The Orthodox Leader

Levels of Leadership

“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” -John 21:18

Some personal reflection on recent events as well as parish and mission development have led me to revisit the five levels of leadership (or see here) as posited by John Maxwell, a well-known leadership speaker and motivator. (Individuals love or hate John Maxwell, but the five levels in his scheme are well-supported in my own experience. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while?) I’d like to discuss how these levels play out in an Orthodox situation. The list below summarizes them.

The Five Levels of Leadership:

  1. Position – People follow because they have to. That is, they recognize the “rank” of the leader, but with little other basis.
  2. Permission – People follow because they want to. This is the “teamwork” level, where others follow the cues of the leader much as those who play team sports follow the team captain.  Those members who aspire to more will soon look elsewhere, though.
  3. Production – People follow because of the leader’s contribution to the organization. The leader has made the organization successful. He is liked, and generates momentum to accomplish more.
  4. People Development – People follow this leader because he develops them in line with their potential. The individual team member perceives the leader’s contributions personally (i.e., the leader’s contributions affect the individual personally, not just organizationally).
  5. Pinnacle – The team follows the leader out of respect for what the leader represents. This level is achieved rarely, and only after long years of service. This is the kind of leader for which people will undertake extreme risk.

In an Orthodox setting, we struggle mightily with these levels. The Church is hierarchical, but that doesn’t always mean those in the hierarchy are “natural” leaders. Likewise, some of the faithful become leaders only in the crucible of extraordinary difficulty. (Look at the heroes from the scandals of Metropolitans Theodosius and Herman.) Such “weak” men and women become leaders only by the grace of the Holy Spirit and their constant cooperation with it through the seeking of God’s will and the kenotic act of risking reputation and wealth for the sake of righteousness. Our treasure is in earthen vessels, and that also applies to our leading clergy and laity, many of whom come from unlikely places. The difficulty lies in bringing the gifts of God to the surface, in order to manifest the treasure.

We are familiar with leaders, particularly priests, who struggle to get beyond level 1 in Maxwell’s hierarchy. The faithful accord such priests the basic respect of the office, politely hear their sermons (no matter how bad), go to them for confession and absolution, and partake of the Body and Blood administered by their hands. Indeed, these are the vital things of the Christian life, but the priest must not be reduced to little more than a vending machine for Sacraments. The relationship shouldn’t end there, with pious laity quietly tut-tutting about Father’s lack of [insert skill here]. Under these circumstances, the priest can find himself tossed aside, his spiritual authority confined to, rather than based upon, the Holy Table. Out of frustration, the priest asserts his priestly authority (qua priest), and bad things ensue, much as Metropolitan Jonah describes:

If you sit there and you lord it over your parishioners that ‘I am the priest and I can do whatever I want and I can spend the money however I want without accountability and without…’ you are not going to go very far. In fact you are likely to get thrown out because you will get into all sorts of problems.

The source of such a loss of real leadership authority can have multiple causes at the same time, but the core of the problem is the leader’s failure to advance beyond level 1, regardless of mitigating factors. In the realm of the Church, there are legitimate ways to do this (and see the questions below, where I ask you to think about them), as well as illegitimate ways, such as the “purchase” of loyalty through favors, cover-ups, and cold hard cash and the imposition of loyalty through punishment and abuse. We should all know about these illegitimate ways by now.

With these things in mind, I ask readers here some questions for reflection:

  1. Where do you see Orthodox leaders reaching levels 4 and 5 in contemporary Orthodoxy, particularly in North America? Think of this as a moment for praising the good.
  2. Where do you see Orthodox leaders stuck at level 1? Cite examples, but be constructive.
  3. What is the way forward for us to see more of our leaders, clergy and lay, making it to levels 3 and 4? That is, what can these leaders do (or stop doing) to escape level 1?
  4. What role does trust play in advancing through the levels? What about goodwill?

Sharing of your answers is encouraged. I hope to present some other thoughts on these questions, in the context of current events, very soon.

[UPDATE 5/28: I still prefer real names here, but, considering that this might make some would-be participants nervous with regard to this particular subject matter, pseudonyms are OK here. Please use a real email address (not shown to the public) and keep it constructive, please.]

4 comments (click to add your own)

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 25th, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Development,Synergy

Switch to our mobile site