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

Leaders Must Lead

Written by: on September 16, 2015

Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix[1], sheds light on what I believe to be a major leadership crisis in today’s churches and organizations.  Lately I’ve noticed that there has been so much emphasis placed on servant leadership, gaining consensus, and cultural sensitivity, that people in leadership roles often fail to actually lead teams.  A leadership position should not look like a dictatorship, but it should clearly be differentiated from the role of a follower. Groups and individuals need to be directed toward a cohesive end goal, and obstacles must be removed to allow them to move forward in the direction and pace in which God is leading them.

Recently, my research has lead me to explore the concept of shalom and stewardship, and what this means within an organizational context. Leading others requires that a leader understand the difference between just keeping peace or status quo and establishing an environment of shalom. Leaders aren’t babysitters; they are charged with getting things done.  Shalom dictates that leaders engage in and accept healthy conflict, knowing that this will ultimately allow necessary forward movement and will prevent underlying tensions from undermining a healthy state.

Shalom is ‘a social happening, an event in inter-personal relations’ but the necessary locus and centre of this is the relationship with God through Christ. Shalom is a future eschatological hope, not a practical political possibility for the present. As the eschatological goal of our mission, shalom in all its aspects must be the model of our activity. It is the direction in which God is going; it must also be the concept which inspires our evangelistic, political and social activity. [2]

Leaders must cast vision, promote quality, and walk others through work efforts, continuous improvement, and necessary change. Max Depree, in Leadership is an Art[3], notes that leaders are obligated to provide and maintain momentum. Too often, good leadership is equated to those who can keep the peace, and instill a “let’s just all get along” attitude. Yet, shalom allows for healthy conflict, which is necessary for driving innovation. Like the Israelites, people wander in the desert when they lack clear direction and goals or objectives.  A person fails to lead when they don’t take the reigns and live out the role of the leader versus follower.

Friedman talks about the need for leaders to self-differentiate. It is good when leaders focus on their mission and goals, and they clearly operate within their function and influence. A careful balance is necessary to maintain positive working relationships and to avoid negative politics.  Those who follow shifting trends lack the ability to effectively lead as they don’t have any consistency in their approach. For example, servant leadership has some good underlying concepts. However, too many people in leadership roles have latched onto this trend as a personal model, neglecting the longer term and true leadership actions necessary to accomplish objectives. Their pendulum has swung so far toward the servant mentality that they fail to give direction and to stand at the head of a team. They become peacemakers and political allies vs. leaders. Friedman talks about the dangers of ‘peace-mongering’, which is a result of ‘failure of nerve’. Peacemaking is a good strength, but it is also bad when it favors harmony or keeping things calm over making progress and doing what is right.

Some people and organizations frown upon leaders who face resistance from those who are supposed to follow them. The idea that good leaders naturally have followers shouldn’t be applied in all circumstances. Sometimes leaders must be unpopular and stand up against unhealthy norms within an organization. Often, this means a risk to job security, safety, or personal reputation in order to do the right thing. This is where the rubber hits the road. Too often people in leadership positions back down for fear of consequences, even when they know that there is a right action that should be taken. In these instances, personal agenda supersedes everything else.  Consider how many pastors, faculty, staff, and customers just overlook issues or brush concerns under the rug, as they don’t want to make waves and face resistance. Self doubt comes into play, and personal anxiety can overshadow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes a failure to do the right thing is due to a fear of financial repercussions for an organization.  There is often a false justification contributing to a lack of action.

Overall, Friedman’s book shed light on what could be considered a plague in Christian organizations today. Trends show that people are speaking loudly and saying that ‘something isn’t right’. Church membership declines, Christian University enrollment numbers decline, and higher percentages of people claim they don’t trust organized religious institutions. Would you trust a leader who has ‘failure of nerve’? Christ did the right thing. He clearly had good intentions and love for others underlying His leadership actions. Yet, He was controversial, made others angry, and made great waves in systems of injustice. As we strive to be more like Him, may we intentionally and bravely step up and do the right thing. May we resist brushing issues under rugs, and bravely face those day-to-day actions and decisions that are necessary to a diligent pursuit of the mission the He give us individually and at the team or organizational level. I pray He gives us wisdom, and that we obey by having the nerve to stand up and actually lead.

[1] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, [new ed. (New York: Seabury Books, ©2007).

[2] David Gillett, “Shalom: Content for a Slogan,” Themelios: Volume 1, No. 3, Summer 1976 (1976): 81.

[3] Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art (Studio City, CA: Phoenix Audio, 2007), 1, Electronic Format.

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.

