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Leadership and Management, or Poetry and Plumbing - Part 1

(This is part 7 of an 8-part series reflecting on the book, Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving.)

'The heart of every leader must be humble, seeking the good of others and suspicious of one's own motives' James Plueddemann, Leading across cultures (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p77).

Leadership, like poetry, can be described as a creative art that involves ambiguity, imagination, innovation, emotional engagement and improvisation, while management is more like plumbing as it involves methodological tasks that require technical details, repetitive chores, organisation, administration, plans and orderly procedures (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.199).

The above statement could be found in any literature on leadership. It is not new. The emphasis and insights in these two chapters in Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving however, give us a valuable perspective that is not often found in the leadership literature.


'Learning is the master skill. The best leaders are the best learners' James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Truth About Leadership.

The chapter on leadership in Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving focuses on learning through the development of four areas: reflection, hardships, systems thinking and political perception.  

Donald Schon explains that leadership practice takes place in situations that are puzzling, ill-defined, troubling and uncertain (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.201). Leadership in these situations requires imaginative thinking, learning by trial and error, and interpreting emotions, all in the midst of pressure to produce and to meet deadlines (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.200). Schon calls making decisions under these circumstances ‘reflection-in-action’. When a leader takes time to reconsider their decisions and the consequences later he refers to it as ‘reflection-on-action’ (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.201). The learning from both kinds of reflection is enriched by adding new insights and perspectives from conversations with colleagues, using a 360 leadership evaluation tool or by journalling.

Learning from and through hardships also requires the leader to spend time reviewing the experience. Again, the learning is enriched if this can be done in a supportive context where there is a freedom to take risks and fail without judgement, and an opportunity to review and evaluate the process. This process is implicit in growing into maturity and if practiced with transparency it gives permission for others to be genuine and embrace the difficult lessons learned by hardships.

Understanding relational connections and their impact is described as systems thinking. Systems theory helps us to understand some of the complexity of leading people. It tells us that every system is significantly influenced by the emotional maturity and the anxiety of the people in it. While a school community develops into a system itself, it is composed of people from different systems. Each system has its own patterns of expectations, assumptions, behaviours and emotions inherited from the family of origin systems present, and modified by the experience of other systems. It is into this complexity that a leader sets out to build intellectual and spiritual maturity in the people. Leaders are encouraged to help others to name their experiences, reflect on them together, and prayerfully support each other in walking by faith with their intellect engaged and informed by Scripture (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.208}. The way conflict is managed is part of this journey. Seeing things systematically is realising that everything influences everything (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.209).

Whenever people actively promote their own interests they have entered into the realm of politics (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.210).

Growth in leadership politics involves the ability to perceive the differences between interests, power and authority, relationship capital, and negotiation. In its simplest form, it is discerning the difference between gamesmanship and manipulation to get what a person wants, and the process of negotiating with others, which involves choosing among conflicting wants and interests, developing trust, locating support and opposition, developing sensitivity to timing, and knowing the informal and the formal organisational refrains (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.210).

The difference between negotiation and manipulation is an ethical question and the line between developing influence and getting the desired action is complex. Functioning well in the area of politics relies heavily on the relational capital developed with the people concerned. The research on which this book is based suggests that there are three elements required for building genuine relational capital or trust: intentionality, time, and vulnerability. If leadership is approached as servant-oriented, grace-based and kingdom-focused, building relational capital should be out of a motive of care for the people, and negotiations should seek the common good and to always honour God.


Burns, B, Chapman, T.D., & Guthrie, D. C. (2013). Resilient Ministry: What Pastors told us about surviving and thriving. (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press).

Resilient Ministry is available for purchase from The Wandering Bookseller

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent  is to promote thinking and discussion.

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