Leadership = all-in-one Swiss army knife

Last week I had my second ordination anniversary. Since two years I am now the ordained senior pastor at St. Nicolai Church in Gifhorn, Germany. A Lutheran congregation with three churches and about 5000 members.

(With my co-pastors. ht: waz-online.de)

An anniversary is always a time for evaluation and a reflecting look back.

Our weekly reading Nitin Nohria’s Handbook of Leadership – Theory and practice helped me to structure my thoughts.

Nohria structures his overview about leadership by five approaches on the dualisms of leadership. I am going to fill in my personal leadership experiences over the last two years in this frame

1. Performance and meaning

The first section deals with the duality between the leaders role to produce superior performance or results and on the other hand the leaders role in making meaning.

I still remember my first weeks in the new church. Still insecure and in awe by all the new things tumbling down on me I was still in my little exploring mode. Trying to discover and to survey. Curious for all the new places, people, stories.

A wise colleague forecasted: “When you have your first big funeral, an the whole town will show up, then your exploration mode will be over. Then you’ll be the responsible pastor, if you want or not.”

My two first funerals were the biggest I ever had in my whole pastoral career. People standing in the isles and even crowding the vestibule.

Still till today I never held funerals with more attendants then these two ones.

I am grateful, that the impact came with such a vehemence.

It was my second ordination if you will. My congregants called me the second time, not by blessing me in a beautiful service like they did in the beginning, but by needing me to help them mourn and grieve.

Nohria states:

If leadership does not directly impact organizational performance, then leadership does not matter to organizational life.

This day it became true. From that day on, I had the status of their pastor. Joining my town and two villages through the high and low points of life.

2. Personal attributes, functions and relationships

In section two Nohria enfolds the duality between the leaders as a special person (with a unique personality and character traits) and leadership as a social role (refined as an influence relationship between the leaders and society, emphasized in fields as sociology etc.)

I completely underrated the impact of my professional role in my town.

The sociological structure in my town is still quite traditional. As a pastor you are a well known person of official interest.

There is no chance to walk through the mall or pick up some groceries without people paying attention to what you are putting into your shopping cart (Fairtrade products? Alcohol? Healthy stuff?)

Due to the size of the congregation and the official role I hold I don’t even know the people who are paying close attention to my shopping behaviors.

This social set is interesting. My professional role as a pastor seems to fit to the social set of attributes the others link to a specific role or position in s system of social relationships. I am only “performing” in this framework. And being observed while shopping has actually nothing to do with my actual job of being a pastor.

My role in leadership is multilayered due to the social functions I am fullfulling in the expectations of others.

Its not just my unconscious intrapsychic dynamics that underlie my leader behaviors its also the role I am pressed into by the others.

3. Core and contingent

The duality between leadership being universal and leadership being particular is the theme of section three.

Nohria enwraps that certain attributes, functions or relations are core to leadership, by being universal, important and applicable in most situations.

On the other hand leaders often encounter special and individual situations where universal solutions don’t work and a situational key has to be found.

Some years ago the Lutheran Church in Germany came up with a principle paper about the future shape of the church. (“Church of freedom”).

There they required the pastors to focus on their core competencies. They defined those as the chaperoning official practices like baptism, funeral, weddings and the usual provision of Sunday services.

Most pastors and theologians were shocked.

This image of leadership is focused on the expectations of the church members, but leaves no free and creative space in ministry for the pastors themselves.

In the year 2011 I did 73 services plus 70 baptisms, weddings and funerals. This means I am already fulfilling the idea of our future foresight by investing a large part of my time and strength in core competencies. Not because I chose to, but because of the need and job profile.

In our book Nohria quotes Lorsch, who suggest that a healthy leadership systems generates an appropriate mix of the the leaders chosen goals and available sources of power and influence, the followers expectations, the complexity if the organization and the certainty or uncertainty of the task.

I am still on my way on that one…

4. Agency and contraint

In part four Nohria talks about the duality between the leaders ability to exercise agency and the leaders need to attend to constraints.

I was able to make some useful experiences with my church bord and my co-pastors, I am working with.

This showed me again the complexity of my senior pastor role (CEO?).

It is a hard task to be a leading and executive figure and at the same time invest a lot on teamwork and collaboration on an eye level.

I made some tough experiences about critical leadership decisions or about the stimulation and introduction of innovation.

Due to personal cutbacks as pastors in my state church we are forced to be lone fighters on the other hand we need to reach out and enable structures of regionalization, cooperation and teamwork on different level.

To improve on that field and to be more clear in my own profile is also on my to list.

5. knowing, doing, being

In part five Nohira analyses the duality being thinking of leader development in terms that emphasize leaders capacities or on the other hand becoming and being a leader on a performative level.

I studied about ten years theology, further two training years and preachers seminary, two more years in special ministry.

One could guess, that I know enough to be a pastor.

Snook talks in Nohrias book about the “knowing” and “doing” dimensions of a leader.

And this was one of the first points in reading the book where I missed the theological view on leadership.

Nohira tries to interlace several interdisciplinary views on leadership, from sociological to economical standpoints.

But in the “knowing” and “doing” field I was missing the theological perspective.

The biblical thoughts about calling and gifts, on ecclesiological thoughts about vocation, ministry and practical theological dimensions.

I am still, after two years of leadership in my church, on a point where the “knowing” and the “doing” parts are blurry. Sometimes I feel as if I am not knowing and doing enough or the right things and then I am holding fast to those words:

But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 1:7-8

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