September 14, 2010
Signs of a Bad Manager
By Tom Ehrich
I recently read an insightful article about corporate leadership. I want to share its insights, because I think they are important and helpful.
But first, I need to acknowledge that church leadership is unique.
Even though churches wrote the book on hierarchical leadership, today most mainline congregations function in a gray area. Clergy have designated authority, but no substantial power. Their leadership derives largely from character, personal appeal, persuasion, example, respect, compelling vision, maybe training, maybe the example of their predecessors.
Clergy are highly visible, but often as targets for frustration and projection screens for people’s unresolved issues. They are expected to set a course, but then often are constrained by lay leaders who advocate keeping change to a minimum.
It’s a confusing leadership role and not exactly a happy one. When clergy talk about their work, they usually celebrate specific duties, like preaching or pastoral care, but they lament the “death by a thousand cuts” that they experience in trying to exert leadership.
Lay leaders, on the other hand, tend to have less visibility, but strong desires to move the institution forward and their own capabilities as leaders. The best lay leaders want to work in partnership with clergy and have an exciting vision for what the congregation could become.
They, too, can grow frustrated, when clergy retreat from collaboration, out of sheer weariness and agony from being abused, and when clergy seem distracted and fragmented.
I don’t think the way forward lies in “fixing” either clergy or lay leaders. Nor do we need more rules and structures.
Rather, I think leaders need to develop some skills in discerning the impact they are having and then, in true collaboration with other leaders, learn how to avoid pitfalls, benefit from failures, celebrate small successes, and nurture a healthy leadership cadre.
With that in mind, here are author Steve Tobak’s “Seven Signs That You May Be a Bad Manager”:
- Your group is underperforming (poor metrics usually signal poor management)
- Your manager is turning up the heat (poor metrics catch a higher-up’s attention)
- Allies are distancing themselves from you (work friends and allies back away from “damaged goods”)
- You’re behaving more like a jerk than usual (taking out increased stress and anxiety on others)
- Your decision-making is compromised (poor managers make poor decisions)
- Your personal relationships suck (poor managers tend to be poor spouses and friends)
- Your employees are miserable (you can see it in their eyes and body language)
(Here is the link to his complete article, as well as some interesting comments by readers:Complete article)
Church leaders need to sift through Tobak’s corporate lingo -- “group” would be congregation, “manager” applying heat could be lay council or stewardship results, “employees” could mean both employees and constituents.
But the insights still apply. Poor leaders do tend to make poor decisions. Organizations of all kinds, including churches, do tend to reflect their key leaders. Feedback from constituents, both distancing and resistance, does occur. And, yes, poor leaders do tend to behave like jerks and are rough on people at home.
Tobak doesn’t go on to say, “Off with their heads.” But he does say leaders need to be brutally honest with themselves -- and, in collaborative leadership systems, with each other -- about how their institution is doing, what feedback people are giving, and how they are behaving as persons.
What comes next? Well, nothing good will come next if these negatives and warning signs aren’t heeded and addressed. But much good can come if leaders are willing to work on their leadership skills.
No one is born knowing how to manage a complex institution like a church. Effective church leaders are formed in the fire, sometimes fried in their own mistakes.
But effective church leaders do emerge. I have witnessed some extraordinary church leaders. They are bruised, and yet they have learned and are now quite effective.
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