The Green Report: Fallen Angels and Slippery Slopes

So, the Green Report has been awarded the Financial Times ‘Fallen Angels’ Prize by Lucy Kellaway!

I doubt whether an internal Church of England report has ever before interested the lead writer on organizational life, for the world’s most prestigious business paper! Quite an achievement.

The supporters of the Green Report (who number very few) are keen to stress the radical nature of their recommendations.

But, the reality is that the Green Report is tepid, its solutions off the shelf, whilst the language employed – ‘absolute performance targets’ etc – is inappropriate, for the Body of Christ.

But my real beef is that the report is shot through with unchallenged  assumptions.

The authors appear either blind to their assumptions, or, have the mother and father of all logs in their eyes.

The report stresses the importance of ‘talent’ and ‘leadership’ and, believes that ‘talent’ and ‘leadership’ are required most of all in Cathedrals and Large Churches. Why?

I am not suggesting that large churches and cathedrals don’t require good leaders but, what on earth is the rationale for thinking that these relatively straightforward organisations require higher levels of strategic thinking, or dynamic leadership than suburban churches, or rural multi-parish teams and benefices?

The report catastrophically confuses size, and busyness, with complexity. It also over invests in the ‘cult of the leader,’ at the expense of what management scientists refer to as ‘systems thinking.’

Please let’s not make an idol out of leaders and leadership and, let’s be honest, much of the ‘secular’ world has had it up to their ears with ‘leaders,’ and the collateral damage that Alpha leaders frequently cause.

The report also pays scant regard to history and human geography. Real growth in the Church (and, truth be told, most large companies) tends to come not from the centre but, the periphery. So if we are serious about reclaiming this land for Christ lets equip the periphery, not the centre, with our best talent!

Inspiring leaders, the sort who we continue to talk about generations after their death are ‘refined through fire’ and not ‘modelled in plastic.’ The proposals of the Green Report will deliver to the Church ‘synthetic’ rather than ‘authentic’ leaders.

Is there anything inspiring about the story of a young cleric, identified for great things, sent on an MBA type training course, before ‘doing’ a few years in a large Church or Cathedral, prior to becoming a Bishop? Me thinks not. And when our talented young cleric eventually becomes a Dean or a Bishop what transformational, imagination capturing, stories will they have to tell? Not many, is the answer. We, as a Church, must never underestimate the power of story.

I want bards as Bishops, not accountants. 

In searching for a solution from the ‘management sciences,’ (and before ordination I was a ‘management scientist’) the authors have opted for one ‘centralised planning’ type model (an approach developed by the likes of Michael Porter).

Again why? I suspect that one of the greatest (still living) management thinkers Henri Mintzberg, the leading advocate of ’emergent strategy,’ would be tearing what’s left of his hair out!

I have no doubt that if the Green Report were submitted as a postgraduate dissertation aimed at solving the perceived leadership problems in the Church of England, Mintzberg and a whole load of other management academics would find it difficult to award it a pass. I would.

The report’s in-built negative rhetoric is staggering. The implication that the Church of England is bereft of good leaders is insulting. I have witnessed far more examples of good, nay heroic, leadership in the Church than I ever encountered in my seventeen years in The City!

The top down centralised approach, I suspect, is favoured by our ‘existing leaders’ because they have been promoted by such a system. In other words they have an inbuilt bias or subjectivity.

Lord Green knows how ‘talent’ is identified in organisations like HSBC; he knows where HSBC goes to find its ‘talent,’ (Russell Group Universities and competitor banks – quick pause for thought: if organisations such as HSBC are so good at identifying and developing talent why do they spend so much time and money recruiting people and teams from competitors?) and, he makes the assumption that ‘identifying and developing talent’ is a transferable skill. Again why?

For most of my adult life I have been exposed to the world of business schools. I have studied in them, taught in them and employed them in an advisory capacity. I know their strengths and weaknesses.

But, above all I understand their rationale, which is to train managers and leaders to achieve corporate goals through the use of the executive powers delegated to them by their owners, or, in the case of non-profit businesses, members and trustees.

So we need to be clear: business schools train individuals, and teams, to use to maximum effect (measurable over a given time period – often three years) delegated executive powers. That’s what they do!

‘Church leaders’ don’t, on the whole, have delegated  executive powers. So there is a mismatch. I don’t know of any leadership courses, in the secular market place, that aims to develop ‘powerless leaders.’


The Church must pay attention to the short-term, of course it must, but unlike business we must also pay significant attention to the (very) long-term.

The average life of a business is just seventeen years, and the average tenure of a corporate executive is 4.3 years. Most business leaders, in a moment of quiet candour, will admit that they are not particularly interested in the long-term business success or stability of employment. I wasn’t and neither were the majority of my peers.

Do we want a cadre of talented clergy who seek to move to their next ‘more senior’ post every 4.3 years ?

But, here is my biggest criticism:

The assumption that talent is easily identified and then easily trained for ‘success’.

Could it just be that talent and leadership emerge over time?

Could it just be that we cannot be sure of someone’s true metal until they have been tested by circumstance or had to look ‘failure’ squarely in the face?

Could it be that ‘failure’ builds character (didn’t St Paul suggest this?)

Could it be that, with its stress on absolute performance, the Green Report will look down on ‘failure’ and ‘failures’?

Could it be that the authors of the Green Report believe that ‘real leaders’ look just like themselves?

And, given that many of the contributors to the Green Report believe that there is a crisis of leadership in the Church of England, isn’t a bit odd to think that they (the leaders) are the ones best equipped to identify and nurture talent? It’s all a bit bizarre really.

No one is denying that the Church of England requires good leaders. But, the reality is that the strategy recommended by the Green Report won’t deliver.

If adopted the Green Report report will set the Church on a slippery slope to disaster.

My hope is that the report will be rejected. Those responsible for training and development can, and should do, better.








4 thoughts on “The Green Report: Fallen Angels and Slippery Slopes

  1. Thank you for your objective and well articulated views. A couple of images sadly present themselves. The end was all rather embarrassing.

    The Emperor’s New Clothes, and Caesar’s “Let me have men about me that are fat; Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights: Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” spring to my mind.

    Eddie Howson (Revd)

    Sent from my iPad


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