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Monarchs and warriors, heed

07 June 2013

Leslie J. Francis looks at church-leadership models - and snares

Finding Your Leadership Style
Keith Lamdin
SPCK £9.99
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LEADERSHIP, Keith Lamdin writes, is about change and about power. Power, he writes, is derived from personal qualities (charisma, knowledge, skill) and institutional structures (what he terms "projected power"). Lamdin is a skilled leader of leaders who draws on well-honed personal qualities. Power, he writes, can be used or abused: Lamdin knows how to enable others to use power wisely.

Finding Your Leadership Style is a personal and reflective book. In it, Lamdin sets out what he calls the landscape of leadership styles, and invites his readers to gaze on that landscape in reflective mood. The defined landscape comprises six paradigms, styled as monarch, warrior, servant, elder, contemplative, and prophet. Lamdin allows each landscape (at least partly) to speak for itself. His craft resides in the skill with which he presents the landscape, employing engaging metaphors, informed reading, and clear analysis within connected and connecting personal narrative.

Lamdin describes his technique as more like a medicine man's bag (containing a wide range of potentially useful components) than anything else. Here are two memorable examples from the medicine man's masterclass. Here are four characteristics of clergy identified as leading growing churches: following an unpopular (and unsuccessful) leader; displaying skills of relating well; being reliable and trustworthy; and leading worship with a sense of presence.

Here are four models of effecting change: the engineer who takes something to pieces and puts it back together in better shape; the diplomat who builds alliances behind the scenes; the gardener who works with the seasons and allows change to grow naturally; and the surfer who catches the waves of change as they sweep in from the deep.

Of course, as a conversation partner in the medicine man's masterclass, I wanted occasionally to ask questions, add a footnote citing contradictory evidence, or, more controversially, assert that my experience did not coincide with his. As a psychologist, I am not convinced that we can ignore the substantial literature linking personality with leadership styles. As an empirical theologian, I am not convinced that we can ignore the emerging literature linking theological ideas with professional practice among the clergy.

Lamdin recognises that two models (monarch and warrior) are the ones most popular within the contemporary Church, and he sees both as carrying within them seeds of dysfunction. For Lamdin, a problem with the monarchical model is rooted in the psychological profile of those who are attracted to it. "The people we select to be our clergy and bishops often turn out to be exactly the kind of people who are keen to take our projections and begin to believe in them." Similarly, a problem with the warrior model is rooted in psychological theory that discusses the regressive attraction of denying complexity in favour of unambiguous demarcation between good and bad, right and wrong, light and dark.

Of the other four models, Lamdin has shown strong commitment to the servant model through the Developing Servant Leaders programme in the diocese of Oxford. Here, his chapter on the servant gives full reference to the roots in Isaiah and to the Gospel narrative of Jesus, provides two lists of the characteristics of servant leadership, and discusses three main criticisms of the model. There is plenty of food for thought in this rich landscape.

The other three chapters, on the elder, the contemplative, and the prophet, are less well developed, especially the chapter concerning the contemplative.

The final chapter closes with wise advice on how to cope with the strain of leadership. Combining self-awareness with a critical friend makes a good start, but the friend really must be critical enough to expose and test those delusions to which the clergy so easily succumb.

The Revd Dr Leslie J. Francis is Professor of Religions and Education, and Director of the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, within the University of Warwick; and Canon Theologian and Canon Treasurer of Bangor Cathedral.

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