Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Importance of Leadership

As I have had the opportunity to watch leaders -- clergy and others -- over the last 25 years, I have observed some behaviors which lead to reliable truisms.

Those truisms may be boiled down to this simple statement: More often than not, an institution will reflect the characteristics, temperment and views of the leader.

More to the point: An anxious leader leads to an anxious organization. A conflicted leader leads to a conflicted organization. A calm leader leads to a calm organization. A non-reactive leader leads to a non-reactive organization. A thoughtful, reflective leader leads to a thoughtful, reflective organization.

You may substitute "congregation" or "vestry" for "organization," and you may substitute "rector" for "leader." Those substitutions bring the lessons home for those of us in the church.

This is not a question of intellect. It is more an issue of emotional maturity. The non-anxious, thoughtful leader manifests wisdom.

I have been amazed over the years as I have seen clergy have profound impacts on the congregations they lead and serve, for better or worse. From my earliest days in the ordained ministry, I have seen how a priest's conflicted relationship with diocesan leadership, most especially the bishop, has led to the congregation having a conflicted relationship to the diocesan leadership and the bishop. The reactiveness of the anxious leader is, from anecdotal observation, a window into other tendencies or issues in the life of that person.

An anxious leader may have a contagious effect in the organization or congregation -- especially if the congregation does not have prevailing sense of stability and maturity. That contagiousness can spread through a congregation and provoke conflict, fear and instability. That level of anxiety within a congregation leads a to sense of organizational myopia, causing the congregation to focus internally, on matters of fight or flight, rather than focusing outside of the congregation, in missional vision.

Healthy leaders -- and that includes lay persons within the congregation -- can also have an opposite effect. By virtue of their stability, maturity, long-term perspective, and sense of personal calm and well-being, the congregation may be influenced by their presence. The anxious congregation or institution will seek to sabotage the healthy response, though that is not an intentional action. Anxious individuals react instinctively, not from a reasoned, well thought-out position.

Conversely, when a leader functions from a position of calmness and maturity, he or she is free to choose a response -- one from reason, thought, and reflection, or one grounded in an emotional response. Without that internal sense of steadiness, a leader is much less likely to have the freedom to choose a non-reactive response. When the leader responds with instinctive anxiety, the anxiety is conveyed to the system, and it begins or continues to spread.

The principle is true beyond specific issues. It is a matter of leadership and not politics. Calmness leads to a calm system. Maturity leads to a mature system. Stability leads to a stable system.