Learning leaders: insights from organizational studies

Leaders of faith-based institutions share many things in common with for-profit business or not-for-profit leadership.Church-based leaders also carry a unique responsibility: the unsolicited responsibility of representing another dimension of human consciousness and experience-God and His kingdom.

Prudence L. Pollard, PhD, MPH, PHR, is professor of Management in the La Sierra University School of Business, Riverside, California, United States.

Even though I have spent a consider able amount of my personal and professional time analyzing successful corporate leadership, 1 I begin this article by affirming my belief that no leadership challenge is greater than the challenge of providing leadership in faith-based organizations. The experience of having served as an administrator in a church institution, my present responsibility of helping educate the next generation of leaders (I teach management and organizational behavior to business students), and the experience of having been the spouse of a clergyman for 25 years have all convinced me that church leaders face significant challenges.

Leaders of faith-based institutions share many things in common with for-profit business or not-for-profit leadership. There is, for example, strategic planning, responsible fiscal management, conflict resolution, and human resource maximization, to name a few.

Church-based leaders also carry a unique responsibility: the unsolicited responsibility of representing another dimension of human consciousness and experience—God and His kingdom. This reality often drives ecclesiastical leaders to focus on internalizing the necessary spiritual resources that nurture the metaphysical dimension of their service. Thus, engagement with biblical texts, prayer and meditation, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines constitute important benchmarks when it comes to spiritual leadership practice.

Theory X and theory Y

However, while Christian leaders today must be connected to appropriate spiritual resources, they can also be enriched by being exposed to the leadership research of social scientists. Leader and follower behavior, as presented in the literature of organizational behavior, offers helpful information and insight for the faith-based leader. In fact, I would argue that because many of these studies identify significant trends within "follower" culture, to ignore some of these research findings could lead to personal and professional failure for the faith-based leader.

I submit that every leader's decisions regarding the following three areas of study by organizational research are mandatory for faith-based leadership: How we view people.

How we assess people. And how we assign and organize people.

Thus the starting point for successful leadership and especially in Christian leadership lies in how we view people.

The way we view the persons we lead will influence how we manage them! The well-known principles that underlie theory X and theory Y, as popularized by Douglas McGregor, summarize a leader's attitudes or dispositions toward people.2 A quick summary of McGregor's basic hypothesis is helpful.

Theory X-oriented leaders attempt to structure, control, and closely supervise their employees because they believe external control is needed for dealing with unreliable and irresponsible people.

On the other hand, theory Y-oriented leaders support and encourage rather than control employees because they view employees as self-motivated, willing to work hard, and having a strong interest in helping the organization and themselves to excel in the workplace.

After 30 years of service to my church, 25 of which have included my experiences as a clergy spouse, I have observed that most members want to feel valued and be involved. Thus, theory Y appears to be a generally better fit for the church than theory X because many, if not most, members want to be involved in the church. However, because they are volunteers, it is vital that leaders "niche" them into ministries compatible with their spiritual gifts and passions.

Theory X leadership perspective is not consistent with business's current emphasis on participative management, where workers are given an opportunity to make an intentional contribution to day-to-day problem-solving and long-range planning. Neither is X consistent with the Christian leadership objective of building disciples and deploying apostles.

In the setting of Christian leadership, it seems to me that the gospel's work is to turn Y in a new and unique direction and to weaken the influence of X. The internalized gospel redirects the energies of the believer toward kingdom advancement (see, for example, Acts 9:1-22), not just toward the advancement of some earthly cause. It also uniquely strengthens the inner, compelling power of that which is consistent with the Y drives in a per son. A wise leader can connect with these factors, especially if he or she has encountered the gospel for himself or herself. Thus understanding theories X and Y can help a Christian leader choose his or her leadership perspective. After this comes the next learned skill essential for leadership success.

2. How we assess people for work. Effective leaders must make recurring personnel assessments when it comes to the readiness and ability of followers.

Follower readiness relates to the principles of situational leadership pioneered by Paul Hershey and Kenneth H. Blanchard. 3 Situational leadership assumes that there is no single "best" way to lead people. The context, ability, orientation, and receptivity of a given follower all matter and interact.

Therefore, the leadership style we use with persons or groups depends on the readiness level of the people we are attempting to influence. But sometimes we leaders merely lead from our own frame of reference. Situational leadership is helpful in filling out how we practice our leadership. Here the question becomes, How do we assess followers and then proceed to exert appropriate leadership?

Situational leadership is exerted in two ways: task behavior and relation ship behavior. "Task behavior ... is the extent to which the leader engages in spelling out the duties and responsibilities of an individual or group. This includes telling people what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it, and who is to do it."4

On the other hand, "relationship behavior is defined as the extent to which the leader engages in two-way or multiway communication. The behaviors include listening, facilitating, and supportive behaviors."5

Ready, willing, able

The use of these two leadership behaviors (task and relationship leadership behavior) should be guided by the readiness of followers.

Readiness is "defined as the extent to which a follower demonstrates the ability and willingness to accomplish a specific task."6

Along with readiness is the ability and willingness of the follower to do the work. "Ability is the knowledge, experience, and skill that an individual or group brings to a particular task and activity [and] willingness is the extent to which an individual or group has the confidence, commitment, and motivation to accomplish a specific task."7

Is there something practical about this way of viewing follower readiness? Yes, there certainly is! Success in leadership is determined by the leader's ability to accurately diagnose the readiness of the employees or volunteers in her/his work environment. The critical success skill of making accurate follower diagnoses will determine how much trust or responsibility a leader should delegate to a follower.

