Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What does leadership look like? Some thoughts inspired by Peter Drucker

Recently I was browsing through Barnes & Noble Bookstore, when I came across a new book inspired by the noted management/leadership consultant Peter Drucker. It was titled The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation. What struck me was how the packaging of the book made it seem like a small bible, complete with red ribbon marker, as if one's daily spiritual reading were to be found inside.

Aside from the slick packaging of Drucker's new book, I have to say that I have benefited from this noted management guru in my efforts to become a more effective leader through the years.
Mention the name Drucker in business circles, and the response is akin to a modern day prophet whose works are often cited like scripture. I guess that accounts for the devotional quality of the aforementioned book "366 Days of Insight and Motivation".

One of Drucker's suggestions is that we move away from the question, "How can I achieve?" to a different sort of concern, "How can I contribute?" That second question is not far from a more spiritual question, "How can I serve?" The focus moves from a narrow, sometimes narcissistic concern with self to a healthier interest in our contributions to the welfare of others.

In a book I've found valuable, The Essential Drucker, some key insights about leadership and organizational vitality are helpfully summarized. These insights offer value to non-profits and church organizations as well.

First, according to Drucker, every organization needs performance in three areas:
  • direct results
  • building of values and their reaffirmation
  • building and developing people for tomorrow

As Drucker argues, there has to be something this organization stands for, or else it degenerates into disorganization, confusion, and paralysis.

As someone who is called to contribute to the church and its mission in the world, I find Drucker's pithy summary of organizational leadership quite challenging. Having been around church organizations most of my professional career, I can say that spelling out "what the church stands for" is often quite frustrating. Ask the average person what their church is about, and mostly you get the answer, "we're a friendly group of people". Rarely do you get the sense that people explaining their church are describing a people or community who are on a journey to learn a different way of life.

If we are talking about results, think how more satisfying it would be to talk about "faith as a verb", where church is a group of people called to put faith and love into action, to make them real, to make them come alive for people.

Or when it comes to Drucker's second emphasis on "building values and their reaffirmation" consider an example like Habitat for Humanity. Its stated goal is to make shelter a matter of conscience. Now that's a value that an organization like a church should be able to seize on. And many have!

Or take Drucker's third emphasis on "building people for tomorrow". How do we approach such a task? Quite often it feels like we in the church have a greater investment in the past than we do in the future. Some time ago, I said to a group of colleagues, "I don't care if I ever celebrate another church anniversary. I don't want to celebrate the past. I want to make some history and live for the future." A few of my colleagues nodded agreement, some lifted an eyebrow.

I like what noted religion scholar Huston Smith once suggested as a mission focus for a church:

"Committed to Making People Real"

As Smith observed, that's not a bad way to describe the religious project: the effort to transcend religious phoniness.

Peter Drucker held a deep appreciation for spiritual organizations and values. He held that the foundation of effective leadership is thinking through:

  • the organization's mission
  • defining it
  • and establishing it, clearly and visibly.

All of those tasks require sizeable energy. All too often, I see churches avoid the hard task of focusing on the tasks of leadership and the tough wrestling with purpose and goals out of fear of offending anyone. Far too many church mission statements are so generically vague that they are in no danger of inspiring anyone to great dreams or actions.

A t.v. commercial used to ask, "Where's the beef?"

For those of us who care about the church's mission, there's a pointed question as well:
"Where's the passion?"


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