Method painters or mosaic builders: thoughts on episcopal leadership.

In considering how we might like to train and develop bishops and deans, it is necessary to create a picture of what Episcopal leadership might look like, whilst allowing for the fact that each bishop will exercise their ministry in their own unique way and, bringing their own distinctive idiosyncrasies to the bear on the way they lead, in situ. My hope is that Episcopal ministry will always be idiosyncratic and that personality will never be substituted for technique.

So what sort of bishop would I like to be lead by, or put another way what might we like to see in the individual pieces of clay that when put together form the mosaic entitled Episcopal Leadership?

First and foremost I would like my bishop to be someone who has been tested in a resource starved environment and who may at times have looked rather more like failure than success. Our bishops should be refined through fire, and not moulded in plastic. I would like those selecting bishops to accept that true leadership most frequently emerges over time; think of Churchill or even Pope Francis.

In business entrepreneurs, by contrast with corporate managers, often emerge from the periphery or margins and, the great thing about entrepreneurs is that they have transformational stories to tell. So should our bishops! Our bishops should, however, not only have interesting stories to tell, they should also be experts in the art story telling. They should be bards as well as pastors?

I would also like to suggest that bishops should sit lightly to their won aesthetic tastes and doctrinal extras. As guardians of catholicity and advocates for subsidiarity this must surely be an Episcopal pre-requisite? Recently our bishops, in their pre election letter, stressed the need for subsidiarity as a virtue in civic life, it therefore follows, less the church is to stand accused of hypocrisy, that subsidiarity should be a virtue animating the life of the Church.

When motifs such as catholicity, subsidiarity, marginality, and emergence are taken seriously we are able to build up a rich mosaic characterising the Church and therefore the type of leaders it requires.

So could the recommendations in the Green Report help create such a mosaic? I don’t think so, for the Green Report is underpinned by a significant, a very possibly incorrect, assumption: leadership, just like strategic business opportunities, is easily recognised and then developed. In making this assumption the authors have selected a business model championed by the ‘Planning School of Management,’ whose lead advocate is Michael Porter. Porter is also famous in business school land for being the ‘pioneer’ of generic strategies. And, this is one of my problems with the Green Report; it’s generic and off the shelf. It’s method painting as opposed to mosaic building.

I would fully endorse the idea that the Church should engage with the management sciences, but would argue that in doing so it should consider the widest range of theoretical options. I suspect that insights from the likes of J.B. Quinn who argued strongly in favour of ‘logical incrementalism,’ or Henry Minzberg, the doyen of ‘emergence theory,’ would provide a far more fruitful business-church fit.

Minztberg and Quinn both take the idea of marginality seriously; they both regard hinterlands as important and are able to do so because they have a keen sense of history and geography.  In rejecting the philosophy of ‘planning school’ and its methods, they promote a form of industrial catholicity and subsidiarity, because they recognise that breakthrough often takes place in unexpected places, achieved by the unlikeliest of people.

The Church, if it sticks with Green, rejects not only some of the best ideas from the management sciences, it simultaneously rejects insights from both theology and church history and that’s just plain odd, especially at a time when business is keen to learn from the Church’s treasure box of leadership wisdom!

If we carry on as proposed the Church runs the risk or producing a whole cadre of method painters, but few real artists. One of the unintended, yet significant, consequences of the Green Report may be for ‘like to select like,’ to create leaders in our own graven image, to perpetuate group think and, to become a Church where leadership, because it is generic, is unimaginative and sterile. The Church can and must to better.

So why has all conversation on this most cherished of reports been closed down?


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