For instance, a conference president has a special project that he needs to assign to an office worker. He is considering assigning the project to one of four office workers. Because employee Jane is able and willing, the president may assign it to Jane and use an empowering style. As a competent self-starter, employee Jane will need minimal oversight.

Employee Bob is willing but unable. The president will have to use a hands-on coaching style if the project is to succeed.

If employee Wilma is able but unwilling, due to a lack of experience, but is nevertheless assigned the project, then the president will, of necessity, use a "selling" style of leadership, with more frequent meetings between Wilma and himself.

Thus the president will effectively manage the project by proxy. If employee Bill is unable and unwilling, the president should use a "telling" style or refuse to assign Bill the project. He may pair Bill with Jane unless or until Bill's attitude changes. Under these circumstances, the president should maintain clear reporting con tact with Bill.

; Understanding this diagnostic strategy as presented in the organizational behavior literature can be very helpful in assisting leaders to avoid frustration and futility when completing projects and making assignments to followers. This leads to the final success skill.

Theory Z

3.How we organize people. William Ouchi published his groundbreaking theory Z in 1981.8 This work shifted the unit of organizational analysis away from McGregor's individual employee to the ways systems function. In other words, the culture of a leader's organization matters. Ouchi shifted the discussion beyond purely X and Y psychological dynamics to a sociological analysis of organizations. This sociological tool and approach to management is still very influential today, two decades after Ouchi's publication.

Faith-based communities often use sociological analysis without naming it because we too work in sociological systems. Because churches are also voluntary associations, shared cultures, beliefs, and values help them hold together. Thus, the way we organize groups is vital not only to the success of our mission but also to the perpetuation of our organizational culture.

Team-building and team-making must then be carefully done within faith-based organizations. Teams are useful vehicles for accomplishing specificaction within an organization.

Teams are formed in five stages:

Forming means orienting the team to its purpose.

Engaging involves defining theroles and tasks of team members.

Naming calls for team leadership to clarify the common expectations and assumptions of the team members.

Performing looks to the team to actually do the task for which it has been organized.

Adjourning means that the team disbands after its mission is accomplished. However, this is not a simple goodbye. It is a celebration of accomplishments, an affirmation of successes, and a memorializing of the outcomes.

Dumaine's9 guidelines for the most effective use of teams are handy and practical in the Christian setting. In this context effective use of teams suggests that after using the right team for the job, leaders should focus attention on how to disband the team, if termination is necessary.

For example, problem-solving teams should be disbanded after the job is accomplished. If, as a leader, your workplace is structured around teams, then create a hierarchy of teams. There must be an organizational structure of teams to facilitate coordination and communication. Consider for example, Jethro's instructions to Moses (Exod. 18:17-26) involving how to structure teams to ease Moses' responsibilities as leader.

Dumaine further states that trust is vital to building cooperative team relationships. Building trust begins during the forming stage and continues throughout the life of the team.

For example, a leader cannot build team spirit if the team's task is to eliminate team member jobs.

Finally, Dumaine calls for leaders to address "people" issues. Here, a significant investment must be made in building and maintaining the people who make up the teams if the teams are going to work. 10 This cohesion-creating leadership is most obvious during the engaging stage.

A leader's superiors, subordinates, and peers will generally view leaders who appoint or elect the right teams for the right function as highly effective. Nominating committees, personnel committees, and other committees all have their appropriate function. It is important for leaders to organize and deploy the right team for the right job, because leaders build trust and credibility by showing effectiveness in creating teams who can advance the organization.

Astute leaders will also help teams see themselves as positive contributors to the overall culture, mission, and service or the organization as a whole.


Leading a faith-based organization is both unique and challenging. However, the way Christian leaders view, assess, and organize people reflects how that leader models the ministry of Jesus to her/his followers.

Because the Christian church is called to witness to and continue the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:5-8; Luke 10:1- 12, 17; 1 Peter 2:8-10), contemporary leadership's benchmark is the leadership of Jesus Christ. Jesus' selection of His twelve disciples showed that His view of His leadership team affirmed their potential.

From fishermen to fishers of men, He assessed them for their willingness and ability (Luke 6:12, 13; Mark 3:14) and then organized them to accomplish His mission in a way that yielded His desired outcomes (Matt. 28:18-20).

Today's leaders must do no less!

1 Prudence Elveda LaBeach Pollard, Requisite Managerial Leadership Behavior (Ann Arbor, Mich : UMI Press, 1993).

2 See Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960).

3 See Paul Hershey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, "Life Cycle Theory of Leadership" rn Training and Development Journal, May 1969

4 Paul Hershey, Kenneth H Blanchard, and Dewey Johnson, Management of Organizational Behavior (New Jersey Prentice Hall, 2001), 173

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., 175.

7 Ibid., 176.

8 See W. G. Ouchi, Theory Z. How American Business Can Meet the Japanese Challenge (Reading, Mass • Addison Wesley), 1981.

9 Brian Dumaine, "The Trouble with Teams," Fortune, September 5, 1994, 86-92.

10 Ibid

11 Ibid.



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Prudence L. Pollard, PhD, MPH, PHR, is professor of Management in the La Sierra University School of Business, Riverside, California, United States.

July/August 2005

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