15 responses to “Leaders Must Lead”

  1. Travis Biglow says:

    Hi Dawnel, i like the concept of Shalom and how leaders do need to lead without being overly aggressive. I too have been on the same boat with the concept of servant leadership. I know we talked about this once. My understanding of it is a little different and see it as something we have to emulate to be like Christ. One thing is that great leaders provide opportunities for those they serve. I as a leader i want to be able to utilize money and resources to better serve the people that give it. Too many leaders exist to be served by the people (mainly refering to church). And i dont think that is the way Christ would want us to be! Blessings

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Hi Travis,

      You are right that servant leadership is and should be about emulating Christ. ‘Servant Leadership’ has unfortunately become a trend that too many leaders try to model, while at the same time misunderstanding the original intent of the term coined by Greenleaf. Servant leadership isn’t about making leaders servants, rather it is about developing leaders who have servant hearts. Underlying the servant leader’s actions is a pure agenda to do good and to do right by others. The downside of the servant leadership trend is that many place so much emphasis on serving others and gaining consensus, that they fail to lead and to take necessary action when they must be decisive. A servant leader is still a leader, and as such there will be times when they must move in an unpopular direction. I’ve wittnessed ‘Servant leadership’ programs in some organizations, and have seen first hand how it can breed bad results when the ethos behind serving and leading are misunderstood.

      Just today, I read an interesting article from HBR.[1] It emphasizes the importance of winning minds over striving to solely win the hearts of others. I’ve seen many people equate servant leadership with making friends and ensuring everyone ‘feels’ good about decisions and direction. This can breed unhealthy politics and emotional bullying. It’s like being on a date with someone who talks a good game in order to win over your emotions, yet they don’t really mean what they say and have ulterior motives. While the concept of servant leadership is good, it has unfortunately been misunderstood. I’ve worked with some wonderful ‘servant leaders’. What makes them great isn’t their pursuit of being a servant, rather it is the fact that they focus on doing the right thing and accomplishing their mission with quality and without stepping on the backs of others.

      I’ve learned that people don’t want fluff. They want leaders with genuine motives, who care about them and the organization, and who value the input and talents of others. They want leaders who aren’t self-centered, who are hard workers, who can get things accomplished, who make good decisions, have high skill levels, who are competent, who share knowledge and are transparent, and who demonstrate that they can be trusted. They want leaders who will remove obstacles, who will give direction, and who will support them. They want leaders who are willing to fight for the right things, and who won’t back down when there is injustice.

      [1] https://hbr.org/2015/05/focus-on-winning-either-hearts-or-minds

      • Jon Spellman says:

        One of my professors in my MA said “I am not the church’s servant, I am a servant of God. I serve the church because Jesus has asked me to but I am not the church’s servant. That was an interesting take on the whole servant-leader thing


        • Dawnel Volzke says:

          That’s a great reminder….too often we focus on pleasing and serving others and forget that we serve Him first.

          • Brian Yost says:

            “Servant leadership” does not equal “people pleaser”. A people pleaser often seeks to please others because they need to be liked and need to be needed. A true servant leader often does not please the people, but they are faithful to the one who sent them. Jesus was a servant, he was a leader, but most people were not pleased with him.

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    Hey Dawnel. I have a couple of thought-strands to run down here. First, you said “A leadership position should not look like a dictatorship, but it should clearly be differentiated from the role of a follower.” I agree but am continually frustrated by the question of “HOW?” in an environment where the new normal is collectivism! Where the highest of virtues seems to be the ability to keep the peace… at any cost. When a leader does differentiate him/herself from the herd, the herd won’t peel off and follow him because it is so beyond the bounds of “normal” that they can’t recognize it! Frustrating…

    The other thought is along the lines of your thinking about shalom. I am put in mind of the Lencioni “Five Dysfunctions.” The second dysfunction that crushes a team’s ability to act and move like a team is the inability to embrace conflict. Conflict-avoidance and mediation has become the norm and has contributed to this “failure of nerve” spoken of my Friedman. IF I read your work correctly, shalom is not the ability keep peace, but work through to peace through turmoil and the healthy use of conflict. I like that!


    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      Great thoughts. You ask how can leaders do this in an environment where collectivism is the new normal. The answer lies in the art of leadership. Leadership goes beyond just skills. Those that become well developed in the art of leadership can typically navigate rough waters and complacency through proper use of their power to positively influence and motivate. These are the leaders that have the ‘it’ factor. We haven’t had a strong ‘it’ factor leader rise up in a very long time, but I am keeping an eye on Pope Francis…

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      One more thought…Shalom goes beyond working through conflict or tension. It is a state of well being that makes tension and healthy conflict safe and positive. It isn’t moving from one state to another, rather it is a different definition of what is considered good and normal. For example, disagreement is often seen as negative. In an environment with shalom, people feel safe to disagree and are more open to embrace differences as a community of believers. This, in return, leads to innovation and growth.

