Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Making Leadership Concrete

Last month, the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) held a public meeting at Washington Cathedral that was live streamed and actually trended on Twitter for a while. One of the most memorable quotes of the evening came from Sean Rowe, Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Bishop Provisional of Bethlehem, and a member of TREC. In response to criticism of the draft proposal to place substantially more administrative responsibility on the office of Presiding Bishop, that it would inhibit the holder of that office from exercising strong leadership, Bishop Rowe offered his observation that "the Episcopal Church is over-led and under-managed."

This was an arresting comment because it runs counter to the conventional wisdom that places a higher premium on leadership than on management. Leadership connotes inspiration, vision, and dedication. Management connotes bureaucracy, pettiness, and mind-numbing attention to detail. I consider myself much more a leader than a manager. Leadership is energizing and fun. Management makes my eyes glaze over. Yet, while I can't speak to what Bishop Rowe had in mind when he made his statement, it immediately rang true with me. Here's why:

When an institution is in crisis, good leadership is necessary, but it's not sufficient. The Episcopal Church is, by any measure, in crisis. We are being engulfed by twin tsunamis: one demographic (rising median age) and the other cultural (dechristianization of society passing the tipping point). To be sure, such a situation demands compelling leadership, leadership that is galvanizing and unifying. But even the finest leadership will fail to arrest the crisis and turn the institution around if it is not accompanied by a plausible strategy and well-executed tactics. This is where I see us woefully under-resourced.

To use a military analogy ... if commanders at a staff level set an objective of neutralizing the enemy's effectiveness in a particular geographic territory, they don't just inform the field officers of the objective and give them a motivational pep talk. They assess the available intelligence carefully, devise a strategy, arrange for supply lines and logistical support, test communication systems, divide the work into discrete tasks and distribute those tasks among the available personnel, having ensured that everyone is properly trained. Then they give the motivational pep talk. The successful execution of the the campaign that follows the leadership talk depends utterly on a host of management details that must be seen to.

It is my observation that, in the church, we have no shortage of visionary leaders who can paint the big picture and call forth the worthiest instincts of the baptized faithful. What we seem to lack are managers who can make the lofty vision concrete--break it down into digestible units, organize those individual digestible units on a large scale, match real, live, fearful and fallible people to the tasks that need doing, train them to the point where they feel confident in their ability to perform as required, deploy them effectively, and assess results in the field, making tactical adjustments as necessary. Unless we make the whole notion of "mission" concrete in some way that resembles this process, it's just talk, and will avail for nothing.

Management is not very often exciting. It is subject to abuse (read: micromanagement). It's not glamorous, and doesn't make headlines, or even--except very rarely--inspire blog posts! But it is absolutely mission-critical, and that we have not focused on it more intentionally is negligent on the part of ... our leaders. (For the record, while I am not exonerating the Bishop of Springfield in this leadership indictment, I'm pleased to say that we are at least pointed in the direction of dealing with the management issue.)

Yes, the Episcopal Church is over-led and under-managed.


Unknown said...

Dan, My first response was to recoil from the statement that we are under managed. After reading your post, I began to alter my opinion, in that I came to the decision that we are actually managed in the wrong manner. Finally, by the time I finished reading your piece, I had come to a conclusion that is 180 degrees counter to my initial response. We are both under led and under managed. From the trenches it is difficult to find anything trickling down to us that is visionary and inspiring. Most of it sounds like ideological rhetoric. If anything at all, it feels like we are being "managed" rather than led.

Undergroundpewster said...

Did he consider the possibility of being mis-led?

Anonymous said...

Dear Bishop,

Thank you for the observations. Very helpful for those of us on the "outside" of the process. Sometimes the national concerns are mystifying in the face of local realities. Blessings,
Alston Johnson