As a leader who has had the privilege of teaching other leaders, I like to point out three areas for growth and awareness: personality, style, and skills.
The first of these is personality. Many of us have benefited from the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory. This measures such things as introversion and extroversion, sensing and intuition, feeling and thinking, judging and perceiving. This tool helps me understand the way I see the world. It also helps we understand what energizes me and what stresses me. As a slightly introverted person, I always find Sunday mornings stressful because of the number of social interactions required of a clergy person along with the need to be aware of all the things going on. I prefer to withdraw on Sunday afternoons and get quiet. My best friend is a strong extrovert. He preferred to make parish visits and hospital calls after Sunday services.
Over the years, folks have asked me if there is a better profile for clergy. I point out that there is really no virtue in one’s personality profile. I have known very effective clergy of all types. The secret is finding a way to do what you love and being attentive to what will bring stress. I have also learned that leaders under stress tend to fall back on our strengths. This tends to make the stress even more difficult. Of course, a personality profile is different from character, especially integrity which is the ability of the leader to do the right thing when tempted to do something else.
The second aspect is that of style. I learned many years ago that each of us has a preferred style of leading. For example, my preferred style is collaborative and cooperative. I work best in teams of peers. Because of this preferred style, I am less comfortable with a directive style or a when I need to delegate even though I know that there are times when such leadership would be more effective. Over the years, I have used a survey tool to help clergy identify their preferred style. Then I help them see when their preferred style might hinder their effectiveness.
When you are a leader of a group that needs your preferred style, things tend to go well. The problem comes when we are forced to provide leadership with groups that need another style. I have found when things are not going well to stop and step back to think about the issue of style. This keeps me from blaming the group or community for being “so difficult.” This also explains why some clergy can do very well in one congregation and then find that the next one they serve is very difficult.
The third aspect is skills. This is the subject of many books on leadership that rightfully point out important abilities of effective leaders. Here the key word is “effective.” For me leadership isn’t usually good or bad, but effective or ineffective. For example, I find that effective leaders are good communicators. Effective communication can be learned, or said another way, with work I can get better at it.
I consider that a good leader is committed to life-long growth. This means identifying areas for skill development. For example, I spent years as a Rector leading vestry meetings. Many times these would go on for hours with little accomplished and much frustration. Then one day, I picked up a book titled “Running Effective Meetings.” It helped. Today I consider a vestry meeting longer than 2 hours an ineffective one. In the church environment, we often assume that ordination conveys all the skills one would need to lead effectively. I have long ago renounced that idea.
Of course, being skilled does not guarantee that a leader will do the right thing. I have learned that skills are always an adornment to character. Character can never be seen as an adornment to skills. We have all seen the damage that a skilled but unprincipled leader can do in a community. The very pressure of leadership often brings to the surface the major character flaw of a leader. Scripture is full of such examples, think Saul, David, and Solomon.
These three aspects of leadership are important for any leader. I have found understanding my personality, understanding my style and the needs of different groups, and developing a plan for improving my skills enabled me to be a more effective leader. Of course, all this means that as a clergy person I have accepted that I am a leader. No every clergy person feels this way. Over the years, I have encountered three attitudes among clergy about leadership. I would describe them this way:
The Instinctive or Natural Leader – This type leader acts instinctively. They usually are resistant to learning about leadership. They often do well because they instinctively find groups that need their preferred style of leadership. They sometimes write books on leadership, and the thesis is always “This is how I lead, and you should too!” I also find that when their preferred style does not seem to work they blame the community, at the extreme demonizing people in it. In other words, they lack insight.
The Agent – These are the Priests that insist they are not leaders. Their calling is to celebrate the Eucharist, hear confessions, visit the sick, and give counsel to the needy. Often, these persons work best in a structured environment such as a hospital or institution ministry where their roles are clearly defined. Can such persons learn how to more effectively lead a congregation? Of course they can. Yet, I often find that their sense of “identity” keeps them from working at it. I consider this a resistance to change.
The Growing Leader – This is the 80% of the rest of us. We know we are called to leadership. Life and experience teach us that a part of our vocation is to get better at it. I have been fortunate that in every stage of my development as a leader, I have had role models and examples of other leaders who have helped me grow in that calling. All have had insight into themselves, integrity, and have made life-long learning an important part of their lives.