  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Good stuff Dawnel and a much needed reminder in todays leadership culture. I really liked your thought, “Peacemaking is a good strength, but it is also bad when it favors harmony or keeping things calm over making progress and doing what is right.” And like Jon said above…if I understand it right the idea of Shalom is to work through the tension towards peace. That’s awesome.

    What is worrisome is that the younger generations are terrible and dealing with conflict. Instead of addressing an important issue face to face many college students just avoid the issue or send a text message. Teaching how to lead through tension and do the right thing should really be a top leadership course in schools and seminaries. Thanks Dawnel for your reminder.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      Let me ask a question…is it that younger generations won’t speak up, or that we aren’t leading and propagating an environment that is conducive to healthy conflict? I’ve found this issue in many organizations. This happens when top or senior leaders (and even middle management) don’t set the tone for innovation, new ideas, healthy conflict, and trust. People do avoid conflict when they know it is pointless to fight the battle, or when it breeds unhealthy responses. I’ve found that younger people often do deal with conflict – they speak by exiting. Today’s younger generations are being proactive and saying “I’ve had enough”. They don’t like politics or games, and many avoid drama – we can learn so much from upcoming generations.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, Totally with you! “Would you trust a leader who has ‘failure of nerve’? Christ did the right thing. He clearly had good intentions and love for others underlying His leadership actions. Yet, He was controversial, made others angry, and made great waves in systems of injustice. As we strive to be more like Him, may we intentionally and bravely step up and do the right thing.” I see the plaque you are referring to and it definitely has affected the horsepower of the Church in our world. I look forward to hearing more about the shalom and stewardship concept as you continue your research. Looking forward to next week. Talk then.

  5. Dave Young says:

    Dawnel, Your post was loaded with lot’s of passion to see the church take up the mantle of leadership it sorely needs. You seem to indicate people have reinvented servant leadership to be wimpy leadership, and I see where you’re coming from. You wrote “Consider how many pastors, faculty, staff, and customers just overlook issues or brush concerns under the rug, as they don’t want to make waves and face resistance.” There very well may be a failure of nerve among church pastors. I think it is in part because what we do is deeply personal and emotional, you’re calling to your church is like getting into a marriage. The criticism that inevitably comes when pastors lead is a deep wounding, it’s more then our job, more then an organization – its family. So I agree with you but I’ve also been on the side of ‘treading too lightly’ because I just could risk another heart ache. But for the grace of God I would have walked away a long time ago.

  6. Travis Biglow says:

    Dawnel, trust me i dont see servant leadership in the way those others people do. I am so far away from that concept of just trying to make everyone feel good. I dont have the time or patience to do that. I dont even think God would want us to do that. Even Christ had to keep moving and he made a lot of people mad by adhering to his mission and not to the desires of his disciples or the religious elite. As you said we should be serving the people as a leader and that is what i believe as well. Hard decisions have to be made and i have become real good at that than i used to be. I am not up for acting or tolerating it either. Some of the leaders in our denomination are like that. They have hidden agendas and say just what people want them to say and keep the atmosphere happy ( Avoiding Conflict) and then go and do the opposite of what they said. I really hate that in church. Servant leadership to me is to be like Christ. Many leaders use their positions to their own advantage and not for the good of those they serve and i am speaking about the church. I think if Jesus blesses a ministry or minister with millions of dollars and resources the vision of this is not to find ways to embellish oneself. It is for the purpose of extending the kingdom and to reinvest in those who help to build it. What i mean is that we are responsible for utilizing that money and resources to better serve our church and community in what ever setting we are in. I have seen the abuse of power in the church and I hope that leaders who are coming up will have a more sincere care about the church! See you in Hong Kong!!!!!!!

  7. Mary Pandiani says:

    I love the quote about Shalom….”the model of our activity.” You bring to mind the value of being created in God’s image which means we get things done. That’s the fullness that shalom offers. You make a great connection between Friedman’s work and your dissertation work.
    Wish I could write more but I’m getting on a plane to Hong Kong 🙂 See you in a few days.

  8. Brian Yost says:

    “A leadership position should not look like a dictatorship, but it should clearly be differentiated from the role of a follower.”

    That is such a crucial distinction. It seems that servant leadership has received some bad press in recent years. I wonder if this is in part because “servant” leaders fail to differentiate themselves. I do feel that we have a biblical mandate to serve, but I believe that we can serve through providing true, differentiated leadership. A leader leads; a follower follows. Both can be servants, but they are not the same thing.

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