Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Leadership in High Performing Organizations

Written by: on October 16, 2015

In his book, The Leadership Mystique, Manfred Kets De Vries states, “effective business leadership is never limited to the acts of one “heroic” individual; rather, it operates in a context of employees and of the business, industry, and larger social environment. Leaders who recognize the nuances of that context and guide their followers accordingly provide their organization with an extra stimulus.”[1] There is so much focus and discussion on leadership, yet many people often neglect to consider the internal and external influences that can impact a person’s ability to effectively lead. Many of us have been in difficult situations that challenge our influence and ability to move an organization in a positive direction. Internal and social or political dynamics drive how decisions are made, how money is spent, how people are promoted, and whose voice is heard or listened to. Kets De Vries provides interesting insights into what leadership characteristics contribute to high-performance of an organization.

Have you ever worked with a bad leader? A good leader? It can be frustrating when someone is put into a position of leadership, but lacks the skills or desire to actually lead. Kets De Vries, points out “executives aren’t always paragons of rationality” [2]. This is what he calls the dark side of leadership. He asserts that there are three types of leaders: the rule takers, the rule makers and the rule breakers. It is the rule breakers who are able to deliver extraordinary results in the workplace. Rule breakers aren’t widely accepted in Christian organizations. Thinking outside the box often goes against the norms and traditions that have become institutionalized. Those who do things differently are often chastised for not being team players, for being disagreeable, or for failing to consider other’s opinions. For those leading, navigating the complexity of political and social environments can be tiresome. It requires high levels of emotional intelligence to navigate through the nuances and politics that are hidden beneath the depths in many institutions. Personal change and organizational change is often difficult. Yet change is necessary to move forward in today’s world.

Kets De Vries offers some interesting insights on ways that we can assess our emotional intelligence. For example, he asserts that our dreams can offer us insight into those things that we are attempting to master or into conflict resolution.[3] There are times when I’ve been in difficult or stressful situations in the work environment, and I have trouble sleeping due to fact that my mind is racing and repeatedly mulling over the situation. My family claims that I talk in my sleep when I am trying to solve difficult problems. I must say that I’m not very good at paying attention to my ‘inner world’.   Reading Kets De Vries book has reminded me that I must slow down and pay attention to my own emotional health, so that I can continue to be more and more effective in my own leadership.

Just because we are good at leading in the past, doesn’t mean we will be good at leading in every situation in the future. Organizations and people can get stuck, living on their past laurels. Sometimes leaders can prevent positive change from happening within an organization when they fail to adjust their practice. In today’s world, leaders must drive innovation and interaction. It is necessary to have a strategic and entrepreneurial mindset.   People today are more likely to respond to leaders out of respect vs. their position. The relationships between people and organizations are often broken, so leaders must work diligently at building trust and rapport if they intend on retaining talented employees.

Kets De Vries outlines ten characteristics of leadership in high performing organizations, which translates into the following actions:

  • Stay Focused.
  • Pay attention to the customers.
  • Take stewardship and loyalty to the organization seriously.
  • Share information broadly – be transparent. Keep secrecy to a minimum.
  • Be a coach or mentor – develop leadership skills in others.
  • Be a catalyst of innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Create a positive climate for employees.
  • Set the example of good customer service.
  • Have diversity in thought and action – share knowledge and be decisive.
  • Be a bridge builder – work cross functionally. Tear down silos.
  • Monitor key financial indicators & metrics. [4]

If leaders of Christian institutions performed these actions consistently, would the church world be transformed?

[1] Manfred F R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed. (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

12 responses to “Leadership in High Performing Organizations”

  1. Brian Yost says:

    “If leaders of Christian institutions performed these actions consistently, would the church world be transformed?”

    I would definitely say “yes”. These ten characteristics seem like no-brainers when it comes to the church, yet they are so often missed. I think most would say that these are the hallmarks of their leadership, yet the reality tells a different story. Perhaps the grasp of emotional intelligence that Kets de Vries speaks of is missing to such a degree that Christian leaders simply cannot develop these characteristics.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      I agree.

