Management, Leadership, Renewal & Reform

Let me be upfront and honest: I believe that Church of England can, and should, draw on insights from the management sciences – with the stress on sciences (the genuinely and demonstrably tried and tested)- through the Renewal and Reform initiative. It should do so with reference to the component of the initiative which deals with mission and evangelism and, it should do so in relation to the training of ‘senior leaders.’ There: I have said it!

In fact I haven’t just said it I have written about it, in the Church Times. In my article ‘One Church’s Mission, but many opportunities,’  published on 23rd September I argued that the C of E needed to ‘craft’ its own unique approach to identifying and funding mission projects through blending insights offered by three management thinkers: Michael Porter, Henry Mintzberg and, J.B. Quinn. I argued that adopting one approach would lead to a sub optimal outcome.

I further argued that unwittingly the Church of England was likely, in the absence of other theoretical points of reference, to select a top down generic approach which by itself would not be capable of producing significant, epoch changing, returns. The desire for epoch changing returns, let us not forget, is the catalyst for R&R.

So yes, in the sphere of strategy I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the C of E can learn from the management sciences, but that in doing so it must sort out the wheat from the chaff and, must not be blinded by current, and obvious, possibilities; HTB style plants for example. Yes, carry on with such initiatives but let’s not render them ‘the strategy.’ That would be an act of lazy thinking and reckless folly.

The C of E must also look for emerging possibilities and, interesting opportunities on the periphery of the Church. In doing so it should make sure it understands the insights offered by Mintzberg and Quinn who ask for a high degree of sophistication from strategic thinkers. Strategy development is hard work and requires leaders to develop both peripheral vision and, the ability to identify, early on, emerging opportunities.

Strategy and strategy development is of course only one area that the Management Sciences can add value to the Church of England.

The C of E can, and again, should, follow best practice in the fields of governance and finance. In my view – and I know others will disagree – Cathedral Deans, Heads of Theological Colleges, Directors of Mission Agencies and, Diocesan Secretaries should have highly developed skills in the fields of finance and governance. The good news is that there is no need to send them on a ‘Mini MBA’ (NOT THAT SUCH A THING EXISTS & whoever though up the term for the purposes of branding needs taking outside and…… ever so gently put right!). A couple of short, three day, courses with a body like the I.O.D. would do the trick, at a very competitive price!

There are some folk, misguided I think, who suggest that painting a broad picture (vision) of where to take the church and, the hard task of nuts and bolts financial management are somehow opposed. I don’t accept this view.

Vision without the content of financial management and the wrap around of strong governance is in reality just a dream; a pipe dream. We don’t want, or deserve, leaders in the C of E who are, in the words of Supertramp, ‘nothing but a dreamer,’ (I used to play this song in my MBA lectures!) But strategy, vision, finance and governance alone won’t secure R&R’s aims. For R&R to really succeed effective leadership is also required.

I would want, at the outset, to stress that the Church of England, should very selectively draw from the myriad leadership theories, and theorists, at its disposal. Leadership is a relatively new area of study and much of what is offered is pretty unscientific in nature. There is a real tendency to over value what is currently in vogue; forgetting that today’s success is frequently tomorrow’s failure.

For example the businesses and business leaders cited by the likes of Tom Peters and Jim Collins in their blockbuster popular management offerings (In Search of Excellence and From Good to Great) appeared to be on top of their game, when promoted as examples of best practice, and then……..? And, then it all went horribly wrong! Such businesses and individual business leaders proved to be neither excellent or great!

Mintzberg, one of the most sophisticated management thinkers of contemporary times (his books include the Strategy Safari and Managers Not MBA’s – he refuses to each on MIT’s MBA – surely food for thought?)  has written that: ‘There is a terrible bias in today’s management literature toward the current, the latest, the hottest. This does a disservice, not only to those wonderful old writers, but especially to the readers who are offered the trivial new instead of the significant old.’

So here is a question to ponder: ‘how would we know when we are being seduced by the trivial new?’  Would those agreeing the curriculum know, would those identified for, or already in, training know? After all being seduced is, I presume, enjoyable? Seduction tickles the ego. Harsh as it sounds and,as Martyn Percy has commented, I am not sure that student feedback is a particularly good metric of value; not that I would wish participants to sit through hours of misery!

C.S. Lewis also warned about being too quick to run with the latest and hottest. This is what he wrote:

‘Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But, if he must only read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old……every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We, all therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And, that means the old books……..Not of course that there is any magic in the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But, not the same mistakes……Two heads are better than one, not because one is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.’ 

I would want to gently suggest that a lesson we humans seem determined not to learn from is our propensity to be seduced by the ‘trivial new.’ It is a mistake the Church of England should seek to avoid.

It is also worth considering that the average length of tenure for the CEO of a Fortune 500 business is less than five years. In the U.K. the figure is even worse, with Chief Executives remaining in post for a dismal 3.7 years. The average life span of a company quoted on the US stock market is just eighteen years. In the U.K. the FTSE 100 has recently hit a new high and yet less than half of the businesses that were in the FTSE 100 in 1999, its previous high, are still members of the ‘big boys club.’

The point is this: businesses and individual business leaders  do not have a history of producing a never ceasing pattern of long-term returns. Far from it. Failure, fragmentation and reorientation are the norm. In a business reorientation, changing the core product offering, selling out to a potential buyer and other exit strategies are all viable alternatives; in the church they are not!

So we need to exercise caution when borrowing from the management sciences and, especially when considering leadership.

But, I hear you argue, we can also learn a lot about leadership (and strategy development) from executives working in the public and not for profit sectors. Yes, we can. BUT, we should also recognise that longevity is not a feature of leadership in the not for profit sector. So what I would say to the C of E is simply this: ‘buyer beware.’ 

And,we should also be realistic about our own strengths. Having worked worked in the private sector at a senior, executive, level then in a business school and, finally in the Church of England I would want to stress that the management and leadership of the Church of England is at least as good as anything found ‘out there,’ in business and, the not for profit sector. But, for some reason we, in the C of E, seemed determined to believe otherwise; I have no idea why because in fact our leadership is in many ways it is better both in terms of its effectiveness and the level of virtue involved in the leadership process.

Having said that I do hope that Brown, Trevino and Harrison’s 2005 work on good, effective and, ethical leadership is on the curriculum for those identified for senior leadership positions in the Church of England! Go on, Google it!

Accepting the notion that leadership in the C of E is at least as good (where good leadership refers to the combination of effectiveness in delivery of outcome and, virtue in the process of engagement) as anything found in the secular sphere does not, of course, mean that we, in the C of E, shouldn’t seek to continually up our skills (the Japanese have a management theory for this – it is called Kaizen). Nor does it mean we should operate in our own bubble refuting all insights from other disciplines but it does mean we should be careful, and I would add, just a little bit more confident, in ourselves as we seek to develop our leaders of the future.

In developing our own bespoke curriculum we should draw extensively on our own leadership tradition whilst also considering the most suitable insights from the ‘secular’ world (I have suggested four management theorists in this piece, and one concept.) We should also partner with the most appropriate training partners (I have suggested the IOD as well as business schools).

The C of E needs to craft its own distinct approach to both strategy development and, leadership training. The epoch changing aims of R&R demand nothing less.




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