Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What causes leaders to fail?

Over the past few months there have been numerous stories of senior pastors whose ministries did not end well.  We've read of misconduct leading to the arrest of some, moral failures resulting in forced terminations, and pastors leaving the ministry because of burn-out and/or depression.  While these situations make the headlines, the more common pastoral failures result in troubled churches that fail to enjoy productive, effective ministries.

What causes these pastoral failures?  Sometimes the pastor lacks the skill sets needed for ministry.  Such persons have not been called into the ministry by God but have entered the ministry of their own choosing.  Perhaps the minister did have the skills to serve a church of a certain size, but lacked the skills to serve in a different setting.  It may be that the minister failed to grow as a person and as a minister making his or her ministry ineffective.

However, most leadership failures are not due to a lack of skills.  They are a failure of character.    Tim Irwin provides us with a fascinating look at the failures of leadership in his book Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership (NelsonFree).  Irwin studied six well-known leaders in the business community and sought answers as to why they failed to successfully lead the companies that hired them.  He notes that their derailments were due to a failure of character that was tied to one of four qualities:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Self-management
  3. Humility
  4. Courage
While we often look at failure as an event, Irwin found that derailment occurs over time.  It happens before the crash itself occurs as we miss warning signs that things are not right.  We ignore the feedback others might be giving us.  Our arrogance assures us that we are on the right track, and even that still, small voice inside of us cannot get us to turn aside and avoid the crash.

One of the leaders he profiles is Durk Jager who was CEO of Proctor & Gamble for only seventeen months before the board forced him to resign.  One of the failings noted in the book is that Jager pitted himself against the P&G culture creating distrust between himself and those he was leading.  In the margin of the book next to this section I've written, "Pastors who do not appreciate the history of their church and its former leaders make the same mistake."

When I speak to churches that have suffered under poor pastoral leadership I hear the same character failures Irwin found in his research.  One recent church described their last two pastors to me as dictators.  These pastors lacked the ability to manage themselves and lacked any sense of humility.  They arrogantly believed they were the pastors of that church, and it would be their way or the highway.  Significant numbers of people chose the highway and it is questionable as to whether or not this church will survive.  Other churches tell of the absence of leadership on the part of their pastor.  Pastors fail to lead due to a lack of courage.  They don't want to be responsible if something goes wrong.  What these pastors do not realize is that their lack of leadership is failure on their part that hurts the church and the community the church is called to reach far more because it keeps them stuck in the status quo.

This book was written about business leaders who failed, but the lessons learned apply to anyone in a leadership role.  Inside the dust jacket we read, "Ultimately, Derailed is not about six high profile leaders...it's about how YOU avoid derailment.  When you apply these principles about leadership and life in the upcoming pages, you will stay on track!"  I agree and believe this is a most helpful book for anyone in a church leadership position.

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