      Often, I see leaders focusing so much on just leadership development. It is an inward growth focus, versus the more mature, action oriented outward focus. Sometimes I’ve seen leaders spend so much time looking at the next latest and greatest leadership models that they fail to regularly assess their effectiveness within the organizational structure. They don’t have a continuous improvement mindset. They build friends, but don’t move the organization forward. This creates a very bad situation for the organization, as these leaders aren’t technically doing anything wrong and therefore it is difficult for the organization to replace them without seeming uncaring.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Maybe we should develop our own assessment with scale. It could be the “Emotional Ambivalence Scale.”

  2. Dave Young says:


    I appreciate your obvious passion for the leadership topic, especially as it’s applicable to Christian organizations. What I found compelling about this post was your reflection that “Reading Kets De Vries book has reminded me that I must slow down and pay attention to my own emotional health, so that I can continue to be more and more effective in my own leadership.” I would add my wholehearted amen to that. I’m sure you don’t have the time for another book but I’d seriously look at ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” as I mentioned in my post. With your passion for Christian Organizations you might find that you have the chance to lead leaders toward greater levels of spiritual maturity… That is if we slow down and reflect on our own emotions first – as you mentioned.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      I wonder if it’s even possible to have an increasing level of Emotional Intelligence if we don’t grow in emotional health?

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Dave and Jon,

      Scripture teaches us to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”[1]

      Part of having a high emotional intelligence means that we slow down and pay attention to the ripples that we create. I’ve always been careful to bring value to any organization that I serve. My heart is to reflect Christ in all that I do. I wouldn’t want to wake up one day and find out that I’m too unhealthy to bear fruit in my work. Therefore, I intentionally slow down and take time to seek the Lord’s direction and to discern situations so that I can make good decisions and recommendations. For example, I could rush from meeting to meeting. Sometimes, stopping for even 5 minutes to seek the Lord’s direction, prior to entering a meeting, is time well spent.

      When leaders get too busy or stressed, they often forget to measure their effectiveness. They spin their wheels and fail to bear any fruit. Too many in leadership positions wreak havoc on organizations, even when that isn’t their intention. I’ve seen this happen time and time again when leaders get consumed by their pursuit of being a good leader. They would be much more effective if they would simply put their energy into frequently measuring their effectiveness. Kets De Vries reminds us that leaders with a high emotional intelligence don’t need to obsess with their own leadership, because they are rightly focused on doing the right thing by others and the organizations in which they work.

      [1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 7:15–20.

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, This line says it all … “Reading Kets De Vries book has reminded me that I must slow down and pay attention to my own emotional health…” I think if that is your take home, you win and Kets De Vries is a fantastic leadership guru:)! I thought this was a great read balancing, or even righting the ship in a healthier direction for leadership to follow. Emotional health definitely needs greater attention today.

  4. Nick Martineau says:

    Dawnel, Everyone else has changed moments don it but I love your take away of slowing down and paying attention to your own emotional health. It’s funny because just doing that very thing will make you a “rule breaker” type leader even in the church world. Great thoughts. Thanks Dawnel.

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    Dawnel i am probably in the “rule breaker” catogory but i really dont want to be. I really have seen those people who are doing things the traditional way seemingly have things order. Or so it seems. But i cant stand too much tradition and over institunalized rhetoric to the point i want new ideas. I dont want it to be outside the box i think when we see things could be better we are already outside the box! Blessings!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      I’ve found that tradition isn’t always bad…it becomes bad when we allow ineffective processes and procedures or poor performance to be propagated for traditions sake. Those of us who speak out against the bad within organizations are often seen as being outside the box. Maybe we are outside the box, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate good tradition.

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    “Just because we are good at leading in the past, doesn’t mean we will be good at leading in every situation in the future.”

    You share a wealth of insight in your post, Dawnel. To add another thought to everyone else’s responses, I appreciate the above statement. Being a good leader doesn’t mean that the charism for one situation will work in the next one. While I do think that are some standard tenets to leadership, I get a bit frustrated when someone comes out with the latest fad for leadership. I don’t think it can be a formula. It must be held in every situation as a gift that requires listening, acting, discerning, and moving in the direction of the desired outcome.

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