It Takes Two: Lessons in Leadership
As anyone who watches or dances the tango knows, it takes more than an experienced leader to make an impression on the dance floor. It also takes a confident, if not passionate, follower who is not afraid to give a little push back.
That was one of the lessons offered to church leaders this summer during a one-week leadership program offered by Seabury Western Theological Seminary in partnership with the Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management at Northwestern University.
"Who knew that Kellogg had a business school professor who would offer a tango lesson as a leadership teaching tool?" commented the Rev. Ian Reed Twiss, rector of Holy Faith Church, a combined Lutheran and Episcopal congregation in Saline, Michigan. "And who knew how much could be learned from such a joyful and kinesthetic method."
"I was just blown away by it," agreed the Very Rev. KyungJa (KJ) Oh, priest-in-charge of St. Chad Episcopal Church in Loves Park, Illinois, and dean of the Rockford Deanery in the Diocese of Chicago. "The entire course was brilliant, with top-notch, engaged faculty; the cross disciplinary approach was stunning."
The leadership course, developed jointly by Kellogg and Seabury, is a custom-designed educational program for lay and clergy leaders. It was taught by tenured and core professors and practitioners at Kellogg, which is ranked among the top five business schools in the United States and is known throughout the world for its emphasis on teamwork, collaboration and interactive learning. Thirty-seven people attended the course, offered in June on Northwestern University’s Chicago Campus.
The innovative program included sessions on strategic planning, conflict resolution, and marketing and leadership skills, all of which are critical to congregational health and growth.
"I was looking for something very practical and relevant to congregational work, and I wasn't disappointed," said the Rev. Darrel Proffitt, rector of Church of the Holy Apostles in Katy, Texas, just outside of Houston.
"I didn't find any of the material covered to be something that I couldn't use. I was really taken with the quality of instruction. In a situation like that, the professors from Kellogg could have hit a single, but they were swinging for the fences. When I got home I began to explode with ideas. I hope Seabury will continue to offer programs like this."
Participants appreciated the practical, day-to-day managerial information as well as the attention to broader leadership issues.
"For me, the nonprofit management course offered new theoretical frameworks to help me think about the big-picture how's and why's of parish ministry and also concrete tools that I could apply directly in my work," said Twiss. "I was looking to increase my day-to-day, administrative skill set—how to run a good meeting, how do you lead change? And also branding, and social media, and how to evangelize in the 21st century. I came away with a lot of tools."
Twiss has demonstrated more than a little leadership know-how during his almost four years of ministry at Holy Family, one of the few combined Episcopal and Lutheran congregations in the United States. During his tenure the average Sunday attendance has doubled (43 to 85), as has the number of pledging units (37 to 70). Pledges have more than doubled ($48K to $134K). Under his leadership, Holy Family has become financially self-sufficient for the first time in its history.
"When you're in a small church like I am, there is less coaching other leaders to manage different people, but there's more wearing a lot of different hats yourself," Twiss said. "I think administration and process is hugely important."
One class Twiss found particularly helpful dealt with how to become a learning organization.
"It talked about gathering feedback and information, and constantly shifting and learning from mistakes," he said. "I'm going to be introducing that at my next vestry meeting."
And then there was the tango, which taught participants the interdependence between leaders and the people they lead. A Kellogg professor with a love of the Argentine tango took the class to a big room where they practiced leading a person around the room.
"You had to lead someone while their eyes were closed," Twiss said. "Then the question was, what do you learn about leadership? To be firm. And that the followers have to push back to make it effective. It was a metaphor for leading a congregation."
Proffitt added, " I understand that if you lead and nobody follows it is just considered a good walk. but I had never thought about the importance of being a good follower."
Proffitt, who earned his Master of Divinity degree from Seabury in 1991 and his doctorate in 1999, has been doing more than simply taking a "good walk." In 2004 he was awarded Seabury's Merit Award, which is given to an alumnus who has exhibited extraordinary leadership in the church. During the almost 10 years he was rector of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Kansas, the parish's weekend attendance grew from about 150 to 600 and was recognized by the national Episcopal Church as the second fastest growing Episcopal Church in the country. At Holy Apostles, where Proffitt has been rector since 2007, the average Sunday attendance is about 500, membership is around 1,000, and the church is growing.
"If you're going to grow the church, it means you need to understand management and leadership theories," Proffitt said. "I came right back from the course and subscribed to the Harvard Business Review. And that's something I might not even have considered before."
Oh said that while the course affirmed some of her leadership skills, it gave her a new perspective on how to be a better leader in her tiny congregation, which is supported by the Diocese of Chicago. "It is not a typical Episcopal church," she said. "We don't have people who can oversee the fiduciary needs of the church, but they are wild about mission."
Oh said the leadership course made her recognize the gap between her vision for her parish and the vision of her parishioners.
"Because of the revelation I had that good leaders are good followers, I realized that even though I was following my congregation's passion and interest, the vision—the big picture vision—was still mine, not theirs. I had an idea of where I was supposed to take them, but the course led me to ask, 'Who am I to say who they are supposed to be?' I need to let them be who they are."
The course also made Oh realize that she wants to learn more.
"It made me want to take more leadership courses and made me consider taking more DMIn courses," said Oh, who graduated from Seabury in 2000. "I found that looking at not-for-profit business models and human behavior models really energized me."