Do Christian Leaders Need to Rethink Their Management Style?
Have you lost personnel you needed? Are you on your knees praying for leadership to come along side you?
Maybe the problem is you and your style.
Christian organizations are going forward today wanting for fresh young leaders. However, when delegation time comes, many of the likely candidates turn out to be too domineering, too compliant, or hampered with a limiting, untreated character flaw. Why? The authoritative leader has shown his colors.
Then too, some of the strongest management/leadership candidates have already left. A few to be sure, have left to launch or lead their own thing. Still many leave without the organization ever realizing the truth - the Executive Director or CEO's leadership style simply drove them out.
In a study of senior executives and managers representing over twenty-five different organizations, participants with strong Christian beliefs and behaviors were shown to be more authoritative and less participative in their management style when compared to a control group of non Christian executives in similar positions.
The study was supervised by the Peter F. Drucker School of Executive Management and revealed that on nine of the ten management style factors measured, the Christian executives scored, on average, significantly less participative and more authoritative than the non Christian executives. (An Executive Summary of the research is available by contacting The Biola Leadership Project)
Such a pattern does not bode well for the future of Christian leadership development. A strong trend toward employee participation and empowerment in the workplace is sweeping through American businesses and its social institutions. We have all seen and heard the reports of Gen X'ers insisting on more involvement in organizational direction, more contact with the top leadership, more answers to the 'why' questions. Very few today are willing to salute and go to work. They are looking for more connectivity, purpose, and personal meaning in whatever they pursue on or off the job.
The other giant reason for the empowerment movement is necessity. The information age is driving massive change in every institution. The complex issues of today call for teams to problem-solve them because no one leader has enough knowledge of the situation or solutions. "Techies" from the backroom and people all the way out at the frontlines of customer (recipient) contact are needed at the decision table more than ever.
Yet there is growing evidence that Christian managers are more reluctant than mainstream managers to invite participation of subordinates.
How would you score as a participative manager?
(1) Select the alternative that is most characteristic of you and place a number '1' in front of it.
(2) Rank the remaining alternatives in a similar manner from more characteristic to least characteristic using a "2," "3," and "4." In other words the alternative that you mark as "1" should be the alternative most characteristic of you and the alternative with a "4" should be the least characteristic of you.
Scoring: If you scored the four alternatives in this order: 2, 3, 4, 1...
..then you scored a perfect 10 for a participative style when it comes to Problem Solving! Would you like to take the whole instrument and find out how you rank from Authoritative to Participative? You can! Just click here.
But if you scored something less than a 10, you are not alone. And Christian managers scored on average, more authoritative and less participative than their non Christian counterparts. See Chart below.
But isn't empowerment a Christian concept?
Matthew 20:25-28 contrasts the Biblical "servant leader" with the Gentiles' rulers who "lord it over them." To become great, Christ said we must serve. In I Peter 4:10 we are directed to use God given gifts (talents) to serve others. Jesus modeled empowerment when he first developed and then empowered his disciples by giving them authority over evil spirits and disease (Matt 10: 1,8). Paul offers us many more examples throughout his ministry as well as the fundamental principle of II Timothy 2:2. Paul was always creating developmental environments (Titus 1:5). (Further illustrations - or others -- could be used and the term 'serve' further developed.)
Then why are Christian managers so reluctant to share leadership?
We asked the Christian and non Christian managers in the study if they could explain their answers.
In depth interviews and focus groups revealed that the executives themselves (both Christian and non Christian) directed their initial explanations to either the concept of authority or trust.
Both groups suggested that the Christian view of authority was the most obvious cause of differences. Nine of the eleven interviewees and two focus groups proposed it as an explanation. Starting points differed, but the subject was the same. One offered, "The Christian life is well defined with rules and guidelines, and as managers we probably try to do the same." "The Christian worldview is hierarchical. We have an authority figure--God. It carries through into the way we deal with life." Even from a non Christian group respondent, "religion is more of an authority line, there is always someone in charge." Further discussion revolved around whether it was "right" to be more authoritative in management style or whether it was simply the Christian bias culturally speaking. One comment, for example was that "the authoritative view is more Biblically based than the participative view. Even Christ was very authoritative." Another conjectured that "Christian theology may not be as participative."
Still a third of the respondents argued that the theological argument should have reversed the results. "I'm surprised," said one, it should have been the other way around. The Christian view is one of serving rather than controlling. We should be encouraging and developing people!" For them, and for many of the others in further discussion, the issue wasn't so much what was right theologically as what "felt right" for Christians. On that line of reasoning, the key term to describe their behavior was the need to "control." Several suggested that because their world view held to a belief in an absolute source of truth, and the potential to receive such insight regarding right and wrong from a heavenly Source, there was this tendency to see those in authority as having been given an added portion of responsibility and knowledge. From the Christian executive's point of view, he carries this added weight of responsibility to be right and is possibly more hesitant to give that responsibility to others. One executive observed, "I don't think we have secular wisdom all that greater than a non Christian, but some leaders may overreact." Another observed that being raised in a religious environment can lead to a more structured, controlled view of life.
This authoritarian bias among Christians was a predominant explanation for the difference in the scores, whether it was explained as a natural, normal outgrowth of the beliefs about the way the world is, or whether it was merely a 'bent' among Christian believers.
The study revealed that the Christian executive has wrestled more intensely with the relationships between personal life, religious life, and work life. He has a greater need for all three to be integrated and aligned with each other. Though he may be more authoritative in style, he is most likely not authoritarian. Rather he has strong views of responsibility for, and feelings about, co-workers and subordinates that lead him to be benevolent in his leadership. Another term for this pattern is paternal. Christian executives tend to see their role with a greater emphasis on providing and protecting for those in their charge. Such a pattern is consistent with major parts of Christian theology surrounding the image of a 'Heavenly Father,' with whom they most seek to identify.
The challenge for these managers and executives is that this paternalistic approach does not portend well for them in the new millennium. It is generally believed that the next great gains in American competitiveness will have to come through employee empowerment and participation. The individual acting as expert or even the charismatic leader will not be as effective as cooperative teams in solving the complex, knowledge based problems of the 21st century company. The Christian executive no doubt brings many unique and valuable qualities to the organization that this particular research did not explore. But in the area of leading and managing others he may find himself increasingly out of step and in need of help.
Do you think 'authoritative' or 'paternal' might describe you? Is that what your subordinates might say? What can you do?
Leaders are rarely able to adjust their style without looking in a mirror. That mirror might be a trusted colleague in the organization or outside who can help him or her self assess. Using an objective leadership style instrument on oneself to get perspective or having others fill it out for feedback can also help one understand if a shift is needed. (The Leadership Questionnaire used in this study is available free from the Biola Leadership Project. Taken by the leader and then by a few subordinates on the leader, the Questionnaire can become a helpful, neutral tool to talk about differences.
Finally, leaders must realize the truly great legacy they leave is not their own accomplishments but the leadership they leave behind.
Dan E. Maltby is Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. He also directs the Biola Leadership Project, a think tank and resource center for Christian Leadership development.