Six Principles for Organizational Leadership

An organizational leadership researcher asked me these six questions. These brief answers are from a biblical worldview, and are broadly applicable in any organizational leadership setting. I think they illustrate how helpful the Bible is for (among other reasons) providing reliable and inspirational leadership principles:

(1) When you think about a positive future for your organization, describe what you see in the days and months ahead.

One question I often challenge individuals and organizations with is this: If in five years, your enterprise or initiative fails, what went wrong? What I am challenging them to think about is what are the intermediate and short term potential failures that might lead to an overall failure. From the perspective of looking back from a not-yet-realized outcome, what were the factors that contributed to failure? It is helpful to look forward, look backward, and then reassess what needs to be done now.

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When Followers Don’t Follow

People who don’t consider themselves leaders often find themselves in roles that include some leadership responsibility. These roles include everything from committee chairs, team leaders, and project coordinators to ministry leaders, volunteer coordinators, parents, husbands—even older siblings.

Not only are these leaders often unskilled in leadership, but, human nature being what it is, followers are also often reluctant to follow—any leader. (Moses had Miriam and Aaron and eventually Korah; King David had Absalom; even Jesus Christ had Judas Iscariot.)

So you have leadership responsibility, but those you are responsible to lead aren’t following. What do you do? There may be little you can do. But it’s also possible that relatively simple changes in the use of leadership tools will get far better results.

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Going Rogue

(From Voice magazine, Jan/Feb 2016.)

African elephants are the largest land animal on earth. At 12,000 pounds and ten feet tall, they can intimidate anyone and anything. Elephants don’t worry much about predators.

The norm is to live in herds within a matriarchal social structure. The largest female leads the group of eight to one hundred elephants in a tight family unit. At the age of twelve to fifteen years the males leave the group and begin a new family. There is always a dominant male in the herd, but sooner or later, a younger male will take over, and the older ones are left to wander alone. It is a melancholy scene to watch a great-grandfather pachyderm grazing completely by himself.

For whatever reason, some of these older males go berserk; they go rogue. Unstable males become violent and territorial. They go on a rampage, attacking anyone in their way, destroying crops and vegetation. These are the really scary guys.

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On Toxic Leaders (Part 2)

(From Voice magazine, Jan/Feb 2016. Read Part 1.)

By Kenneth O. Gangel

Why Would People Work for a Toxic Leader?

With the stench of the Enron disas­ter still in our nostrils, we have become accustomed to the ongoing lawsuits from employees who lost everything. Let’s remember that most of the people who left Enron didn’t drop out or vol­untarily go to other businesses. They actually loved their jobs and felt they functioned at the center of action in such a gigantic corporation. But clearly toxic leadership ruled at Enron, so why did people stay?

Belief in the Unbelievable

The old wisdom says when some­thing looks too good to be true it probably is. Stock portfolios, retirement packages, working conditions—everything seemed right and most of Enron’s people felt they were functioning in one of the greatest companies ever built. That’s why pastors are less likely to leave a large church than a small one. However, a large organization affords part of the draw for an autocratic toxic leader who needs full command until someone blows the whistle.

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On Toxic Leaders (Part 1)

(From Voice magazine, Jan/Feb 2016.)

By Kenneth O. Gangel

What Is a Toxic Leader?

A vast percentage of leadership books in both the secular and religious domains deal with how to move from average to good or good to great in your own leadership, or how to help other people on your team do just that. The same analysis holds true in peri­odical literature, both journals and magazines. That’s why Jean Lipman-Blumen’s book hit the market with a crash in 2004. The title alone suggests, one could say, an “alluring” analysis of something we have swept into the corner and refused to look at: The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians—and How We Can Survive Them.

Defective Christian leaders rarely get their pictures in Time or Newsweek for defrauding employees or driving their ministries into bank­ruptcy, but make no mistake about it, we have toxic leaders in our midst. Lipman-Blumen won­ders why people follow such leaders and decides they do so because of a desire for dependence, a need to play a more crucial role in the organiza­tion, and just plain fear.

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People Skills & the Pastor

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Mar/Apr 2013.

I was talking to a young pastor recently, and after our lengthy conversation I commented on his wisdom and warmth. I told him many pastors fail in regards to dealing with people (something we often refer to as people skills). When I said this, the young pastor was surprised and asked me to elaborate further. So I provided him some specific sad examples of ungracious pastors and their interpersonal blunders. At the close of our conversation, he said something quite profound: “That’s so strange. Why would you become a pastor if you don’t love people?”

That young pastor asked a great question which summarizes the basis of pastoral interpersonal skills…love. Love is the bottom-line way to define people skills. And the pastor’s life must be characterized by love in the same way that Jesus’ life was characterized by love.

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