishops do matter, but I am less optimistic about what they are actually doing now and whether they have a sense of urgency about our present situation. I will leave that for you to decide.
Here I want to talk about six things that I learned from working with this outstanding leader and person about leadership.
First, People need time to talk themselves into a good decision!
Bishop Payne understood that no matter how good a diocesan solution to a problem or recommendation is, leaders on the local level need time to think it over. Often at the end of a meeting with a Vestry, they would ask me what the Diocese wanted them to do. I would pause and then say something like this, “You have heard our recommendations, but you will need time to talk about this among yourselves. I am going to get in my car and drive home. When you are ready to talk further, I will come back to support you. We went from a diocese often in open conflict with local leaders to one trusted. And people almost always talked themselves into the right decision or an even better one.
Second, no matter what is happening on the local level or how intense or dysfunctional the community is, the one thing we must not do as diocesan leaders is react!
Calm and measured leadership, especially in a crisis or a conflict, sends a clear message that reason will persist. In a crisis or polarized situation, the strongest voices get the air time, but the better leaders are often shouted down. By not reacting, we set a tone for good leaders to be safe and come forward. Once when I was struggling with a major issue in my parish in Seattle, I met for coffee with a Priest/therapist friend of mine. After dumping for some time, he interrupted me with, “Can I ask you a question Kevin? Is this the worse problem you have ever had to deal with as a Priest?” I sat there stunned and then said, “Hell no!” Then he went on, “So why are you so obsessed with this?” I immediately felt my inner engine slow down, then my frustration began to ebb. At the end of our time together, I thanked him and bought the coffee. It was the cheapest counseling session that I ever had.
Third, to be an effective a leader, you must be willing to be consistent and this often means quite frankly being redundant.
Here Bishop Payne’s personality helped. As an ESTJ on the Meyers-Briggs scale, he didn’t mind repeating himself. Most of us NF and NT types do mind. For example, we preach a sermon to our congregations on Vision and then just move on assuming everyone got it. Bishop Payne kept sharing the Diocese of Texas Vision until our leaders started repeating it. Then he kept repeating it.
Another example is that clergy and lay leaders decide on a year of Stewardship or Evangelism and just about the time that our members begin to get it, we move on to the next thing. For ten years, Bishop Payne started every annual Clergy Conference with a review of our Mission and our core values with examples of how these got lived out. I’ve learned in addition that many clergy bail on a subject just before it was about to take root.
Fourth, Bishop Payne was adamant that “A vision without a strategic plan is just a dream.” One of his often repeated phrases was “It is true that the devil is in the details, but so are the Angels!” We learned to attend to the details. For example, when we engaged in revitalization of a congregation, we helped them get the right leader and work out their local vision. Then we helped them put together the resources and steps they would need to move toward that vision; in other words a strategic plan.
Fifth, Bishop Payne knew how to create buy in by local and diocesan leadership.
Shortly after he became diocesan, he gathered the members of all the boards, commissions, endowment trustees of the Diocese in one place. He shared the vision and the core values. Then he told them, “What I need from you is for you to show me how your group can contribute to this vision and core values in cooperation with our other ministries? In one meeting, he ended the turf holding, posturing, and competition that prevailed among our different entities. Later, when I went to the Cathedral in Dallas, I did the same.
Finally, I would mention that Bishop Payne modeled for me that the commitment to be a leader meant a commitment to be a lifelong learner.
Imagine what it was like to go to work at 48 years old with a 63 year old leader who constantly went to conferences, explored new ideas, read the latest on leadership and took what he learned and absorbed it into himself, his skills and leadership. When he ran across helpful but challenging ideas, he would bring it to his staff. One day he started our staff meeting with this question. What has become taboo for our team, what can’t we talk about here? There followed a difficult but creative conversation. The result was that we all kept growing and learning.
When we offered the Clear Vision Conferences for five years to share what we and three other dioceses had learned and our best practices, we would end with an evaluation. One question we asked these diocesan leaders and staff was this. What have you most learned from this time together? Often they would answer, “If we had Bishop Payne for our Bishop then our work would be so much more meaningful and productive.” Bishop Payne’s response when he read these was “they missed the point. The problem isn’t that they have the wrong person to be their Bishop. The problem is that they aren’t willing to become the kind of leaders who can caste a vision, have a plan, and pay the price of leading change.”
Some learned. I was always left asking myself could I? Can you?