Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 338
March 29, 1999

Leadership on the Go

Moses and the Burning Bush, from the Dura Europus
Synagogue, early 3rd century A.D.

Today we hear the call for leaders while our current leaders from the White House and Congress on down are found wanting. Numerous books delineate the qualities of a good leader and one can even get a Ph.D. in Leadership. No question that a Ph.D. would know a lot about leadership but would he or she be a good leader?

A helpful comment stated the difference between a good leader and a good manager the former does the right thing and the latter does things right. Given our usual impatience to "get the job done," we demand managers and then complain because we don't have good leaders.

As I look back to my own long-term experience in a church (in a job that required me to be both a manager and a leader), I find that different times called for different kinds of leadership.

I entered a homogeneous church community that knew the nature of a Congregational church, had a clear sense of spirituality as mission, and were energetic achievers, I provided institutional leadership. It was a leadership for which seminary prepared me: the pastoral care of a community and maintaining a status quo organization that allowed people to express their Christian commitment. Not becoming an obstacle to members and keeping a focus were important skills.

As congregational homogeneity began to change and the turmoil of the nation's culture began to sink in, I learned instrumental leadership. I found myself thinking like a sailor, knowing that moving in a straight line toward a goal was no longer possible. I had to tack to the left, then to the right--back and forth--until eventually a goal was reached. Wind shifts, in intensity and direction, make tacking necessary. In organizations, including churches, the wind is the changing nature of the members and organizations needs and the changing nature of the culture and world around. It is ever-shifting in intensity and direction. Not all my tacking was successful and a few wrecks can be found along the way.

As the congregation changed even more, I found an inspiring leadership was called for. There was the need to re-state the vision, aspirations and values of the congregation in a contemporary form. What, in a previous decade, could just be assumed now required a new articulation.

Of course, my leadership was not that orderly and progressive. I did not anticipate each change, nor did I always gird my loins with the appropriate leadership style at the appropriate time. Sometimes I was ahead of the curve and sometimes I stumbled along, catching up. Only in retrospect does the changing pattern of leadership required become clear to me.

Personally, I also was changing as the membership and society changed. My experience of leadership (actually, I could say life) is summed up in the old German proverb, "We grow old too soon and smart too late."

Perhaps there is a set of qualities that make a good leader. Out of my own experience, I see leadership as a process, calling forth different qualities and responses at different times. This shifting pattern is widely seen in parental leadership, as both children and parents move through different stages, in the presidency as issues, crises and the president himself all change, and in companies when the necessary shift from entrepreneur to manager takes place and as the market changes.

I only wish such clarity had characterized my life. Indeed, we grow old too soon. But, then, I've already said that.

--Robert H. Tucker
29 March 1999

© Robert H. Tucker, 1999.
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